How to Get in Shape for Your First Bike Race

Here are my best tips to get you ready for your first bike race

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get in shape bike race

Updated: 7-23-16

It was 3 weeks before my first road race when I decided the minimum fitness I had been maintaining wasn’t going to cut it. I had been working out anywhere from 2 to 4 times per week without any semblance of a plan. I needed to come up with a solid, consistent, maintainable schedule that didn’t take up any more time than it absolutely needed to.

It also had to get me in good enough shape to be a top competitor at the intro level. So I did some research and came up with something that worked pretty well, and now I’m going to share it with you.

How to Get into Race Shape in 3 Easy Weeks (OK, They’re Not Actually Easy)

Below, I’ve laid out my weekly routine, but you’ll notice that I haven’t included Saturdays and Sundays here. Much of my plan relied on racing Saturday and Sunday during our six-week racing season. Before those races started, I used Saturday and Sunday for long endurance rides. But my weekday schedule was about the same.

I’ve mapped it out here, but also check out my cool graphic at the bottom of the page.

Weekday Training Schedule

get in shape bike race
by Martin Morris

Monday: The designated rest day. It assumed that I had just spent the past two days putting in long miles in the saddle or racing until my legs felt like jelly. It was also the day that I had class from 9am until 5pm and would inevitably come home exhausted thereafter.

Tuesday: Interval day, most often on the trainer. I have found that doing intervals is a lot more effective on the trainer, since you can push harder and maintain better consistency than on the road where traffic and geography get in the way. I would only do about 45 to 60 minutes on the trainer, which included a 5-10min warmup, 35-45min of the actual workout, and 5-20min of warmdown. These intervals were hard and fast – usually under 2 minutes per interval, and on a perceived exertion scale of 1 to 10, they were 7 and up.

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Wednesday: A bit of a wild card day. Whenever possible, I would go out for a good, solid ride on the road. I would look to hit a few good climbs, but definitely did not push myself as hard as I would for intervals. On the perceived exertion scale from above, these rides averaged between 5 and 7. I would try for at least an hour and a half on the road; more if I had time and was feeling rested (you don’t get a lot of great sleep as a college student).

Thursday: Another interval day. High-intensity intervals are widely considered the best way to get fit fast, after all. For my trainer interval workouts, I like to use videos with all the workout details already planned out and cues displayed in real time during my session. That way I don’t even have to think – perfect when your brain shuts off for those last few intervals. A search of “cycling trainer workouts” on youtube yields some great results. But if you’re more into doing your own thing, the rule of thumb for intervals is as follows: anything over 4 minutes of work should have one-quarter the work time as rest time (so, for a 4 minute interval, you get 1 minute of rest). Below 4 minutes of work gets a little trickier, and depends on the intensity of work. In general, as the work time gets shorter and harder, the rest time in proportion to the work time should get higher. And eventually the length of the rest time should surpass the work time at around 1 minute of work time.

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Friday: An easy day that often became another rest day when traveling for a race. At most, I would spin my legs out for a little while just to get the blood flowing.

Saturday & Sunday: Long endurance rides, or, race day!

In total, I only spent an average of 3-5 hours during the work week actually on my bike. Including the time it takes me to get dressed and prepped for the workout, stretch after the workout, shower, and return to my other activities, the time I spent dedicated to cycling was only about 5-7 hours per work week. During the weekends, when I had the time to spare, I would spend a lot more time on cycling whether it was a race weekend or not. And, just to prove to you that this plan worked, I can tell you I made 4 individual top 5’s across four race weekends – and every weekend I placed higher in both the road races and criteriums than the last.

Cool Graphic

intervals for race day

So those are my top tips. What are yours? Be sure to comment below or contact us to let us know what you think!


Disclaimer: Please note that I am not a coach and do not claim to be anything near one – I am merely sharing what I came up with after some research that worked for me. Always consult with your doctor and a qualified coach before embarking on any training regimen.


About Ellie 6 Articles
Former varsity rower turned cyclist, Ellie is in her second and last year of collegiate racing before going on to explore new roads. She hopes there are nice views and cute dogs there. Currently, she primarily rides in the farmlands of Pennsylvania and along the beaches of California.


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