Anti-Aging: How much Base Training? – Road Bike Rider

By Coach John Hughes

I’ve written three recent columns on how hard exercise increases longevity:

Readers asked great questions:

RBR reader Ron asks, “Really good info. Thanks. I was wondering how long (time) I would need to spend in zone 2 or 3 to begin to see improvements? Is this something that requires months or year around?”

Coach Hughes, Base training is riding at a conversational pace (zone 2) and a brisk conversational pace (zone 3). Improvement results from three factors:

1. Consistency

Consistency is the most important factor in gaining improvement from this kind of riding. If you get out on the bike five days a week, you’ll improve more than if you just ride three days a week even if you do the same total volume in three days as in five days. 

Year-round consistency is also important.  The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends at least 2:30 to 5:00 hours of aerobic activity every week of the year.  You can read more in my column:

2. Correct Intensity

Correct intensity is also very important. If you’re riding slower than zone 2 then you’re not getting the benefits of endurance training. Zone 1 is the pace at which you’d ride after a big meal. If you’re riding faster than zone 3 you’re also not getting the benefits of endurance training.

3. Appropriate Ramping

Appropriate ramping yields the best results. You know that if you just do the same volume and intensity of riding each week you won’t improve. You need to increase your riding to get better. Within limits the faster you ramp up the faster you’ll improve but too much is counterproductive. Four rules of thumb:

  • Week to week increase weekly volume by 5-15%.
  • Long ride is no more than 50% of total weekly riding.
  • Month to month increase monthly volume by 10-25%.
  • Year to year increase annual volume by 10-25%.

The more years you’ve been riding the faster you can ramp up; however, use caution! Your goal is improved fitness, not injury.

If your endurance riding is based on the above then you should start seeing improvement in as little as a month.  Improvement won’t be dramatic but it will be consistent. I explain this in more detail in my column on

RBR reader Rob asks, “In the same vein as Ron’s question, how do I know when I have done enough base training (zones 2-3) so that I can start training in the higher zones to improve my speed and endurance?”

RBR reader Steve comments, “I have sought the appropriate response but certainly do not have the expertise to give a definitive answer. I have tried Dr. Maffetone’s MAF test and believe that it has some merit. I would like to hear Coach Hughes’ opinion of the MAF test, as well as any other suggestions he may have for an objective means of knowing when there is a sufficient base to move to higher levels/zones.

Coach Hughes, Maffetone’s maximum aerobic function (MAF) test is to gauge aerobic improvement by repeating aerobic time trials periodically (he recommends every month). Maffetone determines your MAF formulaically:  “To perform the test, you must first obtain your maximum aerobic heart rate with the help of the MAF 180 Formula.” You then ride a certain distance at that heart rate. The distance is up to you, a ride that takes 30 to 60 minutes. Riding these periodic time trials at a specific intensity is an objective way to gauge progress. (Phil Maffetone MAF Test)

The MAF 180 formula is 180 minus your age. You then subtract 5 or 10 beats per minute based on different factors such as major illness, not improving, overreaching (first stage of overtraining) or add 5 bpm if you’ve been training effectively for two or more years.

The MAF formula is a variation on determining your training zones from your maximum heart rate. Max heart rate is a function of your genetics, not your fitness!  See my column on

We’re each an experiment of one and you should determine your MAF experientially not formulaically. Your maximum aerobic function is the top of zone 3, i.e., the pace at which you can still talk in complete sentences. A little harder and you could only talk in phrases, which is too hard for the benefits of endurance riding. 

The repeated aerobic time trials will help you to see if you’re making progress; however, they don’t answer the question of how much base training to do. How many hours of endurance riding you need before going harder depends on the level(s) of intensity at which you wish to train. The higher the intensity at which you wish to train the more endurance hours you need. When you can ride for a continuous hour at a threshold pace (zone 3), then you can start doing sweet spot workouts. Sweet spot workouts are just a little bit harder than threshold riding. Riding in zone 3 you can talk comfortably but can’t whistle. Riding in the sweet spot you can talk in short phrases but not complete sentences. See my columns on:

Before you tackle high intensity training (HIT) workouts you should be able to do a workout that includes a total of 30 minutes in the sweet spot. These aren’t continuous minutes but cumulative minutes over a series of sweet spot efforts. For example, six repeats of [5 minutes in the SS and 3 minutes easy]. Or riding a series of rolling hills climbing in the sweet spot.

Perceived exertion works!

Maffetone uses heart rate; however, you don’t need to buy a heart rate monitor — I don’t use one (nor a power meter).  Lab tests show that once a rider gets used to rate of perceived exertion (RPE) then RPE is as effective as heart rate in gauging effort. For more see my column on:

As we age, we need more recovery, which means we can’t ride as much or as hard. Because we can’t it’s important to make optimal use of the time on the bike, which means riding at the correct intensities.  Remember optimal use of time on the bike includes having fun!

My eBook Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training with Intensity explains what happens to your body as you age and the physiological benefits of riding with intensity. Doing some hard riding slows the aging process and delivers an array of benefits at any age:

  • More efficient training. 
  • Stronger heart. 
  • Greater lung capacity.
  • More powerful muscles. 

The eArticle describes five progressively harder levels of training and gives 3 to 5 examples each of structured and unstructured workouts for each level of training, a total of almost 40 workouts. The 27-page Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training with Intensity is just $4.99.

My Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond bundle includes:

  1. Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training with Intensity
  2. Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Fit for Life, 34 pages of detailed info,discusses the normal changes our bodies undergo as we age, and how these changes affect our athletic capabilities. I show how you can exercise in different ways to be fitter for life and have fun. I provide a variety of types of exercise to strengthen your body’s functions that keep you alive and help to keep you fit for life, including the aerobic, skeletal, muscular, neural, core and balance systems.
  3. Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Peak Fitness, 39 pages, contains four specific programs to improve your fitness in one or more of the following ways:Improved EnduranceMore PowerFaster SpeedHigher Aerobic Capacity (VO2 max)

The specific week-by-week workouts are designed to make any rider a better, fitter cyclist. Before beginning any of the programs, I describe how to establish your current baseline fitness. I then divide each of the four programs into two 4-week blocks. By following one of the programs for just four weeks, you’ll see measurable progress in your baseline fitness. And by following the program for eight weeks, you’ll progress even further. 

The 100-page Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond bundle is just $13.50.

My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process includes chapters on how to meet the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations on aerobic, high intensity aerobic, strength training, weight-bearing exercises, balance and flexibility. I include sample weeks and months for different types and amounts of exercise. I give you plans to build up to 100 km and 100-mile rides. I include a plan to increase over two years your annual riding from around 4,000 miles (6,500 km) to over 5,000 miles (8,000 km) a year. You can easily modify the plans for different annual amounts of riding. I discuss the importance of recovery and how to gauge if you are getting enough recovery. I combine the different kinds of training into programs that balance training and recovery. The 106-page Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is $14.99.

Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.

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