An optimal training regimen will include about three hard efforts a week, with at least one rest or recovery day in between those efforts. Trying to put in any more hard efforts than this has shown to be detrimental by most trainers.
Cyclo-computers are an important tool, but if you have your mileage mapped out ahead of time computers are not critical. The most important tool of all to help you with your training is a heart rate monitor. If you don’t’ have one. Get one. It is extremely hard to gauge your effort without one, this is especially true for training on a stationary bike or trainer. When you get another bike-computer get one with a cadence monitor. Cadence is especially important if you are training for road racing. The cadence monitor will teach you proper cadence and keep you from becoming a pedal masher.
Hill climbs are a good strategy because they force hard efforts, so are intervals especially if you are using a trainer. I define a hard effort as keeping myself above 85% of my max heart rate for most of the ride. I would sustain between 85% – 95% for a full 90 minutes and get a really good, hard work out. As a beginner this may be difficult, so see what you can do and adjust your goals accordingly. Seriously test your limits. You may be surprised how long you can go at a seemingly impossible pace.
Fueling up is important. If you don’t fuel up before putting in a hard effort your body will use up it’s energy stores in around 60 minutes. At around that time I would find myself really beginning to fade. I started fueling up with a light 200 – 300 calorie carb and sugar snack an hour before riding and I could keep going strong long after the 60 minute mark.
Recovery rides in between hard training sessions are important but the amateur does not always have the option. My schedule didn’t allow for them and as a result I would get sore muscles more prone to injury. Recovery rides are VERY light rides, that keep your heart rate below 140. A rider who is very aggressive about training is going to find it very difficult to ride at a pace this slow. Think leisure and get training out of your mind when doing these type of rides. Because the effort is minimal mountain bike trails are generally not very suitable for recovery rides.
Keep a training log. Log time, distance, Average MPH, effort, conditions and brief notes on how you felt. This will help you focus and allow you to see your progress. I had a loop I would ride every month or so that I would use to see how I had progressed physically.
Don’t let the weather inhibit your training. Learn to dress for it. Your body generates a tremendous amount of heat while cycling and this allows you to train comfortably in almost any condition. Keeping the feet warm is still a challenge so it’s worth investing in winter cycling shoes and wool socks. Here is a cold weather cycling article I wrote.
Consider spin classes. A couple of winter’s of deep snow forced me indoors. Coupled with a heart rate monitor, spin classes provided good, hard, motivating training sessions. Because the sessions were usually short, 45 minutes, I would also ride the trainer before and after the class or find back to back sessions and ride the whole way through.
This is my culmination of a lot of research, advice and practical application. I trained and raced seriously for several years and I got good results out this training regimen. I am currently ‘retired’ due to a back injury but I raced as an expert level mountain biker and was winner the Sport Vet 2009 WVMBA mountain bike series. This regimen served me well. Good luck with your training.