Feb 17

Goal-setting and training plans

Why should you set goals and have a training plan for cycling improvement?  I am Richard Guymer, cycling coach and member of Hull Thursday Road Club and I will explain why.

I started cycling with City Road Club (Hull) in 1972 when I was 13 years of age, have ridden time trials, road races, cyclo-cross, mountain bike and track races.  I gained my second Category road racing license… and then promptly lost it the following season!  In 1980 I rode a 12 hour time trial and have NEVER had the inclination to ride another – they are so HARD.

I have organised time trials and road races and I organised the CRC Junior National Road Series for five years.  My claim to fame is outsprinting Malcolm Elliot for second place in the 1978 Keith Carter Road Race.  I’ve been around cycling for a bit and would like to pass on my experience to others.

Training Programmes

Training programmes/plans and goal-setting go hand in hand – you can’t have one without the other.

Like most things in life, in order to get what you want from a sport you need a plan or programme to show you how to get where you want to be from where you are now.

When you are at school you might want to be a doctor, or an architect, but you can’t just leave school and start writing prescriptions or building houses.  There are intermediate goals along the way called exams.

  • How many of you have currently, or have had in the past, a training programme?
  • How many keep a training diary?
  • How many of you achieved what you wanted to do last year?
  • Do you know what you want to achieve this year?
  • Or, are you going to train the same way as you did last year or if you’re not happy with what you achieved, will you try something different?
  • Or, will you carry on doing what you’ve always done and hope for the best?
  • If you don’t have a programme how do you organise your training?
  • Do you do what you’ve always done without really knowing why?
  • Do you just go out for a ride, fitting it in when you can between work, school, college, decorating, mending the car or taking the kids to the park? (I think there is a Beautiful South song in there somewhere.)

I know it’s difficult, I’ve been there and done it.  I just wish I’d had a proper programme and organised my time better.  Programmes can help with this.

I know riders who, year in, year out go out on the bike putting in what must be hundreds of miles throughout the winter and summer without really improving year on year.

They arrive at the beginning of the season each year with great expectations, but have either no speed or are too tired to fully recover.

They become disillusioned and finish the season early, only to start the same process again in October for the following year.

If these riders were to sit down at the end of the season (at the beginning of the recovery period) and decide what they wanted to do the next year, with a bit of thought about how they intended to achieve their goals, they would have the basis of a training plan.

A Training Plan or Programme helps you to get from where you are now, in terms of fitness and ability, to where you want to be in the future.

This could be weeks or months for a particular event this season, at the end of the season, or after a number of seasons.

Before you can form any sort of programme you need to commit to paper what level you are at now, and where and when you want to be in terms of performance, skill level or results in the future.

This is done in the form of Main and Intermediate Goals.  To do this you can write it all down long-hand, or to simplify the process we can use these forms:  The Rider Plan and the Event Profile.

The Rider Plan gives personal details such as background, health, time available to race and train, the event(s) that you are working towards, main and intermediate goals, current fitness levels and heart rates within the various levels or zones.

When this information is given it must be honest and realistic.

The goals you include must be S M A R T ones:


But we can do a bit better by making them S M A R T E R by adding E for Exciting and R for Recorded.  I think A should also be there for Adjustable.

Let’s take them one at a time:


For instance, I want to be 3 minutes faster in a 25 mile TT, or I want to gain a first category road licence by the end of the season.  Goals that are vague, such as: I want to be a better rider, do not help very much.


Keeping a record of progress is a good incentive to keep going.  If you have some form of measurement as to where you are it helps you to keep on track.


The goals have to be agreed by the rider, and it’s even better if the rider decides on the goals with guidance from the Coach.

If the goals are agreed it’s much more likely that the rider will stick to them rather than having them set for them.

The goals, though, do need to be adjustable to take account of illness or injury, unexpected family commitments, or work etc.

The goal should be performance-based rather than outcome-based because the level of performance is usually under the control of the rider rather than the actual outcome which can be affected by the course/weather/other riders etc.


It’s no use wanting to become World Champion in your first season!

If goals are too easy they will provide little incentive to improve, and if they are too hard they may lead to the rider becoming disheartened.


The goals should be set to coincide with preselected points in the season or next season, or even years in advance.  They should lead up to a major goal.

This will show improvement or otherwise and will provide a means of assessment.

Exciting and Enjoyable

If the goals are both of these things then the job of motivation is made much easier.  Having a programme can therefore be a great motivator especially when it’s dark and the weather is lousy.


If the goals are recorded they will serve as a reminder to the rider which can help to maintain and increase commitment.

The Major Goals for the year can be set after an appraisal of the rider’s results to date.  They should be a realistic set of targets which may need revision later, dependent on actual results.

Having set the Major Goals for the season, training and racing leading up to the main targets should be used to develop the rider’s fitness for the important events.

Lesser events, particularly early season, can be used to measure fitness and improve skill levels.

A number of events can be used as intermediate goals which are not as important but will give a guide as to how the rider is progressing towards the bigger targets.

The event profile is specific to each discipline, ie time trialling, cyclo-cross, track, road, mountain bike, BMX etc.

You can use this to list the skills required in your particular event and indicate your current skill level against these from 1 to 10.  You will note that there is a column to list the coach’s current knowledge level as well.

Once completed you will find the skills or knowledge levels that need some work more than others.  By using this form for different events you might even find that you’re more suited to a different discipline altogether, or one that you’ve never even considered before.

From the information gained from the Profile time can be allowed in the programme to work on the skills which need improvement, for instance, riding into the wind, positioning in a bunch, cornering, racing in wet weather, climbing or descending.

The information gained from the Rider Plan and the Event Profile is used to plan the phases of the programme, ie:

  • Basic Preparation
  • Pre-season
  • Early Season
  • Main Racing Season
  • Recovery Period

And to make it simpler we have a Content of Plan Phases form.

Example Race Programme


The start and finish of each phase will depend on when your racing season is.

If your discipline is cyclo-cross your season is September to February, if it’s road racing or time trialling it’s March to September.

It’s no use being super-fit in January if your main racing period is in July.


The Plan Phases form then helps you to structure your training to suit your Race Programme for which we have a Year Plan.


All this information can then be used to produce what you’ve all been waiting for – The Training Plan – which can be broken down into months, weeks or numbers of weeks called ‘cycles’.


These are different types of cycles but we’ll leave those for another time.


Events to be ridden are listed in the Programme.  Some events will be Intermediate Goals and some will be Main Goals.  Training can be built around these goials.


Some events will be used as training, particularly early-season, and training can be tapered towards some of these goals.


Tapering involves maintaining the intensity and frequency of the training but reducing the volume.  The length of tapering and its value is often argued about, but can be between 3 days and 2 weeks.


My conclusion is that having a training plan has got to be a good thing even in its simplest form.  They serve to motivate, measure and improve performance.


Even going through the exercise of filling in the Rider Plan and Event Profile has got to be a good thing, as long as you are honest and realistic, as they help to highlight your strengths and weaknesses, and make you think why you do this in the first place, whilst setting goals to motivate you.


Richard Guymer
HTRC Coach


February 2010