Cycling fitness plan: shape up with these simple 30-minute sessions

Cycle yourself fit with our eight-week cycling fitness plan, split into straightforward 30-minute sessions

Woman road cycling up a hill
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're keen to start cycling for fitness but don't know where to start, we're here to help with our eight-week expert training plan.

World events such as the Tour de France and the Olympics have prompted many of us to start pedaling for fitness. And for good reason: the benefits of cycling are endless, from increasing body strength to improving co-ordination, plus as a low-impact exercise it's easy on your joints.

We've enlisted Ironman triathlete Claire Donald to devise this plan; having previously cycled the length of New Zealand, she knows a thing or two about getting fit on two wheels!

The plan itself is broken down into manageable 30-minute workouts. You'll aim to complete four sessions a week - one on an outdoor bike and three on a stationary bike. For the latter you'll need to head to your local gym, or - if you're serious about getting into cycling fitness - consider investing in a machine for home use. We've picked the best exercise bikes to get you started.

Cycling fitness plan explained

The plan is based around Rate of Perceived endurance (RPE) to ensure you’re working hard enough, but also at a pace that suits your fitness levels. RPE is simply how hard you are cycling in relation to your own ability. It is rated from one to 10, with 10 being maximum exertion. Or to put it more simply…

  • Easy = 3-4 
  • Steady = 5
  • Brisk = 6
  • Hard = 7
  • Very hard = 8-9
  • Max = 10

Each of the four sessions also has a different aim: 

  • Speed enduro: Maintain high intensity for one to five minutes so you can cycle faster for longer.
  • HIIT: Be able to cycle for periods of 30 to 60 seconds at very high intensity to improve fitness levels fast.
  • Enduro: Maintain lower intensity for five minutes and more so you can cycle for longer periods of time on steeper terrain.
  • Stamina: Cycle for longer and take on new challenges outdoors.

If you’re a beginner, repeat each week until you feel ready to move on to the next. If you have a higher fitness level, squeeze in an extra weekend session by saddling up on Saturday and Sunday, too.

Don't have access to an exercise bike? No problem - you can try the same 30-minute training session on a cycle path or a safe and quiet stretch of road.

And if you do have access to an exercise bike at home but not an outdoor one, you can do the outdoor sessions indoors – just turn the resistance up to simulate hills!

Our eight-week cycling fitness training plan

Ready to get pedaling? Here's a detailed breakdown of the eight-week cycling fitness plan, with instructions on what to do for each of the four weekly sessions.

Week 1

Goal = intro to bike, cadence (pedaling rate) and training sessions

Monday

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 9 mins
  • Take a 1 min break
  • Repeat x 3 

Wednesday (exercise bike) - HIIT session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 6 for 30 secs and RPE 3 for 1 min; repeat x 6
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 11 mins

Friday (exercise bike) - enduro session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 4 mins and RPE 3 for 3 mins; repeat x 2
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 6 mins

Weekend (outdoor bike) - stamina session

  • Cycle RPE 3-4 for 30 mins
  • Stick to quiet roads and practice signaling

Week 2

Goal = adjust to different intensities and smooth pedal stroke

Monday

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 4 mins and RPE 3 for 2 mins; repeat x 2
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 8 mins

Wednesday (exercise bike) - HIIT session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 6 for 30 secs and RPE 3 for 1 min; repeat x 7
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 9 mins 30 secs

Friday (exercise bike) - enduro session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 11 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 9 mins
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins

Weekend (outdoor bike) - stamina session

  • Cycle RPE 4 for 30 mins
  • Choose an undulating route to increase stamina and strength

Man working out on an indoor exercise bike

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Week 3

Goal = increase cadence and gear selection

Monday

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 4 mins and RPE 3 for 2 mins; repeat x 2
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 8 mins

Wednesday (exercise bike) - HIIT session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 9 mins
  • Cycle RPE 6 for 30 secs and RPE 3 for 1 min; repeat x 8
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 9 mins

Friday (exercise bike) - enduro session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 11 mins
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 9 mins

Weekend (outdoor bike) - stamina session

  • Cycle RPE 3-6 for 30 mins
  • Choose a hilly route! Work harder on the uphill sections and enjoy the recovery on the way down

Week 4

Goal = recovery and adaptation, bike handling skills

Monday

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 3 mins and RPE 3 for 2 mins; repeat x 2
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins

Wednesday (exercise bike) - HIIT session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 3 mins and RPE 3 for 2 mins; repeat x 2
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins

Friday (exercise bike) - enduro session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 12 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 8 mins
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins

Weekend (outdoor bike) - stamina session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 30 mins
  • Work on stopping and starting smoothly at lights and junctions

Week 5

Goal = increase intensity and cadence

Monday

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 3 mins and RPE 3 for 1 min; repeat x 3
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 6 mins

Wednesday (exercise bike) - HIIT session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 11 mins
  • Cycle RPE 7 for 30 secs and RPE 3 for 1 min; repeat x 6
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins

Friday (exercise bike) - enduro session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 8 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 14 mins
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 8 mins

Weekend (outdoor bike) - stamina session

  • Cycle RPE 4-6 for 30 mins
  • Find long stretches of quiet roads and take pace up to ‘brisk’ when you can

Week 6

Goal = build more strength and learn to ‘feel’ for gears

Monday

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 8 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 3 mins and RPE 3 for 1 min; repeat x 4
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 6 mins

Wednesday (exercise bike) - HIIT session

  • Cycle RPE 4 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 7 for 30 secs and RPE 4 for 1 min; repeat x 7
  • Cycle RPE 4 for 9 mins 30 secs

Friday (exercise bike) - enduro session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 8 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 17 mins
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 5 mins

Weekend (outdoor bike) - stamina session

  • Cycle RPE 5 for 30 mins
  • Try to keep pace up on this ride

Week 7

Goal = increase intensity and hill-climbing technique

Monday

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 5 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 3 mins and RPE 3 for 1 min; repeat x 5
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 5 mins

Wednesday (exercise bike) - HIIT session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 7 for 30 secs and RPE 3 for 1 min; repeat x 8
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 7 mins 30 secs

Friday (exercise bike) - enduro session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 5 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 20 mins
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 5 mins

Weekend (outdoor bike) - stamina session

  • Cycle RPE 5 for 30 mins
  • Pick a hilly route and try to keep pace up on inclines

Week 8

Goal = Recovery

Monday

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 9 mins
  • Cycle RPE 5 for 3 mins and RPE 3 for 1 min; repeat x 3
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 9 mins

Wednesday (exercise bike) - HIIT session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 11 mins
  • Cycle RPE 7 for 30 secs and RPE 3 for 1 min; repeat x 5
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins

Friday (exercise bike) - enduro session

  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 3-4 for 10 mins
  • Cycle RPE 3 for 10 mins

Weekend (outdoor bike) - stamina session

  • Cycle RPE 3-4 for 30 mins
  • Find a picturesque route – and enjoy!

Claire's 6 top cycling fitness tips

  1. Resist bouncing around in the saddle – keep your core engaged and your upper body stable.
  2. Keep pedal stroke smooth throughout its rotation and select the correct gears to help maintain an even cadence on the hills.
  3. Don’t hate hills, as they’re great for increasing strength and power. Just take your time – it will get easier.
  4. Stay seated on inclines  to increase your power. 
  5. Enter an event before you start training to help keep you motivated.
  6. Always keep yourself hydrated and stay cool. Check out our pick of the best gym water bottles to keep hydrated whilst on the bike.
Natalia Lubomirski
Natalia Lubomirski

Natalia is a health and fitness journalist who has written for the likes of Woman & Home and Marie Claire, and likes to practice what she preaches when it comes to staying fit and well. She loves the outdoors and would happily swap the treadmill for the trail at any opportunity. As such, in her free time you'll likely find her up a mountain somewhere. She has hiked eight of the major mountain ranges across four continents, including the Appalachians, the Smokies, the Sierra Nevadas (where she hiked to the top of Half Dome during her honeymoon) and the Atlas Mountains, as well hitting the summits of Snowdon and Pen-Y-Fan (Brecon Beacons), Table Mountain in South Africa and the Blue Mountains in Australia. She was also a fencer for 13 years, wielding an epée for Team GB during her teenage years. Having recently welcomed a baby, Natalia is currently getting back into her fitness routine, and has her sights set on completing a triathlon, something she and her husband started out on before their bundle of joy arrived.