How To Train For Cyclocross — ’Cross Continuing Education

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Berden hopping the barriers on the last day of Jingle Cross Rock 2013. © Mike McColgan

How do you get pro? Years and years of practice—just look at Ben Berden! © Mike McColgan

One of the beauties of cyclocross is the relatively small training time commitment. ’Cross is a 60 minute (or less) affair. With such a short race, you might be wondering how to train for cyclocross if you’re coming from a road or mountain bike background where races are often multi-hour events. We’re here to help!

The average racer has no need to spend more than two hours on any given training ride. With a little creativity and schedule-shuffling, even with busy lives can still race competitively. Parents can still find a nice balance between training and family time. Our Coaching Corner is a good place to start looking for training advice and work-out ideas, and each issue of our magazine features at least one article on training—in fact, Issue 25 will have three! A few years back, coach Mike Birner helped us come up with some great cyclocross training plans, and while times have changed a bit, the plans still work well today.

If you can barely squeeze in a single training ride during the week and you’re just starting out, don’t worry. Line up for the beginner race because it’s very likely you’ll be able to hang out in the middle of the pack. Combined with a weekend race effort, that training ride should be enough to carry your fitness over to the next weekend.

Georgia Gould at Elite Women 2014 USA Cyclocross Nationals. © Steve Anderson

Like ’cross? Get ready to suffer. Georgia Gould at Elite Women 2014 USA Cyclocross Nationals. © Steve Anderson

Those who have more time to train during the week will most likely be able to hold their own in the higher level races, with some practice. Even if you’re strapped for time, adding some high intensity training is perfect for the fast pace and short duration of a ’cross race. And if you’re racing most weekends, you’re in luck, since that means you need to make sure you’re incorporating rest days before and after your races. Allowing your body to recover after a race day will help prevent fatigue from taking a toll—that leaves Fridays and Mondays largely as rest days for the average racer!

Don’t forget that cyclocross is a largely skill-based sport, and as such, technique matters just as much as fitness. All the road rides in the world won’t make you better at barriers, so consider taking one or two days per week to focus on skills like cornering, barriers and even (groan) running. Attending a skills clinic or hiring a coach for a skills session is another great option to increase your race speed without adding a ton of hours to your regular weekly training.

Don’t forget, training needs vary from person to person. The advice here and on the website may not be tailored or detailed enough for you, and your best friend’s training plan may not be a perfect fit either. If you’re serious about ’cross, think about hiring a coach to at least help work out a basic training schedule—even a newbie can benefit from some structure, and veteran racers may be amazed by what they accomplish with some guidance!

Get schooled in cyclocross with our Cyclocross Academy class list here, and make sure you’re subscribed to Cyclocross Magazine, your guide for getting into the sport, and upping your ’cross knowledge. Not subscribed yet? For the newbies, our Issue 21 has a great feature on buying your first cyclocross bike, and Issue 22 has a story on how to get into racing and what to expect at your first race.



Cyclocross Magazine, Issue 22, Print and digital subscriptionsHave you subscribed yet? You're missing out if not. Get all-original content and your cyclocross fix throughout the year with a subscription and Issue 23 back copy, with features on Lars van der Haar, Jonathan Page, Elle Anderson and more!
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There have been some really good articles in the magazine and in the help section.  The thing about intervals is that they need to be measured effort and you need to decide what you are training.  

If you are training Maximal Effort, recovery time needs to be long enough to actually recover.  This way you are working on maximal power delivery.  If what you want is to peg your effort really hard (like race level accelerations out of corners, etc) then you don't actually want maximal efforts.  You want an effort that you can barely hold for (say in this context) 1 minute, then recover for a minute then repeat.  If your final effort is not at the same output (power is an ideal measure but speed on a repeated section will do) then you are actually going too hard for the training impact you desire.  If you can do another repeat then your effort level was not high enough.

Think of it this way, if you are lifting weights and the first set you can lift 100lbs but by the 4th you can only move 15 what exactly are you training?  Not strength at that point ... most likely muscular endurance and "size".

But as Molly noted in the article, in the beginning skills trump almost anything else.  I have been consistently hammered by guys who cannot hold my wheel on the straights but are like butter in the "crossy" bits ... I, on the other hand, am like a pig on ice in the off camber tight twisties ;)

Jimmy Candelaria
Jimmy Candelaria

Zach Max effort intervals. One minute on one minute rest. Repeat 7 times. 3 times a week.


What sort of training? How do you get access to a CX course? I ride mountains in France for about an hour a day doing short sharp bursts getting upto And plus 36 mph and averaging 16 mph up and down hill? Would I do ok in a competition?

Jay Swavely
Jay Swavely

I remember when no one trained for cross. They just rode their bikes and laughed a lot.

John Hansen
John Hansen

love the training articles that have been flowing lately.... how about a actual "training program" ???

Zachary Redding
Zachary Redding

According to the article, I don't have time to train. Can someone invent a 7-minute CX workout, please?

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