Cycle training for youth and junior riders

Prescribing the right training for youth and junior athletes is of great importance. The general model of training prescribed to adult athletes tends to focus on a pyramidical structure with low intensity taking up the base of the pyramid and high intensity efforts taking less volume at the peak. However, adults and growing pre-adults have very different training requirements due to differences in skeletal muscles and development of the metabolic systems. There are other psychological and educational issues that need to be considered as well.

It’s commonly viewed that for cycling, specifically endurance events such as road races, that high volume of low intensity is required alongside short durations of high intensity exercise so as to achieve greater mitochondrial biogenesis mediated via calcium signalling, which responds primarily to high volume, and the AMPK enzyme, which responds primarily to high intensity. However for youth and junior athletes there are other considerations that we’re going to look in to.

The duration of competition for youth and junior athletes is generally significantly shorter than that of U23 and senior level athletes. For British Cycling, youth races are limited to closed circuit and 60 minutes race duration. Junior races are generally limited to 100km at their longest in Regional A races, while final year juniors can race National B band races, 120km plus. This is a stark contrast to National A (130-180km) or UCI level events which can exceed 200km in the international scene. The point is, the duration of youth and junior events is significantly shorter, and therefore training does not necessarily need to be as high volume. A further reason why total training volume should be lower in youth and junior athletes is that they are often still in full-time education. This requires a lot of time during the week, while at the weekend time should still be made for social activities.

Another consideration for the type of training is that younger riders are able to grow their actual maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max) through increased actual lung capacity and other functions due to still growing and developing. Riders who have stopped growing can increase VO2max by reducing weight but can’t increase actual lung capacity at all, or muscle increases to the same extent. This changes what training is most suitable for certain age of riders depending on where they are on the development scale as shown by various researchers (Pichardo et al., 2018). Focus should be less on endurance and more on speed, power, strength and fundamental movement skills at a younger age, before switching to more endurance/metabolic conditioning and more sports specific skills as they get older.

It is also important to promote variation in sport and activities for several reasons. Firstly, the priority of training at younger ages should be fun with performance being a result of intrinsic motivation. Secondly, other sports can promote different movement skills and physiological development that a single sport may not provide. Focussing more on one sport and specialising is something that is often suggested as better done at the age of 16.

One final important aspect of training for younger athletes is nutrition. It is incredibly vital for athletes who are training to fuel adequately to allow adaptations to occur, even more so when building muscle mass (type 1 and type 2 fibres) as younger riders will be doing just in the growing process. It’s all too easy for younger athletes to see professional cyclists, who have achieved very lean physiques which would not be healthy to maintain year round, and want to emulate them. This can lead to stunted development, poor aerobic performance, and reduction in cognitive function in school. Proper energy availability should be a primary focus for youth athletes and their coaches as it will lead to better long and short term health and performance.

If you’re a youth, junior rider, or parent please feel free to get in touch with us about any concerns you might have to ensure that you or your child is training in a way that will best optimise health, education, performance, and having fun!


Pichardo, A. W., Oliver, J. L., Harrison, C. B., Maulder, P. S., & Lloyd, R. S. (2018). Integrating models of long-term athletic development to maximize the physical development of youth. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching13(6), 1189-1199.

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