Use the “Rule” of 3 for Better Training During Cyclocross Season

Several of my coaching clients and I currently use the “Rule” of 3 for our training during cyclocross season.


The Rule of 3 is in quotation marks since it’s more of a guideline than a rule.

Managing your fatigue is the key to lasting through a long cyclocross season and improving your speed and performance.

The Rule of 3 suggests that you do no more than three intensity sessions a week, sometimes only two for training during cyclocross season.

We are in the part of the season where many of us are racing both Saturday and Sunday, maybe even doubling up to get some extra time in.

So figuring out the weekly schedule can be a challenge as we try to increase our fitness throughout the season to peak for states, regionals, and nationals.

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Preparing for race season means more intensity and specificity

Coming into cross season, most riders have a pretty good base of fitness from road, mountain bike, and/or gravel riding.

Hopefully, you’ve put in a lot of hours of endurance riding and done some racing or long interval sessions.

We generallly follow a plan of as much endurance riding as we can in a week along with long threshold intervals to improve our FTP (functional threshold power).

In August we started doing more short high-intensity intervals while continuing to do long endurance rides to prepare for training during cyclocross season.

Training during cyclocross season means increasing the intensity of the interval sessions while decreasing the total volume of training.

And we got out on the cross bike to start practicing our skills.

Intervals should try to mimic racing

For training during cyclocross season, our goal is to do intervals that mimic the demands of racing.

So we started with 40/20s and built up to 45 minutes of work in total. (I usually race for 45 minutes.)

Now we are doing 30/15s and working up to 45 minutes of total work.

This means breaking up the intervals into 4×11 minutes or 5×9 minutes.

The other interval session I love doing is soccer field sprints.
I ride as fast as possible down the sideline, take the corner hot, pedal easy behind the goal, and do it all over again.

If I can do these for 45 minutes of work time, I’ll be ready for my peak races!

Skills practice is still an important part of training during cyclocross season

Most areas have some kind of organized weekly cross practice, usually on Wednesdays.

Even if you can’t make the practice, it’s always good to work on your skills, especially if you had some challenges the previous weekend or know there will be a particular challenge the following weekend.

For instance, you can work on your off-camber corners, barriers, or sand riding.

Maybe there are some mountain bike trails nearby that aren’t too rocky that will be good practice for your bike handling skills.

Training during cyclocross season means really dialing in your skills and working on your technical weaknesses.

Strength training and yoga still need to be a part of your cyclocross training during the season

Even if cyclocross is your main sport, you still need to do at least one strength training session a week, typically on Tuesday morning.

It’s important to lift some heavy weight, even if it’s three or four reps of a deadlift.

Doing core work and some side lunges in addition to some chest press/ pull and shoulder push/ pull will help maintain your strength for cyclocross training during the season.

Plus, if you are an older rider, it’s more important to work on your core and posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, back) to maintain your stability getting on and off the bike.

And yoga is a really good way to not only do strength training but also aid in your recovery while you are training during cyclocross season.

You can do poses that help you open your joints, like Pigeon or Downward Dog.

None of this should take a long time, maybe 30 minutes at most.

You still need to maintain your endurance

Finally, you need to keep up with doing endurance pace rides while you are training during cyclocross season.

This means about two to three-hour rides once a week at an easy talk pace.

Like strength training, you should get at least one long endurance session in a week, and shorter ones more often if possible.

Tuesday is usually the ideal day to do a longer ride, if possible.

Or, if you don’t race on a Sunday, use that day to get in your long ride.

The most important part of training during cyclocross season is recovery

The quickest way to lose speed and performance is to not take recovery days while racing and training during the cyclocross season.

Using a tool like HRV4Training is good to help you monitor your fatigue.

And taking at least one day off a week to let your body recover from the racing is critical.

You can do some easy yoga movements on an off day to stimulate recovery.

Training during cyclocross season is a good excuse for some extra naps and more couch time!

It’s true; you can tell your family I told you so!

Plus getting enough sleep is critical since we’re often traveling on weekends.

Eight to nine hours a night is optimal for restoring brain function and increasing natural HGH and testosterone.

Nutrition plays a key role

Fueling becomes a little different during the cyclocross season.

While you don’t need to eat as many carbohyrates as you did when you were putting in long weeks, you still need to keep well-fueled.

Adding additional protein into your diet to help recover from increased intensity.

You can check your KCal output on Training Peaks or your smart watch to get an idea of the differences in output from the summer training.

But nutrition and fueling for training during cyclocross season is an entirely extra topic for a different article.

How do you put all of this together?

Here is the hierarchy of cyclocross training during the season:

  1. Recovery. You have to be fresh, not only for the next weekend’s races but this week’s workouts.
  2. Endurance rides. You get a lot of intensity when you race. You need to maintain your aerobic capacity.
  3. Skills practice. You need to sharpen your skills and prepare for the next weekend’s races.
  4. Intervals. If you’re racing a lot, you really don’t need much interval work! But when you do intensity, go really, really, bleeding out of your eyeballs hard.

How does the Rule of 3 work?

The Rule of 3 for cyclocross training during the season means you should have no more than three intensity sessions per week.

At most!

Maybe only two.

Again, your recovery dictates what you should be doing for training.

If you race both days on the weekend, you might do another intensity session on Wednesday.

You could do your endurance day on Tuesday and maybe Thursday.

Monday might be a recovery day, and Fridays are openers.

I often suggest my clients do their hard intervals BEFORE Wednesday cross practice.

That way, Wednesday is a hard day, and you can recover Thursday with an off day or an easy endurance ride.

If you don’t race on the weekend, like Thanksgiving weekend, use that time to get in some long rides with the tempo intervals to stay on top of your intensity.

Plus, you can do back-to-back intensity days to simulate racing.

Want to know more about what you can achieve?

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Paul Warloski, Simple Endurance Coaching
In Fitness And In Health

I help everyday endurance athletes reach their adventure and challenge goals through personalized, holistic training, strength work, and yoga.