How often can I do my hard sessions? What do I do if I am not recovering between sessions? What do I do if my form has plateaued?
We have had quite a tiring week this week, what with preparing for the first trips and getting some training in? We are very fortunate in many ways, obviously, and weeks like this week only reinforce that. This is what most people are trying to do all the time – fit their riding into a busy weekly schedule.
I have spent a fair amount of my time building up new bikes and preparing them for the first two trips. In France and Italy, the quality of hire bikes is poor and they are so expensive! Commonly they are old ali frames with old equipment and yet several hundreds of euros per week!
In Tenerife, the bike hire company we use provide great quality machines at good prices and so using them makes sense. In France, we have decided to invest in some good quality carbon bikes and then we can offer better hire bikes at a sensible price, far lower than using a bike shop or hire company.
So the new bikes arrived last week and I have been putting them together and checking them out to make sure they are road-worthy. We then have to supply bottle cages and back packs, with spare tubes, levers and multi-tools, and then the package is complete!
But this is tiring work and after travelling last weekend, I have been much more tired than usual. So the riding has been affected. But knowing what to do if this is the case is complicated.
For most people, their cycling is their fun, and their escape, and so they want to go out to train, and they are aware of their form creeping away from them if they don’t. But in reality, you need to do less to allow for the extra stress of work and life! Otherwise, your form will drop due to fatigue and you really risk getting ill and being off the bike for a while.
So today’s blog is about what happens when your fitness starts to plateau, either through life being more complicated, or through cycling related fatigue.
What we did in the end was to change what we were doing, obviously! We had planned to do four three day blocks before going out to watch the Giro, so we could fit in four hard speed sessions to improve Jen’s powers! So we rode hard last Monday, as reported last week, and despite being tired from the travelling, it was a good quality session.
Tuesday, however, was not. We had planned to do a 3 hour ride up to the lower end of sweetspot on the climbs, and Jen was struggling from the start. We kept the pace down, as this is not supposed to be a particularly hard ride anyway, but she was well below her sweetspot, bizarrely apart from the last 4 km of the main climb where she suddenly felt better, and then she cracked on the way back.
In the end the ride was three and a half hours and she was wiped! So we headed out on Wednesday for a light, recovery ride with the plan of another hard session on Thursday, but on Thursday morning, we both felt tired still. Okay, we could have done the session. But we want to improve, and this is the usual trap that most people fall into. They ‘complete’ the session, just, but have not recovered enough from the previous hard session to improve. It just ends up being the same again!
So we took another light day on Thursday and then both of us felt much better on Friday! Jen noted an increase in her FTP of five watts over the previous session, and my thirty second pieces were 2km/hr faster up the same climb as the Monday session! ( I am still waiting for my power meter so am using cadence and speed up the same climb to compare!).
This meant that we were not going to fit in four blocks, but that is not the point really. The point is to improve! So we then headed out early for a five hour ride of 120km with 1800m of climbing on Saturday and this was much better than the three and half hour ride on Tuesday was.
So we have accepted that we need an extra day of recovery between the hard days, but this means that the second day of the block can be a bit longer. So we have a hard day, a long sweetspot day, a medium length light ride and then a recovery ride in each block and then the hard sessions should all be when we are fresh and ready!
What Do You Do if You Have Stopped Improving?
So this leads nicely into this week’s training advice. What do you do if you have stopped improving?
The most common reason for this to happen is that you are not fresh when you hit your fast sessions. As we have said so many times before, most people train too hard, too often, which means that they ride fatigued most of the time. Riding the bike is about endurance, obviously, and during events, you will reach your limit and be hanging on at the end.
But you shouldn’t be riding like this every day! For you to improve, you have to have a couple of really good days on the bike every week – mentally as much as physically – when you just feel great and can really ride hard. And that is what you do! These fast sessions will massively improve your speed, if you can push harder than you ever have before! So make sure you are ready for them!
BUT, do not compromise them with what you do in the days between these sessions! Of course, do some long easy miles, but you must NOT do anything that will lead you to be fatigued on the next fast day! Do all your muscle damage on these two days, provide a massive stimulus for your body to improve, and then rest! That is how you improve.
What happens for most people is the next session does not go so well because they carry some fatigue into it – it is still a damn hard session BUT it is not faster.
Now this fatigue may be due to the riding you have done in between being too hard, or, as with our week, other factors leaving you tired. It may be that what you do is quite physical anyway, but just sitting at a desk does not help your recovery! In my case, I am doing something that I am not used to and so all the bending and lifting whilst building the bikes is making me sore and tired (especially my back! ).
The difficulty then is that most people have a weekly cycle of riding which fits in with their work/family lives and so if Saturday is one of their big days on the bike, say, but on Saturday you feel tired, it becomes difficult to miss the session out! So you go, but it just isn’t a great session! And the fatigue has now got much worse!
So how do you break the cycle (no pun intended!).
When I have coached riders in the past, one of the key discussions has been around what available time they have for riding AND what other stresses are they dealing with. They will get much further with their riding if the pattern of riding is sustainable, even if the build up is slower! It doesn’t matter, so long as there is improvement!
So one of the options is to build more recovery in between the sessions. This might mean delaying the session until later in the day! Try this to see if it works for you. If one of your hard sessions is Saturday morning, say, (I used to use make Saturday fast and Sunday long with most of my riders who were working all week) then try hitting your next hard session on Tuesday night.
Even though this is only three days after, by making it an evening session, it gives just a few more hours of recovery.
If you are not working, an eight day cycle (two blocks of four days rather than a three and a four each week) is probably preferable. This is the block pattern that the pros use most. They will do three days with the intensity highest on day one, the longest day on day 2, and with a shorter, lower intensity ride (may still be four hours for those guys!!!!) on day 3, and then a recovery day on day 4.
With massage, good quality sleep and nutrition, and no other life/work disruptions, they can recover ready for the next four day block, and so on!
So what do you do if you are restricted to a seven day weekly pattern and you still can’t recover well enough between your hard sessions?
The next thing to try is having recovery ‘blocks’ within your training. A lot of people do this anyway and maybe take every third or fourth week as a light week. But there are a couple of questions here for me?
Do you know you really need this recovery when it comes along? What do you do if you are falling apart well before your recovery block is about to happen? Do you need a whole week to recover?
In reality, it is better to take the recovery blocks when you need them, and to take as long as you need! Everyone is different here. I prefer to have two good days every week, and so put enough recovery into every week, and so rarely need a long time off. I might go six to eight weeks before I need a break and then it is often four days at most.
But you may need to recover more often, especially if you have a habit of riding with others a lot, which tends to make too many of your days too hard, (but not hard enough to make you faster!). BUT, you need to get used mentally to what is going to happen.
When you start each block, you will feel well rested and you will be going well. Your first two hard days may go well and you will probably see an improvement. And then it will start to get worse!
As the fatigue starts to accumulate, your performance will drop! This is the tough bit! Most riders start to panic here and often push even harder with disasterous results. After a week where things have started to tail off, take your break! NO LONGER! Don’t keep battering yourself!
This is the basis of the ‘over-reaching’ approach to training, which works well with a lot of people. Short blocks of raised volume and/or intensity with FULL recovery between. This is a great solution if you are really planning to break all records this year BUT have a busy life.
It is easier to hit two weeks hard, and maybe put in a few more hours (this might mean you need to take a few days holiday, or call in a few of those brownie points you have earned from your better half!) and then cut your training volume in half for the next week (you might need a full week if you are following this approach) and earn a few more brownie points to use in your next block!
In TSS terms, you might hit a ramp rate of 12 for these two weeks, (that requires you to make your Acute Training Load about 70 higher per day than your current Chronic Training Load or Fitness Score) before going back to riding at your new Chronic Training level for the third week.
Obviously this produce no ramp rate in the third week, but the net effect is a ramp rate of 8, which is possible for most people, especially early on in their training cycle, but if this is a touch high for you, then reduce this to a ramp rate of 8 or 9 for the two weeks (ATL of 50 per day above your CTL).
But as I have explained, do not expect your form to grow during the training phase, you will get worse, as it happens, but you should feel stronger at the beginning of the next block!
Just make sure that your light week is properly light. Don’t get drawn into a fast, competitive group ride in this week. I would suggest you ride on your own. It is so easy to keep pushing in this week, especially after a couple of lighter days, BUT this just results in you falling apart much sooner in your next block!
I hope this gives you some ideas that help! If you aren’t improving at the moment you need to change something. For most people, they try to ride harder more often, which then continues the problem, whereas the solution is to build more recovery into your riding, allowing those fast days to be even faster!
What a disaster on Sunday’s stage in the Giro! I did not think Thomas or Yates would win this Giro, but the battle would have been so much more interesting if more of the GC riders had been within a minute or so of each other. The are now going to have to ride differently, and may even decide that stage wins would be preferable now.
If so, they will deliberately lose 30 minutes on one of the stages so that they are no longer a threat on GC and will be allowed to go up the road by the other teams. The organisers have lined up a big last week to excite the public and now they have fewer riders who will be up there! What a shame!
The most surprising ride for me was that of Tom Dumoulin – losing only 30 seconds to Quintana on a long steep climb like the Blockhaus is an amazing performance. Given his ability against the clock, you have to think that he can gain maybe four minutes in the two time trials and this then gives him a lot of time to play with in the third week.
He has faded before, notably in the Vuelta when he held the leader’s jersey, but he is a couple of years older now, has better endurance and is lighter than before. He could win this if he can hold it all together. We could have the next big GC star in the making here!
So the TT today will be interesting and then it is all lined up for the final week. Unfortunately the weather forecast isn’t great so I hope the big stages aren’t affected by snow! There is still time for the forecast to change before then and also for it not to be as bad as they think it will be at present – if the mountain stages are cut short, then this will definitely suit Dumoulin!
The Week Ahead.
We will be here until Friday this week and then head off to Italy for the start of the trip on Saturday. So one more speed session today, another five hour ride tomorrow, and then a shorter, lighter ride on Thursday will be planned whilst we are here. Then the riding will be governed by what the trip includes (and possibly the weather!).
After a four day rest, where we will do our own riding, we then have the second trip in Italy and then return to France for a week with a group going from Geneva to Nice again. So the next four weeks will be quite full on, and then we will have a well deserved break.
So the blog will be on hold for the next few weeks, and then we will have lots to talk about when we have finished! Have a great next few weeks everyone!