After having nearly 18 months off the bike due to illness, I recently jumped back in to training. However, with zero residual fitness it was back to square one to rebuild my ‘base’ before venturing back into racing. At the moment I am over half way through week seven back on the bike and things are progressing well, with my power coming back up and both my heart rate and weight going down. For those interested, I thought I might outline the four key training principles I follow in my own training. These are:
- Correct Intensity
For me the number 1 training principle I follow is making sure the intensity of each of my training rides is correct to meet the desired physical adaptation I am trying to achieve. Basically this means if I am focussing on endurance then I am working at specific intensities below threshold. If its ‘race power’ I am after then its intervals at threshold, VO2 or anaerobic intensities. Getting the intensity right is something I take very seriously when I am training as I don’t have time to spare for ‘junk miles’ (which I define as any time on the bike not explicitly meeting my training goals). This means most of my training sessions are between 1-2 hours long.
This raises the question, how do I know what the correct intensity is? Well that’s one of the reasons I have a power meter, it makes testing my fitness a lot easier and enables me to put more accurate boundaries around the intensity I need to complete each session. Like the riders I coach, I regularly undertake a number of test efforts, including ramp tests, power profile test, and yes, even some lactate testing. The exact test I do depends on what time of the season it is and what my current training focus is. If its early on, when aerobic endurance is the main goal, then its the lactate test. Later on as I start looking to do more work at or above threshold then its a ramp test and power profile efforts on the road. The lactate test is a great test to dial in the training zones but it is extremely valuable at helping to ensure that your ‘base’ k’s are done at the right intensity (i.e. not too easy or hard). The ramp test is a good one to help identify max aerobic heart rate and power but I do find the power profile efforts are more useful as it helps isolate the on-road power.
Once my training session has been completed I focus on recovery. For me this comes in two forms, nutrition and time off the bike. Just about every training ride or race I do I have recovery nutrition planned that I can consume within 30 minutes of completing the session. By far my preferred option here is Sustagen, as it’s convenient and loaded with a perfect mix of protein and carbs (when prepared with low fat milk!). After that my attention turns to training for the next day. It might surprise some people, but when I am training solidly I don’t plan my rest days for a set day each week. Rather I plan them for when I am going to need them, that being when I am fatigued and need recovery. Hand in hand with this is tweaking the training sessions on a given day based on how I am feeling. If I am tired and can’t keep the power in the right range then I will either cut the session short, change the focus of the ride or take an extra rest day.
At the moment my training schedule is being based around a 3:1 work to recovery cycle. Basically I aim to train three days in a row and then have a rest day. The structure of the training over these three days is such that I know I will likely need a rest day after the third day. This is also where my power data comes in handy as it helps model the fatigue levels after each ride and over the years I have a good feel for when I need to rest rather than train in order to get the best results.
Remember it’s the training that stresses the body but without recovery there is no adaptation or improvement in performance.
This is closely linked with #1 – Correct Intensity, but its a broader perspective that dictates the sequence of sessions each week and throughout the season. On a day-to-day basis this principle drives my exact selection of training intensity and duration for each session, ensuring I get in the necessary training but also that I recover appropriately between the sessions.
On the larger scale it defines at what points of the season I change from doing base training to race preparation (e.g. threshold) type work and back again. As mentioned at the outset, I have come into this year with zero base fitness so at the moment I am undertaking a prolonged base training phase. Exactly how long this phase lasts will greatly depend on how my body adapts to the training. As I have several years worth of power data I have a good picture of what my abilities are so I can use this, along with new test data (such as the lactate tests or power profiling) to determine when it’s time to start doing harder intervals.
It’s important to remember that the more ‘quality’ base training you can get in before your race preparation phase, the better you will perform in your competition phase, and the longer you should be able to hold on to your peak form.
Number 1 or 4? Consistency in training could be placed at either of these places. However, consistency without the correct mix of intensity and recovery just means you ride your bike lots and often. Consistency of quality training and the correct intensity, at the right time of the year and with adequate recovery is what leads to improvement. Everything else without the consistency just doesn't get you very far.
It is for this reason I am taking a very conservative approach to my training at the moment and the philosophy I am following comes from one of the best running coaches of all time – Arthur Lydiard. Essentially I assess every ride on a scale of repeatability. A broad interpretation of this scale is as follows:
- 1/4 Session – is a session I complete that I could do again, at the same intensity and duration, straight after finishing the first one.
- 1/2 Session – is a session that I could not do again straight away but I could repeat the next day.
- 3/4 Session – is a session that takes 1-2 days recovery before being able to complete it again at the same (or higher) intensity and duration.
At the moment all of my sessions are either 1/4 or 1/2 sessions, but with a total accumulated training load that I expect that I will need a recovery day every fourth day (my 3:1 ration mentioned above). Now I could quite easily just aim for another, shorter 1/4 session on that fourth day, however my slightly conservative approach at this time makes sure I can back up from one session to the next and keep my consistency – after all its better to have one planned recovery day than be required to take two or even seven if I get ill. The 3/4 sessions will start to come in later on, once my base aerobic fitness is where I want it to be (which is another 30-40 watts higher than it is now).
It shouldn’t be surprising that, as a coach, these are also the key training principles I use when setting programs for my riders (or writing set training plans). However, there are additional factors that also need to be considered when planning for peak performance, such as skills development, nutrition, tactics and race craft.
So, they next time you pick up your bike and head out for a training session, ask yourself these questions:
What intensity will the ride be at and why?
What will be my recovery strategy after the ride?
Is my training ride the right one for my current needs?
Will doing this ride lead to excessive fatigue and/or illness?
Argonaut Cycle Coaching