Be ready to adjust
This might sound counter-intuitive but strictly following a training plan no matter what may not be the correct long-term strategy. You might get ill, injured, have extra workload at your job, social commitments, exceptionally bad weather, and many other reasons that call for an adjustment. Alternatively, sometimes you might also discover a new way to train or get advice from someone more experienced. So, being open to change and flexible can pay off in the long-term. A good first step is to start tracking heart-rate variability to be able to tell in the morning whether your body is ready for the training load that’s panned or if you need to adjust.
Periodisation doesn’t have to be complicated but it has to be done. In a very basic sense, it just means that you should train differently at different times of the year. For example, during the winter off-season, you will do more volume but not much intensity but as you get closer to racing, you will introduce a lot more intensity and less volume. The fact that your training changes in a planned and systematic way makes it easier for you to develop as a cyclist. If you just did the same rides, at the same intensity and duration, you would plateau a lot earlier and likely lose motivation.
Increase intensity gradually
It’s very easy for amateur cyclists to get too enthusiastic after a good week of training and ramp-up intensity way too much in the following one. Or they might get nervous before a race and start training twice as much to feel more confident. These are exactly the situations where a good training plan is the best prevention for overtraining and injury. A training plan should increase the level of stress on the athlete’s body gradually. That way, positive and sustainable training adaptations can take place and fitness can keep rising without the risk of burnout.
Add race-specific workouts
It is important to build your endurance base, your threshold power, your VO2 max, sprints, and so on. But those are only isolated physiological systems and aspects of fitness. In a race, you need to be able to use all of them in a new scenario. When you start getting closer to your race day, you should plan a race-specific training. Simulate the specific things you will do in a race in your training.
Track progress and iterate
What sets pros apart from amateurs is often the fact that they are obsessed with results and tracking of the progress. Be like them. After finishing a training block, test whether it had the training effect you hoped for or not. Was the goal muscular endurance? Then measure how much better it is now and compare it to different training blocks with the same goal. That way, you can leave behind the blocks that don’t work and do more of those that help you get better. Also, track and update your training intensity zones like heart rate and power. Sticking with the same values can easily make you under- or overtrain.
Next up in the series, we will go over specific examples of cycling workouts for recovery, endurance, lactate threshold, and VO2max.