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How to Avoid Detraining – Maintain Endurance

By Jiri Kaloc

Maintaining endurance training adaptations is key for most cyclists. Thankfully, you can do that with very minimal effort even when your regular training routine is disrupted. Fitness is just like momentum on the bicycle, it takes a lot to build it up but much less to keep it going. Let’s take a look at what to do.

When do you start losing endurance?

Experienced cyclists don’t have to worry about breaks that last 2 weeks or less, those can actually be beneficial. Beginners, on the other hand, should avoid even short breaks as their endurance would drop fast. To measure drops in endurance capacity we can look at VO2max or time to exhaustion, i.e. how long you can maintain a certain tempo before failing.

Experienced riders don’t have to worry about breaks that last 2 weeks or less.

In beginners, VO2max gains can be completely lost after 4 weeks, but experienced cyclists might lose only 6 to 20% in that time. Time to exhaustion of experienced cyclists may be reduced by 7 to 25% within the first 2 to 4 weeks. Overall, endurance goes down by about 4 to 25% after 3-4 weeks of inactivity in experienced athletes. So, let’s take a look at what you can do to combat this process.

Maintain intensity but reduce volume

Studies show that the most important thing to maintain endurance during times of reduced training is keeping training intensity the same or even higher than normal. The good news is that you can reduce training volume by 60 to 90%. So, having fewer sessions that are really hard should do the job.

Frequency can be reduced too

Research also shows that you can reduce training frequency and still maintain your endurance capacity. Experienced cyclists should only reduce frequency by 20 to 30%, but beginners can reduce by 50 to 70%.

Having fewer sessions that are really hard should do the job. ©Profimedia, Caia Image

Detraining training program

Let’s take two examples. One is a beginner who trains 3 times a week and rides up to 2 hours in one session. The other is an experienced cyclist training 6 times a week riding up to 5 hours in one session.

Beginner cyclist

This type of cyclist can reduce frequency from 3 sessions a week to 2 or even 1. The reduction in volume should be taken care of by the reduction in frequency. But the duration can also be reduced from 2 hours per session to about 30 minutes per session. The intensity should be higher, especially if it’s only one 30-minute session a week, it should include intervals at or above the lactate threshold.

Experienced cyclist

This type of cyclist can cut down from 6 training days to 4 or even 3 per week. It is also advisable to include at least 1 or 2 interval sessions to keep intensity the same or higher than normal. The remaining 1 to 2 session can be longer with some hill climbs if possible.

If you’re able to get close to this level of training in the off-season, during an injury or other break from your regular training schedule, then you will maintain your endurance capacity with ease. Next time we will look at what you can do to maintain your strength and flexibility.

Next up in How to Avoid Detraining series