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Breaking Through a Training Plateau – Volume

By Jiri Kaloc

Something has to change. That’s the only way to deal with a training plateau. There are several aspects of your training to consider. Let’s start with volume. Should you do more to keep progressing? And how much more? Or should you take your foot off the gas?

Are you completing your training sessions?

Before you can decide how to adjust the training volume, you have to take an honest look at your current workouts. Even if you’re following a training plan that includes progression, it’s not guaranteed you will get better. That’s because the plan itself can’t account for your current condition. Simply said, sometimes, you just aren’t able to complete the prescribed training session. Should you repeat the week or just continue with the next week as prescribed?

MTB female
Your body eventually gets very good at adapting to the same training load. It reaches a point where the previous level of stress, your last training session, is no longer recognised by the body as a stressor. © Profimedia

Stay patient

Often, cyclists choose to continue with the training plan regardless of how their last session went. That might be OK once in a while. Maybe it was a night of bad sleep or a nutritional mistake that caused it. But if you keep ignoring the fact that you’re unable to complete a session, you might get yourself in trouble. It is a sign from your body that you need more time to adapt before you can progress. You should repeat the current workout until you can complete it fully before moving on. In this scenario, being patient and flexible is the key to breaking through the plateau. Adding more volume would only deepen the issue.

There are times when increasing volume is the answer. Think back to the theory of adaptation from the first part of this series. Your body will keep adapting to the training stimulus until it becomes easy and no more progress is possible. This can be an issue especially for athletes who are limited on time. Adding more volume means spending more time on the bike and that can be a challenge.

Increase volume by more than 20%

The key is to increase volume enough to really make a difference. If you reached a plateau, chances are that a gradual 5-10% increase might not be enough to cause a significant change. Try to aim for a substantial increase of 20% to be sure. It will be demanding to find the time but breaking the plateau is worth it.

Cyclist training
There are two main reasons you could be hitting a plateau based on the adaptation theory. The first one is simple; you are training too much and your body is unable to recover and it stagnates or you even become less fit. © Profimedia

Let’s take the example of someone who rides 8 hours per week. Increasing volume by 20% means adding roughly 1,5 hours every week. The best use of that extra time is to add it to 1-2 rides. It’s more effective to add at least 45 minutes to two rides than add 15 minutes every day. This can be hard! Here are a few ideas for how to create extra cycling time.

1. Try riding to the start of your group ride. If you have to commute to your group rides or to meet a cycling buddy, consider spending that time in the saddle. You can do the same after the ride is over or ask a friend to drive you home. It’s an easy way to add an hour of volume.

2. Commute on a bike. If you don’t do this already, consider commuting to work at least one day a week on your bike. It’s a great way to add some training volume as well as start and end your workday on a high note.

3. Do a double. Try doing a shorter ride in the morning on a day when you normally have an afternoon ride scheduled. It will seem tough but with enough hours between each session, you will be able to complete both and increase the training volume.

Now that we worked on sorting out training volume, it’s time to look at intensity. The next article will be all about changes you can make to your sprints and threshold training.