It’s the time of year that many riders are getting back to formal training for the upcoming year, after taking a bit of time off at the end of last season.
Taking a break is a good way to mentally refresh yourself after a long racing campaign, but can leave you lacking in fitness when you first return to training. It’s for this reason that there are a few things you should be careful of when you start riding again, so here are a few lessons I’ve learnt over the years that should help.
1. START WITH BASIC ABILITIES
If you’re sufficiently rested after last season, your motivation for the next will be high. The trick is to keep this motivation in check and measure it out appropriately over the next few weeks and months, rather than jump in and use it all up before you’ve finished your first training block.
If you rested for more than a week, you’ll need to start with the most basic abilities and build up from there. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find your endurance even at a low intensity is lacking, and this will take a good few rides to get back.
Start by building back up your aerobic system with plenty of time spent at easy intensities. Since these adaptions occur as a function of time spent riding, rather than intensity, it makes sense to keep the effort lower so that you can accumulate more time in the saddle. If you have a power meter, you can use “decoupling analysis” to measure how your aerobic endurance is progressing.
2. BUILD UP SENSIBLY
Continuing on nicely from the point above, you want to be conservative in how you develop your training load week-by-week. Again, it’s easy to start piling on lots of training when motivation is peaked, and the temptation can be to move on to advanced workouts before getting your basic fitness dialled in.
A good rule of thumb which is quite well-known is to increase training volume by no more than 10% per week. This 10% can be quantified in a variety of ways, from TSS or Training Stress Score, by weekly hours or by KJ or kilojoules (i.e. amount of work) to name a few.
Whichever metric you use, try to stay consistent and be sensible with training increases. I tend to use TSS with myself and coached athletes, as it encompasses a few different metrics in one. The last thing you want to do is find yourself with an overuse injury or just over-fatigued and having to take time off before the season even begins.
3. USE CROSS TRAINING
Although cross training (i.e. doing other sports and activities that aren’t cycling) is often seen as something to do whilst you’re on a break, it’s actually used by a lot of athletes in the early stages of training and sometimes even throughout the whole season. There are several benefits to cross training for the cyclist getting back to riding in a structured fashion.
The first is that it can help ward off injuries. When you’re doing a lot of low intensity training initially, large muscles like the glutes aren’t always sufficiently stressed and can become weak, leading to biomechanical issues. Using a cross training activity like running can help fill these gaps and develop those muscles that don’t get sufficiently stressed when just riding easy.
The second is that cross training keeps things varied and interesting. Especially when the weather isn’t the best, it can be far easier mentally to head to the pool or nip out for a run than suit up for a cold, wet ride. Using these kinds of activities will allow you to maintain a good volume of training without requiring you to withdraw too much from the motivation bank.
4. WORK ON CORE STRENGTH
Like cross training, core strength training is a perfect choice for when you’re settling back into a formal plan again. It’s likely during a break that you’ve been doing some core strength work anyway, so it’s just a case of carrying on with it and adding progressions as you get stronger.
Core strength is great “passively” for injury prevention, as it helps to exercise important muscles that don’t always get worked enough on the bike, but it also has a direct benefit to your performance too. Creating a stronger core (that is, everything from your abs, to your glutes to your hamstrings) will result in increased power transfer to the bike and greater ability to control the bike in difficult situations.
This is particularly key for mountain bikers, as the core is used when descending as well as climbing, playing a key role in how well you can manoeuvre the bike over and around obstacles, and how well you can balance.
For starters, you can check out my free guide to some basic but very effective core strength exercises here.
Finally, the point at which you start back training is a great time to set a benchmark or two to measure how effective your training actually is. Consider it starting point whereby you can gauge progress further down the line.
The most common benchmark used in cycling is the FTP or Functional Threshold Power test. For maximum practicality, the test involves a 20-minute time trial and the resulting average wattage is multiplied by 0.95. However, if other abilities (like VO2Max) are important to your cycling discipline, you can of course gauge progress with other tests. For instance, you could use a 1-minute test to measure improvements in anaerobic power, or a 5-minute test to principally measure improvements in your VO2Max power.
Whichever one you decide to employ, make sure you perform them under similar conditions and in a similar state of freshness. An easy way to do this is to perform a test at the end of every 4-week block and during your recovery week, where you’ve taken 1-2 days off and are fresh.
Let me know how you’re getting on with your training for next year and if you’re making any big changes to your build-up. I hope you found those tips useful and please get in touch if you have any training questions.