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The effects of illness and detraining on VO2 max

Updated: Jan 7, 2020

Time off training (and to a lesser extent missed training sessions) means both your endurance capacity and current fitness levels will decline quite quickly. Instead of +50 TS for a session, you are now stuck with -50TS, having to make up for the difference of 2 training sessions.

Therefore, it's critical that as a cyclist you pay extra attention to diet, recovery and hygiene, the keen cyclist will do well to reduce the risk of illness and consequential number of weeks off training/racing throughout the year. This does not include scheduled rest or tapering for a key race, which should be part of any cyclists training plan.

Rønnestad BR et al. HIT maintains performance during the transition period and improves next season performance in well-trained cyclists. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2014;114:1831-1839

A recent Norwegian study of 98 Norwegian cyclists, showed that every second rider has suffered impaired training due to injury over the last 13 weeks. Meaning half the riders had not achieved the progress he/she could have had. Data from the participants show a clear association between the number of weeks available for normal training and the degree of success in reaching the season goal for the individual athlete. After 12, 21, 56 and 84 days off the bike, VO2 dropped 7%, 7%, 14% and 16% respectively. Put shortly, athletes that are free of illness and injuries reach their goals more often.

As highlighted in my previous post, preventative measures such as strength training, sleep and hygiene routines often receive less attention amongst amateur cyclist. Don't forget how hard you have tried to get fit, because all it takes is one cold virus to ruin weeks of work. This could mean a complete overhaul of your coaches training plan and specific cycling goals for that period. Be like Team Ineos and don't go anywhere without hand sanitiser!

Maybe the first step to improved performance should be making sure you do not lose endurance capacity due to missed training? Given the high prevalence of illness and injuries in cyclists, and how detrimental time off training is to performance, getting the basics right are simple preventative measures every cyclist should do routinely.

Simply put, if you want to improve as a cyclist minimise unscheduled time off training

  • …by avoiding injuries

  • …preventing illness

  • …taking adequate recovery for your current your training load

Ensure consistency in your training load before you start chasing marginal gains.

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