Training periodisation across the year
Updated: Jan 17
Traditional periodisation always has base, preparatory, specialisation phases with subsets of each. As we advance as coaches training strategy has changed somewhat. As a coach initially I look at both the athletes training age & chronological age, this lays the foundation of the training programme. For an experienced athlete i'll asses their strengths and limiters and where their goal event is.
Early in the programme when I’m working on their limiters – e.g. a road racer aiming at improving their explosivity on short climbs but without much anaerobic capacity and overall strength and power, their training will incorporate a lot of 1-minute efforts, or 30 second sprints.
In the weight room we would be doing heavy lifting, working on generating overall force and strength. This is typically 80+% 1 rep max, 3 sets 5 reps, after a period of adaptation and perfecting the correct technique.
For the same rider, we’d also be riding some technical and demanding terrain but in a non-structured way (e.g. be out for 2-4 hours). If the same client couldn’t train outside in the winter, I would still have them integrate the short intervals (10-60 seconds), and I would still go heavy in the weight room.
In terms of technical riding I might suggest vacations to places that have this terrain.
Also if it is somewhere with snow I might recommend going out on a fat bike and having some fun with that. If the athlete has got 2-3 years of fairly structured training, I would make the strength and limiter assessment and do high quality training on their limiters in the ‘base period’.
I call this strengthening the base, not necessarily establishing the base. With a typical elite rider I would take the strengthening of the base approach through the new year, then start to work on threshold development.
January – February we need to increase lactate threshold which is best bang for your buck with any aerobic sport 3 hours or less with a performance aspect to it. Road racing in the UK starts in March, so the rider should be prepared for the physical and external (poor weather) that early season road racing comes with.
Threshold training block
Power duration curves look at your mean max power from 2 second all the way to your longest ride.
It shows how good you can sprint, how long you can carry it, how good is your threshold and how good is your endurance. That gives the coach an assessment of where we’re sitting on a rolling 90-day average at any given time period. I want to either train the athlete intensively or extensively.
As I lead up to the specificity of the event, I tune into that, but when it comes to threshold training, I want to extend the amount of time they can tolerate threshold and increase it as it comes into racing season. I see what the athlete can do to begin with, which might be 250 watts for 33 minutes.
If this is what they can tolerate I’ll start with 3 x 10 on Tuesday, 3 x 8 on Wednesday and then an endurance ride on Thursday. The perceived effort should be an 8/10.
I’ll use block training to overload the threshold system and make them tired in a specific way so that when they rest, they super compensate so we can do more next week.
3 x 10 or 4 x 10 is a good place to start for most people. Many athletes think that the day after a hard interval day should be easy, but that’s not the case.
The whole point of training is to fatigue so we want you to come back and do it the next day but slightly duration.
It’s good to get tired because through rest the body adapts and gets stronger. I discuss the rationale behind the training block with my client and make it clear what the purpose is. .
With trained cyclists we often have 4 hard days, then a rest day, then repeat. So these blocks are best done when weekends are free as we aren't woking Monday - Sunday. For example for someone who has 10 hours available Monday off, Tuesday & Wednesday hard, Thursday medium, Friday easy, Saturday group ride (inc race type efforts), long endurance ride Sunday.
Some of the traditional periodisation modelling is starting to get a different look now. Traditional periodisation does work, but we need to look at why we’re doing it and see if there’s a more effective way of prescribing it. I do follow some traditional periodisation modelling such as meso cycles, but as I get to know the athlete more I tend to not use them.
I base everything upon what their work/life balance. I typically find that anyone doing less than 20 hours a week can train hard for 4-6 weeks with taking short blocks of recovery (e.g. 3 days easy). Fitness testing would be carried out at the start and finish of each cycle.
This would have an overloading pattern to make sure that the rider is getting tired before their recovery block.
It’s a more efficient way that fits better into many people’s busy lives as they can recover over a long weekend rather than taking 7 days completely off on a regular basis.
How to know when the athlete is tired/needs a rest block
I regularly tell my athletes you don’t know where the breaking point is until you go and find it. This breaking point is not only within a given day, but also within a given training period – it’s about how tired we can make you before you can’t do it anymore. It’s tricky because you don’t want to induce sickness or injury. Illness will affect all clients at some point, if the rider is getting run down and showing symptoms hopefully this is in the training block rather than a racing period.
The majority of my clients work with me on a one to one basis, this has helped us avoid getting over tired, illness and in some cases possible injury. For self-coached athletes you must know who have to be very strict with yourself, as it's often the job of the coach to prevent overtraining and not always the other way around. When you’re trying to induce training fatigue to yourself, it's a fine balancing act and you want to find the edge without falling off.
Quantifying where the breaking point is
The mind has a big capacity to go beyond what we think we can do, and we can’t measure that yet. If my athlete is doing an edge finding workout, I’m going to measure heart rate, power or pace, speed, perceived effort and anything else that’s on their GPS advice. Within the training block, I’ll measure TSS on the day as well as a 7-day rolling average, RPE of all sessions and for the week, and time in zones (either power, pace etc).
I want to see how much time is spent in a specific training zone related to energy systems and what we’re trying to train. I want to see where they cracked and how much TSS, power, time in tempo zone that they could accumulate before this. Edge finding isn’t done often, it’s done once or twice a year to establish where you’re at and it would be during an intensive threshold block.
Racing season training
If you go to the Seasonal planner chart (SPC) on Today's Plan you have a fitness accumulation score (CTL). For single day road racers, I’ll get the fitness really high.
We’re doing a lot of training and getting your tolerance of training really high for race season, and then I’ll bring that down coming into the first block of racing or where it matters for performance.
I’ll intentionally bring CTL down and bring up the freshness, typically done by reducing volume. During this time I’ll keep threshold training in the mix, at 80% of the total volume of threshold training that I have been doing, but bring volume down by 50%. In between races it’s based on communication and maintenance to make sure we’re not overdoing it.
If you do it right in the preparatory phase, you don’t need much in the racing season. What it takes to stay fit is not what it takes to get fit. With my athletes they typically races either 1 per month for those who work etc, or blocks of 3-4 weekends of racing in a row which is typical of a mountain bike, road or crit racer.
Most of my athletes will race a few weeks in a row. 3-4 weeks of racing will be racing at the weekends often both days, Monday off, Tuesday really easy, Wednesday back to endurance, Thursday hard ride, Friday hard openers but volume low, then racing again at the weekend.
Volume is down by 30-40%, and the hard ride on Thursday might be at the same intensity but not the total time at intensity as a normal threshold day. It may be a race simulation. Racing once a month, the week after the race would be a recovery block. 2 days of doing nothing, and then some active recovery for the rest of the week, getting back to endurance by the weekend. From there I’d assess how good and race went and assess based on the performance of what we need to work on.
You have a 2-week window to work on an energy system or some specificity of the racing before you take a 7-10 day taper leading into the next race (assuming the race is 3 hours or less).
This 12-day block would be pretty hard. If it was an road racer who needed to work on the climbing specificity of a hard course I’d bring them through a block of VO2 work with 2-3 minute all out efforts on the bike, with 2-3 minutes recovery in between. I’d go hard on Tuesday, medium/easy on Wednesday, then hard on Thursday.
I’m inducing a training effect, then allowing recovery before I go in with another training effect.
I don’t want to find the breaking point and have them crack and not finish the session. I’d be looking for at least 15 minutes of time in zone LT2 (Lactate threshold) if I’m going for race specificity VO2 workout. Up to 20-25 depending on who they are.
This might be 5x3 minutes with 3 minutes in between, or 8x2 minutes with 2 minutes in between on the bike.
Peaking and sustaining peaks
This comes down to the art of coaching and performing, and it's a tricky area. It's very individualistic, you need to practice your taper.
With the taper you're trying to predict a method to get the most out of yourself - it might take 7, 10, 14 days and it depends on you as an athlete and the event you're going for.
Practice the taper with B or C events where it's less risky to do so. A fairly fool proof taper for the majority of athletes, for a one day event that is 3 hours or less would be:
Dropping volume by 40-50% two weeks out, keeping if not increasing intensity, with a full 24-48 hours recovery between harder sessions. Increase sleep and go into the event as fresh as possible. Key events on the road are usually from July onwards, a rider can start racing in March and have raced often by this point.
To make sure athletes peak in July you do the first block of racing and reassess to consider what you need to do - typically we need another bout of threshold/VO2 training with volume to increase CTL/overall fitness.
You'd do this until June with B races and events, then as you hit the start of July I'd end the cycle of training, freshen them up with a recovery block, and then have a very race specific with VO2 intensity lead in taper to A races.
I'd be bringing CTL down, and have intensity higher on key training days (Tues, Thurs, Sat) and everything else in between is very easy or single track riding to keep a feel for that.
Two weeks out I'd have three hard days, 1 week out it might be 2 days with pre-riding.
Volume is two fold, it's great for aerobic base training but also specificity for the event we're doing.
In time trials for example, volume isn't a big component so going out and doing 6-8 hour rides leading up to the event won't help you it'll hinder you. Even for ultra endurance events.
UK time trialing consists mainly of 10,25 & 50 mile events (20-120 minutes) so volume isn't needed in that time period, and you probably don't even need to overdo the volume at base period. The specificity of the race volume relative to everything else you're trying to do is important to consider. For an elite short distance time trialist the volume would be around 12-15 hours per week on average.
Training outdoors vs indoors
If you live in an area where you can be outside, outside more often is always the best.
There's a lot of benefits from being outside - the feel and technical aspects, but also the social benefits, fresh air, sunshine etc. However with the virtual platforms and the road feel of trainers such as the TACX Neo or Wahoo Kickr, it makes for a fantastic indoor riding experience.
If you live somewhere with harsh winters and you can't ride outside, get on the trainer. I take ERG mode off because it pushes back for the power versus making you push for the power.
If you take it off, you produce the power so it makes for a far better road feel.
Nutrition on the bike during training
I split into two different camps: if we're trying to do performance with really hard workouts 2 hours and less, hydration with electrolytes and sugars. If it's 2 hours or more and performance related, we need calories as well as hydration. If it's 2 hours and less with not too many performance aspects, water is fine. If you're trying to do something from a fuel utilisation stand point, trying to burn fat/carbs better, you need to take a look at what you're doing leading up to the bike.
If you're trying to burn fat more you want to start with an empty stomach and just drink water, but you can't typically do too much intensity with that. Base training is the best time period to do this if we're not doing anything high intensity, and I'll do it pretty much all the time in those types of sessions.
You need to be in a fairly well fed state - i.e. not overly depleted from a previous session.
Physiological testing in labs
For professional athletes who have it as an option it's great. For others, if you have accurate and consistent pace and power measuring devices, this can help tremendously.
For 2020 in conjunction with INSCYD, we will be offering a lactate measuring test protocol for all athletes. We can capture everything and model physiological markers with all the data from a series of tests. INSCYD takes into account, and connect to one another, the most important metrics for training purposes:
VO2max – maximum aerobic capacity
VLamax – maximum glycolytic (anaerobic) capacity
Anaerobic threshold and how it is composed
Accumulation of Lactate and how quick you can recover from it
Fat combustion rate and FatMax
Carbohydrate combustion during training & racing
Economy – how much energy you need at a given speed.
Rest and recovery
If you overlook sleep, you overlook recovery and you get it all wrong for training. I'm a great believer in power naps.
Strength and conditioning
I've covered this in some detail in other posts. I think that in general as long as you have time in your week to incorporate some form of strength and conditioning, it should be there. When done properly and with good recovery there's no detriment. Benefits include force production, overall health, strength, range of motion. However, with busy people, it's probably the first thing to be scrapped once the racing season is underway.
Your endurance training will make you perform best. In general if I include it in the off season or base block, I'm going to include some version of it throughout racing.
I'll start with a gym format, but if you can't get there do a home based workout. Coming into race season I'll include more body weight movements, not gym based stuff, unless it's still really easy to get to the gym.
I go with full body functional movements, focused on the core as well as hip explosion and force production. If you're spending more than an hour doing this, you're wasting time. 2-3 times per week during non-race season, and 1-2 times during race season. Favourite exercises of mine leg press and back squat.
Lift heavy when it applies. I tend to go lower on the reps and higher on velocity and quality of the movement.
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