December Planning

We're now into December and, if you accept the information of last month's factsheet, you should now have a fair idea of what you want from the forthcoming season.  This month we'll discuss how can you maximise your chances of achieving next seasons SMART goals? 

Train, don't ride
It's a fact that to fully realise your potential you have to undertake training, not just go for a ride.  If you have accepted that fact then you'll need to apply a little discipline, structure and planning to your cycle sessions between now and your main objective.  When you apply these simple attributes to your time on the bike, riding ceases to be a random collection of roads and routes, it becomes structured training.  A small mindset change that brings a disproportionate gain in performance.

For now we'll concentrate on helping you plan your own training and explain why plans should be important to you.  If you don't think they are then just enjoy your rides as normal but read on anyway as there may be just one thing that can help structure your rides.  Just because a cycle ride is structured or planned doesn't mean it can't be fun, enjoyable and most of all, rewarding.

To keep you motivated towards achieving them, the goals, you've identified for yourself, have to meet the goal setting criteria explained in previous factsheets.  A goal, without discipline and motivation, is little more than a dream.  A dream requires nothing more than an imagination.  A goal requires focus, discipline, motivation, dedication, sacrifice and a structured plan.

How much are you willing to sacrifice to achieve your goal?  In the early days of your plan, your sacrifice will be time; long, cold, winter endurance hours in the saddle.  The closer you move towards the peak of your goal, the less time you need to dedicate but the more pain you have to endure. 

As you near your goal, time gives way to pain and suffering.  If you think a 20 minute interval hurts wait until you try 20 second ones.

There's a business tool that fits so many decision making models it's ridiculous in it's simplicity.  Once you learn to apply it in business, life becomes so much more simple.  What's more ridiculous is how it applies to competitive cycling and training.  The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule. In work 80% of your problems are caused by 20% of your contacts.  In business 80% of your profits come from 20% of your clients. In cycling 80% of the races are won by 20% of the riders.

In training, 80% of the performance gains are made through 20% of the sessions you undertake.  So you can get 80% towards your stated objective with only 20% preparation. 

If your objective is the tip of the lighter pyramid, the effort required to meet it is measured upwards from the bottom of the red kite.  The higher up the objective pyramid you go, the greater the red kite focus, discipline, motivation, dedication and sacrifice you have to make.  You can also think of the light pyramid as time and the red kite as pain; an inversely proportional but ultimately rewarding relationship.

Pareto in practice
A typical example would be training for a 25 mile time trial.  Say you ride your first ever 25 in 1:15.  To ride a 25 TT in seventy-five minutes requires a certain level of fitness.  To knock 10% off that time and get it to a 1:07:30 will require a fair degree of commitment and hard training; say an extra 20%? 

To knock a further 10% off, and get down to an hour, will require a further 50% of structured training and dedication.  To drop below the hour you may need to double your previous efforts as the training effort, duration and intensity required becomes exponential to the speed increase and time decrease you're trying to achieve.

Are you prepared to sacrifice a 100% increase in training effort for a 20% increase in performance?  Because that's what champions do. However, most of the time the 80% gain for 20% of effort is acceptable and sustainable for most of us. 

I know statistics and percentages can be twisted or misinterpreted to tell almost anything.  But what I'm trying to get across is the concept of returns on training investment; please don't take the above figures literally.    

Why structure?
Undertaking a focused, structured, individualized training program can increase your VO2max threshold wattages by 15 to 30% over a 3 month period and up to 50% over 2 years!  

Obviously the later figure is based on someone new to the sport.  Experienced athletes cannot be expected to increase their VO2max wattage by 50% but they wouldn't sniff at a 10% increase. 

Imagine by how much local races are won and lost?  A wheel at the most.  Now imagine if you had a 10% bigger engine.  Imagine riding at the same race pace but using 10% less effort or imagine riding 10% faster for the same effort.  Imagine being able to sprint 10% faster or longer.  Or even both!  Now, you've taken notice!

How does it work?
Milo of Croton was a Greek peasant who had ambitions of being an Olympic Champion.  To become stronger he realised he needed to have a structure to his training. 

A challenge was laid down to him that he couldn't lift a full grown bull.  He knew he couldn't at the time but he also knew it was possible if he applied a structure to his challenge.

He acquired a new born calf which he picked up with relative ease.  Each day the calf grew and each day Milo picked it up off the ground.  With each passing day the calf grew more, as did Milo's strength. 

Within a year the calf was fully grown and Milo was still lifting it!  What could you do if you apply this principle to your training? 

In 540 BC Milo won his first Olympic Championship.  He went on to be a six-time consecutive Olympic Champion.  Alright, it wasn't in cycling but you get my point.  You see it's not all bull!

How does it help me?
Okay, back to normal stuff.  A well structured training plan can lead to metabolic adaptations which enable you to produce one or all of the following:

an increased VO2max index
an increased lactate threshold
an increased maximum power output
an increased endurance power output

Which basically means you can ride stronger, for longer, with increased economy.  In effect, getting more output for less input through increases in efficiency and effectiveness.  The fact that you have a plan means you know when you're going to get better and by how much.  Without a structured plan...  I hope you get lucky.

A structure to your training allows the planning and development of lactic acid processing and removal, mitochondria production, lipid metabolism and the building of vital capillaries which feed the muscles with oxygen during training and competition. 

Lipid metabolism, or fat-burning, enables the fat in your body to be used as fuel.  Fat calories supplement those from glycogen and glucose, at specific VO2max levels, supporting longer durations of exercise to fatigue.  That's why the first part of your training season needs to be the long slow miles, with bursts of activity to raise metabolism and keep everything ticking over.

Structured training results in physiological changes in an organised and coordinated way.  Adding structure to your training improves your muscles tolerance for the stresses of prolonged exertion, especially the strengthening of the connective tissue between muscle fibres.  This translates into less micro trauma, or post exercise leg discomfort to give it its less scary term, when you start your high-end training as the season approaches. 

Measuring Improvement
Most of my clients are aiming to be as powerful at the start of next season as they were during the middle of last.  This will give them a platform on which to build and become stronger for their stated objectives next season. 

flamme rouge adaptation

Progression is measurable through regular testing, analysis and feedback.  At the start and end of each training period, clients are tested and compared to their previous session and their previous peak.  We then structure a personalised plan around their objectives and current levels of fitness.  Tests are reasonably simple and inexpensive. 

For less than the price of a tyre, and an hour of time, constant, sustainable progression can be measured and maintained.  Every pedal stroke of training can be made to count towards the specified objective.  If not, then why do it?

Designing a plan
Your structured training programme should revolve around manipulating the three principles of Frequency, Intensity & Time to gain the maximum benefit with the minimum of effort.  Think FIT!  Which we'll cover shortly, once we have established a planning process.

Get yourself a diary, with a month to a page, and start planning.  I won't get all "coachy" and go in to micro, meso and macro cycles here that's for another day.  If you think of week, month, season, you're almost there.

So, where do you want to be next season?  You've already decided on your stated goals.  So, let's say your goal is next June.  We'll not go in to too much detail here, we don't have the space but you need a plan that looks like this.

You can see from the far left that we
peaked in August and carried some fitness in to September.

Take a test
To move up a level in whatever discipline you enjoy, ideally, we should be aiming to be at last August's peak for April the following season.  If you know how much wattage you were putting out in August or September (having taken a test), then it's a relatively easy process to work backwards from.  This is your first sub-goal. 

Target a sub-goal
If you could knock out 300 watts for six minutes in August you need to be at say, 300 watts again in April, which should be a major sub-goal target.  Each month previous you should set other minor sub-goals of 280 in March and 260 in February and 240 watts in January.

Springboard to your target
Once you've hit your first major sub-goal it makes it easier to maintain momentum to the next.  If, however you miss any of your sub-goals then you have a month in which to take corrective measures or re-adjust your main objective.

The beauty of this system, Train, Test, Analyse, Plan, is you don't just ride around until the early season and hope your doing well.  You actually know you're doing well and even better you know exactly how well you're doing and with time and experience can predict your peak to within days.

Okay, now we have our diary, and our monthly (or to be more accurate, four weekly) progression sub-goals.  I like to grade my training plans with a traffic light system of Green, Orange, Red.  An easy week, a medium week then a hard week.  Followed by an adaptation week which is Grey. 

Then it starts again with Green, Orange, Red.  However the second green week is as hard as the first orange week.  Sounds complicated but it looks like this...

This 11 week training cycle shows the structured progression and overload phase of each week and the grey adaptation weeks which allow recovery and preparation for the next phase..

Training Frequency ~ How Often
Research and scientific studies support the theory that maximum aerobic conditioning (increased VO2max) occurs with just three workout days per week. 

During this phase it is important to take two to three days recovery per week to allow your muscles and ligaments to repair, thus decreasing the risk of cumulative and chronic physical stress.

Interestingly, it appears that these three recovery days maximize aerobic conditioning equally in any combination - three days in a row with four off, alternating days, two on two off, etc.

Training Intensity ~ How Hard
Is more better?  Not necessarily.  Although the exact optimum for training intensity obviously varies between individuals, it is generally accepted that maximum aerobic improvement occurs at 85% wVO2max (approximately 90% of your max heart rate). 

Regular training above this level will increase the potential for injury or illness without a corresponding increase in training benefit.  So why tempt fate?

However at this time of the year we are not attempting to boost our wVO2max, we are attempting to train our bodies to "spare glycogen" and to get used to two, three, four or even five hours in the saddle. 

The riding we do in November and December will allow us to boost our wVO2max when the time is right.  For those new to the sport, once you understand these principles, why we do what we do, when we do, becomes a little clearer.

Training Time ~ How Long
There is no easy answer to the optimum duration for a training session as training is an interaction between frequency, intensity and time. 

Ten minutes of 80% maximum heart rate will be of some benefit, but 30 minutes gives more than three times the benefit.  However, 60 minutes does not give you twice the benefit of 30 minutes.  Confusing isn't it? 

There is clearly a point at which the negative effects of exercising at such a high level outweigh the benefits.  That also goes for low-intensity work.  Finding what's right for you comes through experience and self-knowledge.  Keep a diary and analyse it often.

For aerobic training it makes the most sense to look at the duration of your key event.  Your training time should then be tailored to ensure at least two months prior your main objective you can comfortably cover at least 90% of the time or distance expected.  Once you can comfortably cover the distance, you just work on covering it faster!

To give you a pointer to how your plan could look click here.

The message
Having a structured training plan will allow you to predict and create your future performance levels and allow you to peak when you want to peak, not when your body gets round to it. 

It's no accident that Lance managed to peak each July.  He didn't ride around for a bit and hope he got ready for the big race.  He may not have used one of our structured plans but you can bet your last energy bar he had one.

I would recommend that you decide what you want from next season, decide if you're willing to make the necessary sacrifices, find out when you need to do it by and work backwards from that.  Set sub-goals and performance markers to ensure you're heading in the right direction at the right pace.  Peaking too early is much worse than peaking too late.  Ask you partner!

Manipulate your work-outs through frequency, intensity or time to gently overload your physiological system.  For each session, make your efforts harder than before, longer than before or just do more of them than you did before.  Don't manipulate all three at the same time, that's a recipe for overtraining.  Everything in moderation!

When devising your plan consider this: a marathon champion doesn't run a marathon every time they pull on their trainers, and a 100 metre sprinter doesn't just sprint a 100 metres five times a day to win gold.  Mix and match your training to go keep fresh, motivated and maintain progression.

Spend three or four hours this month devising yourself a structured training plan with the specific requirements of developing your strengths and limiting your weaknesses.  It's a fantastic investment in your training time and is far better than spending three unstructured hours riding on the road. 

Good luck and enjoy the journey.