Blog #1: Five training principles to use to make 2022 your best cycling season yet
Hi! Firstly, many thanks for visiting my blog! As I’m sure you know my name is Tom Townsend. I race on the road for Stolen Goat RT and I’m a coach at Downing Cycling. With the 2022 season drawing closer I figured there was no better time to release my first coaching blog. I’ll cover five principles that should form the basis for your training this winter and into spring, with the aim of making 2022 your best year on the bike yet.
Principle #1 – Progressive Overload
I have made this principle the first I cover as I believe it’s the most important component of any successful training plan. It is also the most neglected amongst riders who are looking to make progress in the sport. It’s simple to understand and it’s based on the concept that your body is currently adapted to deal with a certain level of training stress. To force it to make adaptations you need to put it under more stress than it is used to. For example, if you have been doing 4 x 10 minute intervals at ‘sweetspot’ intensity, progressive overload would be achieved by increasing their length to 4 x 12 minutes, then 4 x 15 minutes, and then maybe even 4 x 20 minutes. The exact rate of this progression is a highly individualized process and is judged through a combination of athlete feedback, power data analysis (which is the external workload an athlete performs), and heart rate analysis, which represents the athlete’s internal cost of performing that workload. This can be tricky to be objective about as a self-coached athlete and I have seen many riders both over and underdo it, leading to either performance stagnation or dangerous levels of overreaching. Both outcomes spell trouble for performance on the bike and long-term health.
Principle #2 – Specificity
Specificity simply means that your training should be specific to the demands of your event. For example, a rider that focuses solely on time trials should train very differently from a road racer, a track rider, or an ultra-endurance athlete. The differing power demands of these events require athletes to stress their bodies through different training programs to improve their physiological ability to meet their demands. For example, along with the obvious importance of sprint and anaerobic capacity training for road racers, fatigue resistance i.e. your ability to produce big power efforts towards the end of a long ride/race, as you can see in Figure 3, is incredibly important in determining the result. In contrast, time trials and hill-climbs, as I’m performing in Figure 2, only take place when an athlete is fresh and so fatigue resistance is not important. A riders’ training plan should be designed to ensure that these event-specific demands are trained to provide their body with the adaptive signaling it needs to make the adaptations that allow it to meet the demands of their event.
Principle #3 – Individualization
Individualization means that the training you do should be suited to you and your characteristics, rather than being another generic program that you can buy off the shelf. Characteristics that should be factored into your training program include your training age, history, and your natural power profile.
Furthermore, ‘off the bike’ factors including your age, work schedule, time to train, and your real-time response to training are commonly neglected by athletes which hinders your possible performance improvements. Your real-time response to the training you are doing is the foundation of deciding the correct rate of progression in your training sessions. A holistic analysis of heart rate, power and RPE allows training sessions to provide power targets that stress you in the way they’re intended, ensuring that you adapt to your training stimulus. This prevents the common mistake that many athletes make, either over or undertraining which prevents you from fulfilling your potential on the bike.
Principle #4 – Rest and Recovery
Taking rest and recovery is arguably the most important, and often the most overlooked component of any successful training plan. If you don’t take enough recovery, it’s only a matter of time before you burn out. Likewise, if you take too much recovery/days off then you won’t place your body under enough training stress to force it to make the physiological adaptations you strive for. It’s this concern that often results in particularly keen amateur riders neglecting recovery to the point where they either burn out or fully overtrain which damages both their performance and love of the sport. To avoid this, recovery should be implemented within your annual training plan on three time scales: daily, weekly, and monthly.
On a daily timeframe, recovery usually takes the form of ‘rest days’ that are either completely off the bike or short active recovery spins that increase blood flow to the muscles without adding extra training stress. Another common error is that athletes do these too hard – they should never be above 50% of FTP and they should be an hour at absolute most. Weekly recovery traditionally takes place after a sustained 3-4 week build to rid your body of the fatigue you’ve placed it under and to give it a chance to super-compensate to the training load you’ve placed on it. It’s important you keep riding during this period as stopping riding altogether will result in considerable fitness loss. Deciding when this week should be taken is done through analyzing an athlete’s metrics (heart rate and power), coach-athlete conversations about how the rider is feeling, as well as using Training Peaks’ performance management chart as a rough guide.
Monthly recovery happens at the end of the racing year and is commonly known as the ‘off-season’. During this period, you should hang your bike up on the wall for 1-4 weeks to fully rid your body of all the fatigue you’ve built up from a long season of competing before easing slowly back into training. It’s crucial that you begin the training slowly and steadily as you will have temporarily lost fitness and avoiding excessive fatigue and burning out is particularly important in this early stage of the training cycle.
Principle #5 – Reversibility
Reversibility simply means that when you stop training you lose fitness. This is commonly neglected by athletes emerging from a period of less or no riding, such as the off-season break or coming back from an injury. I often see riders panic when they have missed training and try to jump straight back into training at the volumes and intensities they were training at before they missed sessions or took a break. This often results in riders burning out, becoming excessively fatigued, and being unable to complete sessions as they perform volume and/or intensity that their body is not yet able to cope with. After a break, it’s extremely important that when you begin riding again, you ease back in at a reduced training load to ensure you don’t overwhelm your body and you give it time to respond and adapt to the new training load.
Putting it all together
Applying all these principles to your training will help you achieve your potential on the bike. As a coach at Downing Cycling, applying these principles through the manipulation of training frequency, volume, and intensity (which I will cover in more detail in other blogs) is what I specialize in. If you wish to talk to me to see how we could work together to improve your performance, just send me a DM on Instagram or an email at email@example.com. From there we can arrange a phone call to talk through how we can design and execute an individualized training plan to help you tackle your goals and make 2022 your best year on the bike so far.