The chart above is one of my favorite training charts. The yellow bars represent the duration of my training per week so far this year and the black line represents the weekly training stress (TSS). I thought of writing about this chart after my good friend and training partner Ron (AKA as Keener Keenan or KK for short) emailed me a great article he found on the TrainingPeaks website. TrainingPeaks makes the WKO + software that KK and I (and all CTS coaches) use to analyze the data from our rides. Although written by a Ironman triathlete the article describes a common mistake made by most cyclists I know:
 
    1. no training schedule,
    2. no coach, and
    3. just doing the same thing over and over again.

 

Most riders I know just get on their bikes and ride. In order to get fitter they either ride more and more or harder and harder without much structure to their training. The athlete who wrote the article describes what happens when you just do the same thing over and over again:

“When I first stared using a power meter and WKO+ my vision was fixated on one metric: average power for the entire ride.….the problem was that I wasn’t seeing any improvements. I would go out and try to hold a higher wattage, but it wasn’t there.”

He added: “I had focused on one metric of my training and become stagnant…..the beauty of WKO+ is that you can track so many different elements of your training, so look at all of them with a purpose.” And he concluded with what I tell everyone: “Before you go out the door, know what you want to accomplish with that ride.”

Generally, when cyclists first start training, they think that in order to get in shape they simply need to ride more and more or even worse they need to ride as hard as they can until they get in shape. These cyclists soon find that they are not gaining fitness, but are actually either running themselves into the ground as they get more tired after each ride or they reach a plateau as they are no longer causing adaptation through increased training load.

To me, each ride is a training ride, each ride has a specific purpose and fits into an overall game plan. Each ride has a specific duration and intensity that fits in with what my CTS coach Tim and I are trying to achieve. Don’t get me wrong, I can more often than not ride with my family or friends, have fun and turn pretty much any ride into a training ride. A half hour ride with my 18 years old daughter or wife can nicely fit in my training schedule as a recovery ride. A Saturday morning group ride with my buddies can be a fun way to do five all out intervals of a minute each or ten sprints of ten seconds each.

What most new cyclists are missing is an understanding of how training progression works and how to build a well structured training program. They could be using their workouts to their benefit if they used periodization to construct their training programs. Periodization is the foundation of any CTS training program. Periodization breaks up the year into four segments, each four weeks period into smaller segments and every week into even smaller segments. Each segment needs to include sufficient recovery time. A CTS coach one told me that each year you need to have months when you recover, each month you need a week of recovery, each week you need days of recovery and during a training ride you also need recovery time. CTS believes that many athletes are in a chronic state of overtraining or as Chris Carmichael prefers to describe it: under resting. This often occurs because many cyclists spend a tremendous amount of time doing long group rides. These rides often turn into mini-races and training intensities are too high, often above lactate threshold levels. This creates acidosis of the muscles, which bars aerobic development. My coach prescribes a lot of easy recovery days every week.

With periodization, long-term training plans are broken into smaller segments. These smaller segments focus on specific training tasks and target increased fitness and performance while reducing the risks of injury, overtraining, and illness. Coach Tim divides my training year into smaller periods of training, alternating training sessions of heavy training load with recovery sessions of lower intensity and volume. Manipulating these and other training components over the course of a week, month, year or even longer is the key to training periodization. As I meet my short-term goals in these individual training sessions, I also gain long-term fitness to help meet my larger, broader and mid-term and even my dream goals.

Very early in his cycling career, Lance Armstrong told Chris Carmichael that his goal was simple: to win the Professional World Road Race Championships. Fine, that’s a definite goal, but what are the steps to achieve it? Lance was told that it would take two to three years to develop each performance aspect needed to win the World Championships. Using the periodization approach, the long-term training program was broken into smaller and smaller training segments with each training segment having a specific training goal. It took time to develop all of these performance aspects, but after three years of intense periodization training, Lance won the 1993 Professional World Road Race Championships.

We can enjoy training success if we take time to develop a training program that applies correct periodization training principles and training components. These are not complex concepts, and they are easy to apply once you understand them.

The CTS approach to developing a training program divides the year into four periods, with each period having a broad training goal. The four training periods and goals are as follows:

1.Foundation: general aerobic & strength development

2. Preparation: aerobic capacity / lactate threshold development

3. Specialization: event specific development

4. Transition: active physical regeneration

All CTS workouts correspond to a specific training period. Each workout represents a training segment within the training year. This method ensures that I am following the periodization approach to training structure. This CTS design helps move me from one training segment to the next training segment. From time to time, my CTS coach may include workouts from other training segments into my training program. This provides variety and maintains the individuality training principle.

The chart above pretty much brings it all together in one image. The first big training block of the year was the CTS training camp I attended in California in February. Notice how the duration and the intensity prior to the camp was low but going up slowly before the camp. Also notice the two weeks of recovery after the camp. I then build up duration as I trained for the Tour of Gila. After that race, you can easily see the two large three weeks training blocks separated by plenty of recovery time. I have just started a third big training block.

When I post this chart again in a few weeks you will notice that the weekly duration will not have increased from the last training block but that the intensity will stay high. The reason for this is that I am in the middle of my racing season and I am doing longer intervals specific to the type of racing I do i.e. hill climb. Early in the season Tim could prescribe say 4 times 6 minutes climbing repeats but is now prescribing 4 times 10 minutes. The overall duration of this workout and the intensity of the individual interval will not change but since the intervals within the workout are longer the overall intensity of the workout will be higher.

PS: some of the text is edited from the CTS cycling manual.

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