Most of us don’t have the luxury of focusing full time on cycling. But sometimes, it’s fun to put real life aside and spend a few days focused only on riding your bike and getting fitter. This is commonly known as a training camp, and it’s one of the true joys of cycling for athletes of all abilities. So what should you know before planning your next training camp?
What is a Cycling Training Camp?
Cycling training camps usually consist of several consecutive days of long rides in a scenic or favorable location. Sometimes, these are well-organized and highly social events; for instance, pro teams often convene in remote mountain areas for early season camps. But they can also be less formal affairs—a few days of focused training in a place with nice weather and good roads or trails.
While most training camps take place away from home, travel isn’t a necessity. A common feature of a training camp is a singular focus on cycling, with other responsibilities and obligations temporarily set aside. Whether this occurs thousands of miles away or out your back door is up to you; it’s the intention (and execution) that counts.
What are Training Camps For?
Wherever they take place, training camps are more than just cycling vacations, because they are aimed at a specific goal—an unusually large dose of training stress in pursuit of improved fitness. This is usually done with consecutive days of long, low- or moderate-intensity rides. This style of riding directly targets the aerobic system and while it is tiring, most athletes can sustain it for several days on end with good fueling and rest.
Beyond fitness, some training camps are also intended to build team camaraderie or designed to target specific skills, such as sprinting or climbing. And last but not least, training camps are fun.
How Long are Cycling Training Camps?
Most training camps are about 5–7 days long, but there’s no specific requirement when it comes to length. For cyclists who normally train at low volumes, just 2 or 3 consecutive days of unusually long rides may significantly increase training stress and could rightfully be considered a camp. For experienced athletes who already train at high volumes, training camps need to be a bit longer to push the body out of its comfort zone.
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Planning a Cycling Training Camp
A good training camp doesn’t have to be complicated, but there are a few important points to keep in mind before you depart.
1. Know your purpose.
What do you want to get out of the camp? Answer this question for yourself, then plan your itinerary and routes to achieve it. For many camps, it’s simple: to build fitness and have fun doing it. If the purpose of the camp is more specific—such as improving your climbing or working on team tactics—pick routes that will help you achieve these objectives. Generally, the more intensity you expect each day to include, the shorter the day’s route should be—especially if your camp is longer than a few days.
2. Prepare in Advance.
The best training camps let you focus exclusively on cycling, so schedule yours to be free of external stresses. Get your bike tuned in advance, preplan your routes, and stock up on wholesome, easily-prepared foods before you leave. The less you have to worry about besides riding once you arrive, the better—don’t even think about checking your work email!
Related Reading: Cycling Nutrition: Everything You Need to Know
3. Arrive Fresh.
By design, training camps push you beyond your normal training load, and if you arrive with preexisting fatigue you’ll start on the back foot and can quickly overdo it. Think of a training camp like a stage race or multi-day event: by tapering and recovering beforehand, you’ll start fresh and get more out of the camp as a result.
Related Reading: Tapering And Peaking for Cyclists
4. Plan For Recovery.
The unusual training load you get from a camp means you’ll need more recovery afterward than you would from a normal block of training. Expect residual fatigue, take several days completely off the bike, and listen to your body once you return to training. If you need a few days of unusually easy workouts to ease back in, don’t feel bad or be surprised. That said, don’t attempt a camp you can’t recover from. Training camps are only worthwhile if they’re productive, and if you disrupt your training for too long with extra fatigue, you might end up setting yourself back overall.
Related Reading: Recovery For Cyclists: Why It’s Important and How to Improve It
Common Training Camp Mistakes
While it’s easy to plan a good training camp, there are a few common mistakes many athletes make.
First, it’s easy to underestimate how fatiguing a training camp can be on your body. We’ve already discussed the need to recover after a camp, but you also need recovery during the camp itself, and sometimes this means taking a day completely off the bike. This can be tough when you want to maximize every day of your trip, but if you’re feeling serious fatigue, a rest day can dramatically improve the quality of the rest of your camp.
A second common mistake is to inadequately fuel. Throughout a training camp, you’ll need to eat a lot, both on and off the bike. This is not the time to try to lose weight or cut calories, so plan ahead and make sure you’re getting quality nutrition that supplies what your body needs. Protein is especially essential for recovery during a camp, and you’ll need plenty of carbs to power those long days.
And to that end, go easy on the alcohol. It’s tempting to crack a few beers in the evening with your riding buddies, but it’s hard to overstate how dramatically this can affect your training and recovery on subsequent days if you go overboard. Indulge in moderation, and you’ll get a bigger fitness boost out of your camp.
For more on Training Camps, check out Ask a Cycling Coach Ep 347.