The responsibilities of real life complicate every athlete’s training. For Stephen Morina, these responsibilities come in the form of work at a winery- a job that sounds idyllic, but entails many long days of physical labor. Despite this, Stephen’s smart training strategies have raised his FTP by 106 watts, and can serve as a great example for any busy cyclist who wants to get faster.
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Stephen Morina lives and works in California’s Napa Valley, one of the most beautiful places to ride a bike in the United States. This area is renowned for its wine, and Stephen works at a winery as a cellar worker. It’s a challenging job with multiple responsibilities that change throughout the year.
Stephen is a naturally competitive person and played sports throughout his life, and this 28 year-old New Jersey native picked up cycling after moving to Napa Valley in 2017. After riding off-and-on for a few years with his faster and more experienced brother, Stephen’s competitive spirit was awakened, and in 2019 he bought an indoor trainer and decided to start training with structure.
The Appeal of Structured Training
Stephen had one clear goal in mind that led him to try a structured training plan- to get faster. Since Napa Valley is very rainy in the winter, indoor training was a logical solution, and Stephen researched his options for making the best use of his time indoors. After experimenting with a few options he settled on TrainerRoad, attracted by its simplicity and emphasis on results.
Stephen knew he had plenty of room to improve, but he was keenly aware of one big obstacle: the upcoming harvest season. During this period from approximately mid-August through late September, his work schedule demanded repeated 12 hour days of tough physical labor, which he knew would make hard training impossible. His goal was to build as much fitness as possible beforehand, then maintain whatever he could during harvest time.
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The Power of Low-Volume Training
Stephen used Plan Builder to create a training plan leading up to harvest season. After some experimentation, he settled on low-volume training, and continues to use this approach to this day.
Stephen prefers low-volume training because he can follow his plan consistently, while still allowing himself the freedom to add extra workouts or unstructured rides when he feels like it. For Stephen, this often means completing his 3 scheduled workouts on the trainer during the week, and adding a longer 60 or 70 mile endurance ride on the weekend.
After a successful spring and summer of consistent training, harvest time turned out to be even more difficult than expected. Initially, Stephen tried to continue his training plan, skipping workouts when he felt tired. It soon became apparent that even this would be unsustainable amidst repeated 12-hour work days.
Stephen experimented, and found he was able to consistently complete 30 minute workouts after work. While these might not be enough to build fitness, they were more than enough to maintain a baseline for several weeks without pushing fatigue to a breaking point. So Stephen chose his favorite type of sweet spot workout (5 minute intervals) and rode these for 30 minutes at a time, several nights a week.
This tactic worked. Once harvest season ended, Stephen returned to a Sweet Spot Base training plan and picked up where he left off, recording an FTP of 303w just two months later. If you’re counting, that’s an improvement of 106w from his starting point just under a year earlier- a truly impressive feat.
Preparedness and Motivation
A major component of Stephen’s success lies in is his ability to stay consistent. One way he helps himself achieve this is by having equipment and nutrition ready to go in advance, especially on days when he expects motivation to be lacking.
“Having everything set up and a workout plan already in place really takes off the added stress of having to think about it on busy days,” says Stephen. “There are times I have no motivation to get on the bike, but if I can just get on and start spinning for 5 or 10 minutes, I’m committed and it’s so much easier.”
Stephen also likes to keep himself motivated with music. If he has free time during the day, he makes himself a YouTube playlist for his evening workout, knowing it will help keep him a little more engaged when it comes time to ride.
Finally, staying consistent requires sustaining motivation over the long term. For this, Stephen likes to occasionally skip a scheduled workout in favor of a long ride when the weather is nice. He also uses TrainerRoad Outside Workouts to bring structure outdoors, and occasionally drops in on a local group ride with some friends. For Stephen, enjoying the process is an important part of reaching an outcome he’s dedicated himself to achieving.
“At the end of the day it’s a contract you make with yourself to stick with something, if you want to get better at it,” he says.
- Having your bike, kit, nutrition/hydration, and entertainment ready to go in advance makes it easier to start a workout when you’re feeling unmotivated
- Even if you don’t feel like riding, commit to 5 or 10 minutes. Often you’ll find the drive to finish the workout.
- Create playlists of music or videos to hype yourself up for tough workouts
- Anything that helps you stay consistent and motivated over the long-term is beneficial. If this means occasionally skipping a scheduled workout for a group ride or pleasure cruise, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Finding a Healthy Weight
Like many cyclists, Stephen has lost weight with structured training, and he always assumed being lighter would make him faster. Interestingly, he’s discovered that his optimal weight for performance isn’t the lowest number on the scale.
In 2017, Stephen combined dieting with recreational riding to reach a low of 165 lb, and set a personal record on a small local hill. Two years later, having just completed Sweet Spot Base without dieting, Stephen returned to the climb almost 20 lb heavier, and still climbed 20% faster. For Stephen, fitness has proven more important than weight, and he’s more positively affected by the quality of what he’s eating than by eating less.
Instead of counting every calorie, Stephen now prioritizes eating healthy, wholesome meals, with lots of whole grains and vegetables. He fuels his workouts with carbs and supplements his drinks with electrolytes, and recovers with protein and carbs quickly afterwards. His weight has naturally settled around 175 lb, and he is both faster and healthier for it.
Chasing Goals and Enjoying the Ride
In the end, Stephen attributes his success to his competitive nature, and an understanding of what it takes to improve. Still, he tries not to let the pursuit of improvement distract him from the simple pleasure of riding a bike.