Structured training, in its most effective form, is both periodized and progressive. To get faster, your hard work needs to stimulate specific, physiological adaptations. Training periodization divides your season into distinct phases so that your hard work pays off.


Key Takeaways:

  • Training Periodization divides your training into phases to manage training stress and promote key adaptations.
  • Training plans should be both periodized and progressive.
  • Base, Build, and Speciality Phases aim to drive adaptations in both general and specific fitness needed for your event.
  • TrainerRoad’s plans take care of the details so you can focus on the training.

How Does Endurance Training Work?

In the simplest terms, endurance training is about stimulus and adaptation. Disrupting the body’s state of equilibrium, physiologic homeostasis, via training stimulus spurs a myriad of changes. Those changes are what make you a faster cyclist.

Disruption of physiologic homeostasis occurs only when the stimulus or stress challenges the body’s current capabilities. You can drive the disruption needed for adaptation by repeating or prolonging high-intensity intervals. It can also be done by sustaining milder efforts for an exceptionally long duration, or some form of work between these two. As the body adapts to new levels of stress, it eventually reestablishes homeostasis at a higher level of physical capability.

Now that you have greater physical capabilities, a more significant stimulus is required to disrupt the new level of equilibrium. That means that the same workouts that worked before will not provide enough stress on the body to bring about further adaptations. In other words, the body must be continually and increasingly challenged if it is to become more capable. This process is called progressive overload.

With that said, you can’t continually overload your body. Recovery is necessary in order to allow for adaptation. As your performance declines, you must introduce some measure of rest. During recovery, your body anticipates what is to come and prepares itself for the next challenge. Rest and recovery are the third necessary ingredient in endurance training.

Stimulus – Recovery – Adaptation

Fundamental to endurance training is the repetition of stimulus, recovery, and adaptation. Managing this cycle yearly, monthly, and weekly, is the purpose of periodized training. Structured training plans aim to add just enough stress so as not to be utterly overwhelming while providing adequate rest that drives physiological changes. Additionally, a training plan should progressively focus on particular types of fitness adaptations, built upon more general forms of fitness. Over the course of a training plan, you will eventually bring your fitness to a well-timed peak level.

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Periodized Training and Peak Fitness

If the purpose of periodized training is to manage the cycles of stress, recovery, and adaptation, then its goal is to bring about a peak in fitness just in time for your event. Peak fitness is the culmination of an increasingly progressive and specific stimulus. The reason you want to reach a peak is that more stress is unlikely to elicit further positive adaptation, and training will level off and plateau.

Peak fitness is preceded by a taper in which you reduce the total amount of training stimulus that encourages freshness. The goal of a taper is to minimize the adverse physiological and psychological stresses of daily training to optimize your performance. While it is impossible to maintain a fitness peak indefinitely, you can hold it for several weeks.

Periodized Training Cycles

In periodized training, there are three cycles, macro, meso, and micro — each one corresponding to a shorter timeframe. Let’s take a look at examples of each.

Macrocycle

The macrocycle is your seasonal training plan. You can think of this as the 30,000 FT view of all the training that you are planning. It begins with the start of your training and ends with your goal event. In a traditional TrainerRoad plan, the macrocycle is 28 weeks long. Throughout a macrocycle, you will see the progressive addition of training stimulus and the necessary recovery to drive aerobic adaptations.

Base, Build, and Speciality

When considering the macrocycle, there is more to it than just adding training stress. Macrocycles need to include different phases that address base fitness and then drive towards more specific fitness. By following a logical pattern, each phase ultimately leads to a particular set of adaptations upon which peak fitness is balanced. These progressive phases are Base, Build, and Specialty phases.

Training Periodization begins with the macrocycle.
The macrocycle encompasses the entire season and all three progressive phases.

Mesocycle

Mesocycles are four to six-week blocks within the macrocycle and are typically referred to as blocks. In a typical four week block, the first three weeks progressively overload your body, while the fourth week focuses on recovery. Each new week within a mesocycle sees a slight increase in the overall amount of stress (TSS), while each workout sees a similar bump in the amount of work demanded. This is done by more or longer intervals.

Training Periodization contains the mesocycle which are 4-6 week blocks.
Mesocycles are 4-6 week blocks of structured loading.

Microcycles

Microcycles are the simplest of the three training cycles. A microcycle is a single week within a training plan. Although workouts will vary from day to day, the microcycle includes the rhythm and cadence of a training plan. 

For example, in Sweet Spot Base Mid-Volume I, each week or microcycle has a familiar tempo. Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday workouts are Sweet Spot, while each Wednesday is an endurance ride. Saturdays focus on threshold work, while Mondays and Fridays are reserved for rest. Athletes who use Plan Builder can customize the days they train when they build their training plan, but this is the standard structure.

The smallest cycle in training periodization is the microcycle which is a week long.
Microcycles are one week long.

Progressive Loading Across Mesocycles

Mesocycles don’t necessarily need to increase training stress from cycle to cycle. In fact, doing so would overpower your ability to recover. There are two reasons why you don’t always need to increase TSS across mesocycles. The first is you likely have higher FTP. As your fitness has improved, so has the amount of work you can do. The second reason has to do with the type of workouts and the targeting of different energy systems.

FTP Increases

When you increase your FTP through training, there is an escalation in training load. This happens because every workout from that point forward will require a higher power output, yield more energy/work, and inflict greater stress on the body in many ways.

The first 1-2 weeks following an FTP increase usually allow an athlete to adjust to his or her new power levels without the added stress of an increased TSS load. As the body adjusts to these new demands, the weekly TSS will resume its usual rate of increase. The training response is likely to be more favorable due to this brief, but necessary training stress reduction. This is why TrainerRoad begins each mesocycle or block with a FTP test.

Training Different Energy Systems

Another reason that TSS doesn’t need to increase from one mesocycle to the next is because of the need to specify your fitness. As you transition from one phase of training to the next, the variety and type of workouts can change dramatically. As a result, comparing weekly TSS becomes problematic because not all TSS is equal.

For example, the physical toll exacted by 130 TSS accumulated via 2.75 hours ridden steadily between 65-75% FTP (Town Hill) is substantially different from the stress inflicted by 130 TSS derived from 30 minutes of 15-second microbursts at 150% FTP (Spanish Needle +2). Same TSS, different fitness adaptations, different bodily stress.

Progressive Training Phases

Every mesocycle in a TrainerRoad training plan is linked to one of the progressive training phases – Base, Build, or Speciality. All three combine to form a macrocycle. These phases, completed in order, aim to drive adaptations in both the general fitness and the specific fitness needed for your event.

Base Phase

Becoming a faster cyclist begins with a foundation. You can’t build your higher-level endurance and power without establishing a foundation of strength and aerobic endurance first. Your first step in a training plan is to create that foundation in what’s known as the Base Phase.

There are two ways in which you can complete the base phase. The first is high-volume training that is focused on low intensities. This requires upwards of 10-20 hours per week at a minimum. The second is a much more time-efficient method with less volume, but higher intensities called Sweet Spot. Using Sweet Spot Base you can achieve adaptations in as little as 5 hours a week.

We recommend Sweet Spot Base to most cyclists as it broadens the base in a much more optimal way by applying progressive, adequately timed, and systematic training stress. All of this is done without having to spend upwards of 20 hours a week training. 

TrainerRoad breaks the Sweet Spot Base phase into two mesocycles or blocks. Each one is six weeks. During this phase, you will focus on muscular endurance and raising your FTP. This builds the foundational fitness needed for a higher peak and applies to all cycling disciplines. 

Build Phase

During the second phase of training, the Build Phase, each type of workout takes on a more event-specific look. Greater emphasis is placed on escalating the weekly stress load via workouts that are more event-specific than the Base phase.

The intent is to improve more pertinent types of fitness while maintaining more basic forms of fitness. If you’re not training for a specific event, you can view this phase of training as the one in which the intent is to grow your FTP the most.

Not only does the Build Phase allow athletes to heighten their level of training specificity, but it also brings their fitness to a point where middle-priority events can start to factor into their weekly training. 

The Build Phase is focused on strengthening the specific power demands you’ll need on race day. Build Phases are focused either on Short Power, Sustained Power, or a mix of the two in General Build. There are specific Build Phases for each triathlon distance as well.

Specialty Phases

In the Specialty Phase, the overall stress load declines slightly to restore a higher level of race preparedness. At the same time, the workouts shift their emphasis from building further fitness to sharpening the established fitness into its most event-specific forms.

The Speciality Phase is where the workouts reach the height of their intensity, but the training volume each week mildly declines. This becomes a balance between workouts that test your event readiness while gradually trimming the overall training stress to shed fatigue. Each Speciality Phase includes a taper to make sure you are in top form before your event.

Specialty Phases contain two mesocycles, each lasting four weeks. This phase is highly specific to your event. Whether it’s a criterium, XCO race, or gran fondo, the Speciality Phase fine-tunes the fitness you have. 


Every TrainerRoad plan is both periodized and progressive. Over 28 weeks, you will progress through the entire Base, Build, and Speciality progressions. Have more or less than 28 weeks until you need to be in peak fitness? Don’t worry. Plan Builder builds the ideal training plan for your time frame, and will guide you through the training phases. Ultimately it makes your plan easier to follow and your training even more effective.


For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.


References

  1. Bompa, T. O., (1999). Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training 4th ed.
  2. Gillen, JB., Gibala, MJ., ( 2014, March). Is high-intensity interval training a time-efficient exercise strategy to improve health and fitness?. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24552392
  3. Gibala, MJ., Jones, AM., (2013). Physiological and performance adaptations to high-intensity interval training. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23899754
  4. Skelly, LE., Andrews, PC., Gillen, JB., et. al., (2014 July). High-intensity interval exercise induces 24-h energy expenditure similar to traditional endurance exercise despite reduced time commitment. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24773393
  5. Ronnestad, B.R., Hansen, J. and Ellefsen, S. (2014). Block periodization vs traditional training. Scand J Med Sci Sports. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01485.x
  6. Issurin, V. (2008) Block periodization versus traditional training theory: a review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18212712


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Jesse Fortson

Jesse Fortson lost over 140 pounds with TrainerRoad's help. He uses his experience as a teacher and race mechanic to get faster for crits, gravel, and marathon XCO races.