For optimal results, you need to adjust your training plan. Whether it’s because of a change in your schedule or your fitness, there are ways to adjust your plan to achieve your full potential. But what types of changes should you be making?
Why Every Training Plan Needs Adjusting
Plans need to be adjusted because life has a way of changing things for you. Sometimes we have to push training to the side to take care of more pressing matters, like family or work. Or sometimes, we just have a bad day, a poor night of sleep, or need extra rest for illness or a nagging injury.
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In addition to adjusting for whatever life throws your way, training plans need to be adjusted to optimize your fitness growth. Structured training organizes your workouts to provide training stress that challenges your body’s current capabilities. It takes just the right amount and type of stress for sustainable fitness growth. However, fitness is not static, so your training plan needs to be dynamic.
Why Training Plans Work?
Training plans for endurance athletes are designed to add the right amount of stress progressively. As your fitness increases, your body must be continually and increasingly challenged to become stronger. This is called progressive overload. As a result of progressive overload, you become more capable. Without progressive overload, your fitness will plateau.
Progressive overload is the principle that your workouts should increase in difficulty each week within a single training block. The weekly increase in difficulty within each training zone is called a progression. This can be achieved with longer intervals, increased intensity, less rest between intervals, or a combination of all three.
For example, at the start of a training block, it would be challenging to attempt a Sweet Spot workout that contained three thirty-minute intervals. A better option would be to start with shorter intervals and more rest, then progressively work your way into longer ones.
Staying on Track
When you have to miss a workout or simply have a bad day resulting in an unsuccessful completion, you fall behind the progression that’s scheduled for you. This means that the next step in the progression will be too difficult, threatening to put you further behind.
Every athlete, at all levels, in every sport, encounters this problem. The good news is that you keep your training on the right track with some simple yet effective adjustments.
Types of Adjustments for Your Training Plan
To ensure that you are getting the optimal workout and staying on track with your progression, you’ll want to make some adjustments to your plan. Here are some of the most common adjustments you should make to get the most out of your hard work.
Adjust for Strengths and Limiters
Every cyclist has strengths and weaknesses. If we imagine two different cyclists with the same FTP, they can profoundly differ in expressing their FTP across each power zone. One could excel at riding at high tempo for hours but struggle at VO2 Max power. The other cyclist could be just the opposite and have strong three-minute power abilities but struggle to maintain tempo for long durations.
To add another layer, you have to consider your goals. Training for a century will look quite different than a cross-country mountain bike race. The former focuses on sustained power, and the latter is more about repeating above threshold efforts. But what if your goal event doesn’t necessarily align with your strengths? If that’s the case, you may jump into workouts that are too hard simply because you haven’t reached the progression that matches your current abilities.
You may already have a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses. A good starting point is to examine your power PRs and then adjust from there. Generally, you can start further along into a progression for the power zones that are your strengths. For limiters, it’s best to start with lower difficulty workouts earlier in a progression.
For example, if you’re training for a century ride with a lot of climbing and struggle with 30-45 minutes threshold efforts, you wouldn’t want to start your training plan with 15-minute long threshold intervals. Instead, start with an easier progression with a workout with 5-minute intervals, then work your way up.
Adjust for a Bad Day
Sometimes, you just have a bad day where you can’t hit your power targets or make it through the scheduled workout. Maybe it’s due to a poor night of sleep, a stressful workday, or because you didn’t get a chance to eat enough. Whatever the cause, missing out on the planned training progression will only make your next workout harder than it should be.
The good news is feeling a bit off one day isn’t likely to affect your fitness. Most importantly, you don’t want one bad day turning into more. One option is to ignore the missed workout and jump ahead to the next step in your progression. However, this does come with risks. Applying training stress that you’re not ready for can overwhelm your ability to recover and threaten the quality of future workouts. So the best option to manage a bad day is to adjust the next upcoming workout of the same type to match the one you missed.
For example, after a poor night of sleep, you attempt but can’t make it very far into an over-under workout that features 3×12 minute intervals where the overs are one minute at 105% of FTP. The next workout in your progression increases the over length to two minutes, with less recovery in between sets. In this case, it would be better to complete your original workout before moving forward in the progression.
Adjust for Longer Training Breaks
Sometimes your time away from training is a bit longer because of vacation, travel, or illness. Illness is an unfortunate part of life for athletes. Most importantly, take care of yourself and follow your doctor’s advice. The training will always be there when your body is ready, so take as much time as you need. When you are ready to return to training, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The first thing is to think about how much time has passed since you last trained. Different types of cycling fitness decline at different rates. Sprint power starts to decline in about five days, whereas aerobic endurance takes about a month. To learn more about how your fitness declines when you take a break from training, check out Detraining: What Happens When You Lose Fitness?
If your break has only been a few days or one week, the best option is to pick a slightly easier workout of the same type. For example, if the workout on your calendar has 2×20 minute sweet spot intervals, choose a workout that is 3x10minutes. With the time off, you may feel fresh enough for something more challenging, but we recommend starting slowly as a means to bolster consistency. Or you may need to ease into the progression because you’re carrying residual fatigue from your break. Either way, this will help you ease back in and increase the likelihood of success.
Select even easier or shorter workouts of the same types for breaks longer than fourteen days. Usually, training breaks longer than two weeks would be best served by reassessing your fitness with an FTP test. This ensures that your workouts are scaled to your current fitness level.
Adjust for Time to Goal Event
If you’re training for an event, you want to make sure that you arrive a peak fitness just in time. But what should you do if your plan doesn’t align with your event and you have too little time to complete it? The answer depends on your experience with structured training. Typically, cyclists newer to training would benefit most from base training, and those more experienced would do well with more event-specific work.
So beginner-level athletes should preserve base training weeks, while experienced cyclists could trim those weeks. Depending on your situation, you may need to remove an entire training block. The more likely scenario is that you’ll have to shorten the progression within a training block. In that case, you’ll want to keep the beginning of the progression and start removing weeks near the end of the block.
Finally, ensure that you preserve a taper before your goal event. This is usually a two-week period just before race day, where the workouts are intense to keep you ready, but the overall reduction in volume and training stress sheds fatigue.
For the self-coached athlete, adjusting your training can often seem overwhelming. If you’ve ever been unsure of how to adjust your plan, Adaptive Training is the answer. It intelligently adjusts your training plan to match your abilities, changing schedule, and goals while helping you understand your fitness and how it’s changing with Progression Levels. Adaptive Training allows you to get the most out of every workout you do.