Having Trouble Completing Workouts

I am very new to cycling and have just completed sweet spot base I & II low volume plans. I have steadily increased my FTP over the course of this training. However, since starting general build low volume, I am having a lot of trouble getting through each workout. I am having to rely on a lot of back pedaling as well as reducing intensity. Is this a sign that I should go back to sweet spot base and do those plans again or is this normal? Any suggestions are welcome.

Just my opinion, I’m finding the same thing with over/unders in SSB1, and 2. My suspicion is that there’s insufficient aerobic base. I just started riding a year ago after a 9 year layoff. I’m planning a much prolonged aerobic base next year.

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Congratulations on your gains and welcome to the Forum! When you’re new to cycling and new to structured training it’s a time of great excitement, encouraging performance gains and a lot of self-discovery. There’s no better feeling than those early huge gains! Don’t lose sight of the fact that you’ve increased your FTP by 40% in the past 3 months. That’s amazing, well done.

I want to share a little bit of perspective and some specific insights. Firstly, recognize that the Build phase is more work than Base. The workouts are higher intensity and generally longer efforts. You are stressing your body slightly beyond its comfort in order to catalyze physiological adaptations (performance gains). So, it’s going to feel more difficult anyway, but add on the fact that you’ve increased your FTP 40%, you’ll no doubt feel almost overwhelmed with how difficult the workouts are. While frustrating for you I’m sure, I don’t think this is an unexpected outcome. So, don’t worry, everything is on track and even though you’re struggling to complete workouts, I guarantee that you’re still improving.

So, that’s the big picture - don’t worry, you’re on track! The next question though of course is, what to do about it? I can offer a few suggestions.

  • Consistency is key I took a look at your profile and I can see you don’t tend to workout the same days each week. When you do a hard workout, your body needs rest (that’s when the stress is absorbed and the adaptations occur) which is why the low volume plans are generally arranged as Hard Workout --> Rest --> Hard workout --> Rest etc. Trash your body one day, recover, repeat. In some of your weeks you have 4 days rest and then 3 back-to-back days. I understand that you can’t always train exactly when you want to, but understand when you deviate that much from the plan there are likely to be consequences. As much as possible, try to keep your training consistent. Look at your schedule and figure out when you can train and rest properly, most of the time. The odd shift in your schedule isn’t going to hurt you much, as long as you’re sticking to things most of the time. On the weeks where you can’t help it and you only have 3 back-to-back days, stick to the spirit of the plan; Day 1 ride hard, Day 2 take it easy (an aerobic ride like Pettit), Day 3 ride hard. Smashing yourself 3 days in a row is just not helping you.
  • Focus on quality Closely related to being consistent, think about how to get the most high quality training in your week, not just the most amount of riding. Better to do 2 high quality rides in a week than 3 where only 1 of them high quality. So take some time to look at how you’re preparing for each workout to ensure that it’s as high quality as can be. Make sure you’re getting good sleep. Make sure you’re properly fueling your body with the right foods in order to get the most from your workout (we’re generally talking about some good carbs here). Are you mentally ready for the suffering? It’s not just your body that needs to endure the hard workouts; in every single workout I do my brain at some point is telling me it would rather stop than keep going, but I know my body can do more. You can do anything for 1 more minute, and another, … build your mental toughness and you’ll be surprised at how much suffering you can get through.
  • Think in seasons, not workouts Reaching your potential is measured in years. Year after year of proper training, nutrition and recovery. Learning how your body responds to stresses and figuring out how to optimize things for you. Your peak physical fitness will not happen on todays ride, but you can inch things just a little closer. You can push yourself today so that you can do just a tiny bit more tomorrow. A workout you couldn’t finish today may still have done what it was supposed to do. That’s not a failure, it’s still progress. I’ve looked at your rides and on the ones you haven’t completed, you didn’t blow up on the first interval. You generally struggled on the last one, or the last third. If you know you prepared properly, gave everything and emptied the tank; you will be stronger. Measure your gains from a season (Base --> Build --> Speciality) not on individual workouts. Trust the process and understand that you’re working to build to peak fitness over 5-6 months, not 5-6 days. Then reassess where you’re at against your goals and start back at the beginning from a much higher starting point. You will have days where you crush it and days that you really struggle, so keep your eyes focussed on the larger goal.
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In addition to @julianoliver excellent suggestions I wanted to focus some attention on this question:

Normal.

General build has a lot of intensity, in particular the anaerobic and VO2max workouts like Spanish Needle, Baird, Bashful, etc. Some people find these easier than sweet spot workouts, and some people like myself find them harder than sweet spot.

If you struggle with anaerobic/VO2max workouts, there are two ways to continue and complete the workout:

  • short 10 second back-pedal to give muscles a quick rest, while still keeping your breathing high
  • reduce intensity

Skipping ahead to week 5, the workout Dade +1 has these notes under Goals:

Important : Try to settle on a demanding but repeatable power output such that you can finish as many intervals as possible. The goal is to accumulate a productive level of stress at a high level of intensity while avoiding the need to frequently quit intervals early.

which is a nod to reducing intensity. These need to be really hard, but repeatable. Don’t reduce intensity too much. On a really good day I can get thru a vo2max workout like Mills without changing intensity, other times I’m struggling and reduce intensity to 95% or 92%. As long as your breathing heavy and struggling to get to the end of each interval, you will still get the benefit of these vo2/anaerobic workouts.

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Thank you so much for the thoughts! On the consistency, I completely agree that it is all over the place each week. That is the big focus over the next couple months to build a much more consistent schedule for cycling workouts. I have came from a running background which I have found correlates very little to cycling related fitness, but I do believe the mental background has been helpful.

While thinking in seasons and long term, would it make sense to go back and forth with Sweet Spot Base i & ii until my FTP gains slow down so that when I go into the build phase, I am not just getting destroyed both mentally & physically?

When reducing intensity - does it make sense to try and do the workout at 100% for as long as possible and then reduce to a level to complete, or try to judge where you are at on the day and reduce before getting wiped out?

Totally agree with @bbarrera, just a note that you should not reduce below this point. At 90% intensity or below, it’s not a VO2Max workout anymore. You’re better off pulling the plug and resting.

With VO2max and Anaerobic workouts I start with 100% intensity and only reduce when necessary. For example last night I started at 100%, then dropped to 95% for a couple intervals, and then needed to drop to 92% to finish the last 6 intervals. But I’ve also done a variant of that workout at 100% and only two backpedals. As @julianoliver points out, for 120% vo2max intervals you don’t want to drop below 90%.

I would say maybe. But to give a better answer I’d need to know a bit more about what your goals are.

You can elicit serious gains from Sweet Spot work. Every athlete is different, but my guess is that most people could improve to 3.0 or 3.5 watts/kg just on sweet spot work (no science on this, just saying you can become quite a strong cyclist from SSB). So that’s a vote for just repeating SSB until you stop improving. You definitely could do this and get gains for a long time.

What most people will say is that Sweet Spot rides are not as interesting, that you are more likely to become bored and lose interest in doing these workouts endlessly. Another argument is that you’re more likely to be kind of a one-dimensional rider. You probably won’t win any group ride sprints, but you’ll always still be there at end chugging away like a diesel engine.

I’m personally somewhat in this camp. I’m not training for a specific A race, so in my training schedule I mostly skip doing Speciality. 12 weeks of SSB I & II then 8 weeks of Build, then repeat. I’ve seen really good gains overall from this approach and I tend to change up the Build phase to try to be a bit more balanced as a rider. Build phase is really difficult, but I just tell myself that it’s only 8 weeks (and only 6 weeks of hard effort), then I can go back to SSB. 6 weeks of really hard work, 3 times year; I can do that. I always get my biggest gains from SSB II and the first half of Build. I think it’s the increase in workload and intensity that forces my body to get stronger.

In summary, I’m confident you can get gains from SSB for a long time, but adding in Build will make you a stronger, better, more balanced rider (in my opinion) faster.

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I’m a diesel, and older, and if I don’t do some vo2 work (inside or outside) every week it falls off a cliff. Took awhile to figure that out, and lesson learned.

Yup, some rides are just a struggle. Here’s a good example of exactly this from a ride I did a couple of weeks back. I had Shortoff +4 which is tough, but I was not on a good day. I knew it as soon as I got on the bike. I used the warm-up to try and shake it out and try to get my head in a more positive mindset. In the first interval I just knew I wasn’t going to make it to the end as prescribed, I wasn’t even going to complete the first interval. So I dropped to 95% to get through it. Then completed the first set. My head was still telling me to stop riding, but by the end of the rest I felt a bit fresher and got through the 4th internal. In the 5th I was really struggling again and had to back-pedal half-way through. I don’t like doing that, but it’s what got me through. From that point on the remainder of the workout was just so hard. But I gutted it out back-pedaling once each interval just to get to the end. Not my best day, but I felt really happy that I gritted it out to the end to get the most from my time. This wasn’t a ride that maxed out my physical training, but it was one where I put a win in the mental column.

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@joedavidson ^ good advice right there… I’d recommend sticking with general build and then go back to SSB1 > SSB2 > Build. About a year ago this forum didn’t exist, and I bailed on build for the reasons you posted. In retrospect I should have continued, and then gone back to SSB.

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