Help! I'm stuck

Hi all,

I’m hoping to get some insights into what I’m currently going through and some advice on how to move forward from my current situation…

Long story short, I’m 43y old and picked up cycling about 1y ago. I pretty much started with structured training from day1. I’m 187cm and my weight is down to 75kg from 96kg. My initial FTP was 207W (2.44 W/kg). Currently I’m around 280W (3.7 W/kg) and I’ve been stuck there for pretty much the last 4-5 months. Ramp tests are getting harder and I’m struggling to maintain my FTP.

I started my second TR cycle around the end of September, did 8w Base and just completed 8w Sustained Power Build, all at an FTP of 283W. None of the workouts felt very hard, and I even bumped the intensity on some. I’ve also replaced the typical Pettit/Fletcher/Beech rides by a slightly longer endurance ride to add a bit more low intensity TSS. During the Build, the first recovery week felt pretty weird and left me feeling flat by the end. Same during last week, also recovery. I also noticed my RHR creeping up and HRV going down during the recovery week. Also, my HR/PWR ratio during my recovery week was way higher than usual, however, I could not see any significant cardiac drift - most were around 0 and some even negative. My RHR & HRV reading were even better during week 7 of Build. I tried a priming workout yesterday (Truuli) prior to today’s ramp test, which went fine but I did not feel it had much effect. I really struggled during today’s ramp test and things were getting really hard at an estimated FTP of around 252W - I just felt I could not get enough oxygen in my system and my breathing was a lot more laboured than ever before. I pushed through to about 278W and called it quits. BTW - intervals.icu still estimates my FTP at 282W and Garmin estimates it to 281W.

I was quite frustrated and took my bike outside for a short one hour spin to get rid of my frustrations. Funnily enough I set a new 20 and 30 minute power PR (270W and 264W). It was a 104 TSS ride @ 0.95 IF (vs 283W) - NP was 270W.

During this sustained power build, I set several new power PRs: 5’, 10’, 20’, 30’, 1h, 2h. That said, I do feel like I would struggle with rides over 125km at a decent pwr average at the moment.

What is going on? It feels like I can hold a higher power for longer, but I’m unable to to increase my FTP? I’m struggling with higher intensities, which I did not during my first cycle, which was a General Build. I guess that is an expected outcome of sustained power build?
I feel like I’m struggling maintaining power for +3h rides, a lot more than I did during the summer.
Why did my RHR go up and HRV down during my recovery week? Why was it lower/higher during my loading weeks? Am I overtraining? I’ve read about parasympathetic overtraining of which a reduced RHR and elevated HRV are symptoms? Could that be it? Or, perhaps my body has been fighting bug over the last 1-2 weeks? (might explain why RHR went up during my recovery???)
Or am I running into the limits of what I can achieve given the current time commitments? If so, why does it feel increasingly harder to even achieve my FTP results of prior tests, even while adding a little more low intensity TSS?
Or is this expected coming out of a sustained power build? Does anyone else struggle with the ramp test coming out of Sustained Power Build? Would a 20 minute effort test be better suited?

Any suggestions for what to do next?
A couple of options I see:

  1. do the Climbing Road specialty which I had planned, at my prior or lowered FTP - I see no point doing that given I have no events planned. The only reason I for it would be perhaps to peak my fitness to regain confidence? I’m thinking there are better ways to use my time, eg further build out a more solid base?
  2. restart another Base cycle (6w of SSB MV 2) and move into a General Build or redo a Sustained Power Build?
    2.a at my old FTP of 283W (disregarding today’s ‘failed’ ramp test) - if I’m actually overtraining, this is not going to help. However if I indeed have been fighting a lingering bug and this was just a temporary fitness dip, I may need the stress at this level to continue growing?
    2.b at a lower FTP - eg 278W or lower - perhaps 270W or so. Maybe I should take a step back, reducing the intensity stress, reducing the recovery requirements, to be able to take two steps forward? Or does it not work like that?
    2.c. in case I’m hitting the limits of what I can achieve given the current medium volume cycles, I could do one of the two above options, including some extra low intensity endurance volume/TSS? Or should I hold off adding low intensity TSS for now?
  3. skip base, and start a General Build cycle or redo a Sustained Power Build(?) at previous or lower FTP.


Note: about 50 days ago, I also started doing daily 15-20’ yoga sessions working on mobility and stretching. I would think this would not impact my performance negatively

Thanks for helping clear up my confusion!

I know everyone is different and much of this requires some trial and error, however, I think there are some very knowledgeable folks here with lots of experience, so I would hate to miss the opportunity to learn from them, so I can sort of reduce the amount of ‘error’ while trying.

Thanks!
David

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Good job on that weight loss! I was in a similar situation as you as I thought that my FTP would never go above 300W (I am 68kg, 20 y/o) despite being consistent with my training. I then took 2 weeks off before starting a new season in 2019 November and got my all time highest FTP at 311W (4.5w/kg) in 2020 July. I am following the same process in 2021. I took 2 weeks off in November 2020, and now I am highly motivated to train and can really push myself.

I see that you now have a hard time pushing yourself to the limits and you already completed a base-build-specialty cycle. You didn’t even take some time off the bike ever since November 2019 as per your calendar. If you are going to continue training at this state, I would not be surprised if you start to loose your gains. It is time to take 2 weeks off from any physical activity. You will loose fitness for sure, but you will also be able build a higher fitness peak. After the break, your motivation levels are going to be very high so you can use that to your advantage. I also recommend that you take a mid season break. 1 week off any exercise after completing your first base-build-specialty cycle and your A event (if any) should reset your motivation as it relievers the stress on your autonomic nervous system which was build up from your training.

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This right here is the perfect reply. Well done @yajvans

@dpues, you’ve been absolutely nailing your training. Super impressive. But it’s time to take one step back so you can take two steps forward.

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You don’t have to take a break from exercise but you certainly need to knock the “training” on the head at the end of the season. I usually have a couple of weeks of walking in the sun if the weather is decent, easy spins/coffee rides/easy runs …just to reset - 2 weeks of doing nothing I couldn’t hack but you do need a break from being on a “training plan”

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Thanks @yajvans, @jwellford, @jdman!

So if I take a week or two off training (I guess I just push out my planned training by two weeks), I restart with a ramp test and whatever my fitness level is at and build back up from there?

This is going to feel weird being off the bike for so long… I assume I can just do some short easy running sessions 3-4x a week? Could I start a bit of strength training as well?

Thanks again! I appreciate you taking the time to guide me!

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I wouldn’t take time off the bike but rather would add more volume. Also, I would slot in a high intensity block (VO2, Threshold) every now and then.

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Interesting article on taking a break: https://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/taking-end-season-break-cycling-effects-benefits-explained-439969/amp

Thanks @anon13702412.

That’s the complete opposite of what the others mentioned. ;-).

Confused…

So you believe that I’m sort of hitting the limit given the current training stress and that I should increase it, both in volume and intensity?
I already added low intensity sessions to the 8w build block (a 2h Z2 ride extra each week), which already had me do a ‘V02max’ once a week, 2 threshold sessions, and 1 sweetspot session. Do you think that is too little high intensity work?

Way too much intensity! Take a break, go back to base. Focus on endurance, lots of Z2. Two intensity sessions per week, max. You’ve built a small foundation and completely built the house, maybe one story too high. Time to expand the foundation before you try to build any more.

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Looking at the charts you have provided it looks like you have hovered very consistently around 400 TSS which is great. Though at some point you have to expect to stall out.

While the TR plans are great, it’s perhaps also worthwhile to look left and right. Like doing longer threshold sessions (3x15, 2x20) and also longer VO3 sessions (3-6x5). If I recall correctly @jarsson nailed that very well.
When doing that make sure you nail your intense (Z4/Z5/Z6) workouts. So rather do one less for the sake of nailing the others. If I recall correctly Jonathan posted something on Instagram about that today. It was a short clip of Chad stating that two to three sessions should be enough. More will likely result in the opposite you are aiming for.

Regarding the time off the bike I am not convinced this is necessary. Though this is super subjective. For me it has always been enough to go from 6-7 days per week down to 2-3 days and from 10-15 hours down to 5 to 10 hours. In those weeks I ride by feel. So whatever I want to do I will do. This helps me big time to recover both mentally and physically. Doing nothing on the other hand does the opposite for me. My mood declines, my fitness vanishes and my weight creeps up. Ultimately, it puts me in a bad place which I need weeks to recover from. Way longer than I would need to recover from any training block. After all, I love training.

But like I said, it’s super subjective. Though I guess it’s worth to keep in mind that all that talk about “you need to do x” or “you need to do y” is exactly that, only talk. Key is figuring out what works for you. So be curious and try things out. After all it’s safe to assume that we won’t turn pro. At least not me with my 4.7 wpkg. :wink:

The problem with this is the way you say you are feeling. Struggling on ramp test, RHR increasing, HRV decreasing. This doesn’t point to needing more TSS right now. To me it screams too much stress.

Remember not all TSS is created equal. I think you can get back to 400 TSS weeks pretty quickly, but would definitely dial back the intensity big time in exchange for volume at low intensity.

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He stated that his RHR and HRV worsened during recovery weeks which is to be expected. Your body is absorbing the stress. That’s why the end of a recovery weeks often feels worse than the beginning.

Definitely worth considering a block of true base training. I.e. Z2 endurance pace.

Also, worth a listen to this podcast:

It’s 2 hrs, but has some interesting perspectives on how new masters cyclists tend to focus too much on intensity, and many need to reset and do a big block of base instead.

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… + 1 for a 2 week break (no riding or easy riding). Also have a hard look at your yoga: is it stretching or strength work? The latter could add some Stress.

You seem very dedicated and it is hard to take time off if you are motivated. It is however better than burning out!

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You’re right. But they also say struggling with intensity, struggling to hold power. Tough call but my read is they’re pushing a bit too close to overreaching for comfort.

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@dpues, I’m curious to know what your aerobic background was before starting cycling. Did you have a strong aerobic base already from another sport?

Edit: also, how is your fueling? With your FTP gains, you’re doing WAY more work this TR cycle than you were the first time around.

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Some time ago I posted on my first TR season experiences: For those new to TR, or considering signing up to TR

My background: “ When I was a teenager, I used to play basketball at national level in Belgium until I had a severe knee injury (meniscus gone and tore my tendons which required repairing and rehab for 12 months) at the age of 20. I picked up smoking and started to gain weight during my studies, even more after I got married. I tried ‘start to run’ when I was 30, but soon had to give up due to pain in my knees. When I was 35, I started powerlifting (squats, deadlifts and bench press) and did that for roughly 3y. I bulked up to about 110kg, and was able to lift some decent weights. I had to quit as I was just pushing my body way too hard and was not able to recover. My physiotherapist had to remind me that I was no longer 18 and that is was about time I acted accordingly, ie give myself more time to recover etc. In November 2019, I ended up chatting with some of my neighbours, who are into cycling. They convinced me to give it a try since it is low impact. I decided to go for it and bought a decent race bike.”

So, no aerobic base whatsoever. I’ve always been more into explosive, anaerobic sports.

I’m also time crunched and don’t have time to do lots of LSD rides, hence why TR appealed to me as the sweetspot work should be a relatively good substitute. At the moment I have about 8-9h per week that I can train. Some weeks I can push it to 12-13h.

During this last build cycle, my weekly TSS averaged between 550-600. Mostly as per the TR medium volume build plans.

Fueling: I average around 4K kcal/day, and go up to 5k kcal when doing the tougher workouts. My weight is stable. I don’t do macros, but get most calories from carbs. I do fuel during the harder sessions as well.

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I would say that’s to be expected. You can’t expect to hold or even increase your FTP over extended periods. It’s always a up and down. Two steps forward, one step back.

Thanks for the background. 8-10 hours of Z2 still gives you 400-500 TSS per week. Make one of those hours a hard interval session if you want to keep a bit of your top end fitness, but with no events planned that’s not necessary in this base block aside from relieving some boredom. I really think a focus on your aerobic system is exactly what you need. Then when you return to TR style MV training you’ll have that much more of a foundation to build upon.

It really is impressive how far you’ve come in your first year. You clearly know how to train, and have some solid genetics for aerobic work even with your history in power sports.

Edit: thumbs up on the fueling

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I think we’re in agreement in almost everything, except what to do right now. For me, one step back means losing some fitness and going back to base in order to rise above the plateau later, while for you it means increase stress to push through the plateau now.

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