Help: New to structured training and seeing no improvement

Hello everyone! I’m new to TR and am happy to say I just completed my first 12 week block of training: SSBLV I & 2. I’ve been cycling outdoors recreationally for the past 3 summers. This year I purchased an indoor trainer and have been committed to completing every workout as per my calendar. I started the year with a 140 FTP, and hit 144 after SSBLV I. I recently completed my latest ramp test after SSBLV 2 and was disappointed to see the same FTP number at 144. What I’ve read in the blog and heard in the podcast suggests that I should be seeing dramatic gains if I’m introducing structured training into my routine for the very first time. I completed 100% of the workouts in both plans.

Knowing the ramp test is one data set at one point in time, I decided to do a few laps of a regular route in my neighbourhood that includes a good short (~4 min) climb which I usually refer to as a gauge of my fitness for the season. I felt like I was pushing hard and giving it my all during the ride - again I was disappointed to return home and see my time was over 40 seconds longer than my PR for this segment from the middle of my season last year. My Strava data also showed I had absolutely no PRs for my ride.

I’m a 31 year old female and have no athletic background. Cycling is the only sport that I’ve been working on for the past few years, with some skiing in the winter. I was diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia about 9 months ago, and have been taking daily iron supplements since then which have greatly helped my mood and energy levels. I have regular check ups with my doctor and am otherwise in good health. My weight has stayed the same throughout my training period: about 125-7 lbs. I’m 5’6” tall.

In summary, I trust the programs that TrainerRoad has created and value the science behind all the plans. My wonder is if there is something that I’m missing in that I’m not benefitting from the physiological adaptations that should be occurring as a result of the training stress I’m inducing in my body. Appreciate any advice or thoughts as it feels like I’m swimming upstream with my training lately - a lot of effort and not going very far. Thanks in advance !

1 Like

I do think you must have got stronger, because the training plans increase in difficulty over time, and otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to complete workouts like Lamarck.

I think there are probably two factors here - on, I don’t think it is fair to compare yourself now with yourself from the middle of the season last year. You have to compare yourself to the you from the end of April last year. Do you feel fitter now? The summer riding can then build on your winter fitness.

The other is, I think you might still be a bit fatigued from the training block. You could give yourself another few days off, then do an opener workout (I use truuili -2), and then another ramp test the next day.

I also think it is dangerous to expect PRs on routes that you know well - typically, most PRs come with a tailwind, and if you ride somewhere often enough, you’ll have a tailwind everywhere eventually.

But I do understand the frustration. I too was new to structured training last year, and made basically no improvements. I’m still working out what to change. If you go from no midweek training to some midweek training, that definitively should get you fitter! But I have a feeling the amount of intensity in the standart training plans is too much for me, and I might need to replace some intensity with volume maybe.

1 Like

My guesses are either that your ftp is wrong, or that you are actually stronger, but measure it in the “wrong” way. Ssb is to build base fitness. How long is your local round? I would guess that you should be able to maintain z2 power for longer now than before you started structured training.

:100: It’s also not fair to compare a 4-minute effort from last year’s peak with a 4-minute effort after you detrained and then spent 12 weeks on your aerobic base. Base gains aren’t flashy, but they’ll set up flashy gains in your build phase.

I have a similar story to you, except I didn’t have a couple seasons of unstructured riding to build on. I did see big gains during my first SSB phases, but I started at 1.5 W/kg. It took me over a year to get to 2.5, which is where you started.

Everybody responds to training differently. It doesn’t sound like you’re feeling run-down or tired, so stay consistent, stay on top of your food intake (food is fuel!) and sleep, and see what happens in your build phase. You’ve been putting in solid work, and if it’s not making itself known right now, it will as your volume and intensity ramp up.

(It’s also entirely possible that you had an off-day on your latest test. I once had such an unexpectedly low ramp test result that I ignored it and tried again later on the same day, and went up like 15 watts. :woman_shrugging:)

2 Likes

Thinking out loud here: I wonder if beginners can over test on the ramp test because of good anaerobic capactity and then they start aerobic training and not show an improvement. They have have improved their aerobic ability but it doesn’t show up on the ramp test because their anaerobic contribution is now less.

@graceracer555 Do you have more endurance now when you ride out on the road? Do you feel stronger at all? Are you also riding outside on top of SSBLV?

1 Like

Do you not have a computer with power on your ride?

I"m kinda going the other way here - I wonder if you’re testing too low here. It’s hard to gauge a maximal effort on a ramp test or a 4 minute effort even sometimes. You mention you completed 100% of the workouts - that’s awesome. But you should have off day, or days where you really really struggle even with the SSB workouts. I know I have to backpedal to get some additional rest a good bit even in SSB.

I wonder if you’re not set too low here?

Depends on the beginner. Someone coming from a strong anaerobic background could possibly do that. Someone coming off the couch or never having developed their anaerobic system isn’t likely to “cheat” the ramp test because they would blow through most of their sugar pretty quickly.

Yes, good points. I compared my ride yesterday to the same ride I completed in late July of last year. My normalized power for the ride yesterday was 135, whereas in July of last year my NP was 139. So, effectively I’m just below my fitness level of late summer last year.

2020 is the first year I’ve ever completed any training outside of the months of May-September. My typical season in previous years starts in May with 1 or 2 rides per week between 1-3 hours long. I guess the disappointment comes with how much “detraining” has occurred from the months of October through January. I was hoping it would come back faster with the consistency and volume of riding that I’ve been doing since I’ve started with TR. I do understand the ramp test is just one data point that could have very well landed on an off-day for me.

I do appreciate the encouragement! At this rate I will be much faster than I was in July of last year if I keep putting in the work!

1 Like

Yes, I do ride with a power meter. I don’t have live segments though so I’m not 100% sure when the Strava segments start or finish. I was going off of my own RPE for this effort which I understand is subjective.

I did complete 100% of the workouts - not without some difficulty and backpedaling! You are correct that some of the workouts were quite challenging. I did my best to complete all the workouts to the best of my ability and didn’t dial down the intensity at any point - just focused on Coach Chad’s tips (be hard on yourself!) and mental concentration to finish the intervals.

I haven’t completed any long (2+ hours) outdoor rides yet due to weather - but I think you make a good point that is where I should feel stronger. Currently I don’t do any outdoor rides on top of SSBLV. My next block is a Build phase where I may swap some workouts to outdoor rides for some variety.

If you ride with a HR monitor this may reveal some things. My experience is that through ssb base is that my HR keeps staying lower at same power output so it feels easier to just keep going. Now I can do 30 min SS intervals and never go near the high HR I used to see myself blow up to on just 8-10 min intervals at same power range when I started. The result has been power PRs at all long durations, up at least 40-50W for 2-3 hrs for example, while ftp on ramp test hasn’t changed a whole lot past couple of years. But definitely faster.

Also try using season match to compare power today to best power you did as of this date last year.

We can all only guess as to why, but my guess is that beginner cyclists without any competitive endurance background significantly under-estimate the quantity of work (power) required to make gains in performance. As you become more experienced, you will discover that the efforts which you think are “hard” now, are really not. The issue for you is likely your perception of what hard is.
For myself. age 60, with 30 yrs competitive cycling, I wish I could go back in time and reveal to my younger self just how hard I was capable of working.
For some people the hard efforts come naturally, for others (like me), it takes time to find that out. Riding and competing with others is a great way to find out what your limits really are. You are very unlikely to discover your limits riding solo or just starting out on TR.
Stick with it and find some good group rides with better riders (who will wait for you when you get dropped).:sunglasses:

3 Likes

My 2 cents worth :). If you are doing LV, be careful about swapping rides out. The LV plan is only three rides. What worked well for me was doing those three rides during the week, and then adding long rides during the weekend. For me personally TR is training; outside if fun, bunch rides etc - definitely need both and at different times of the year the balance will change.

My first time through Build was quite hard. I do a 3-4 hour hard bunch ride on Sundays and I was getting dropped due to fatigue from the build phase. My lesson was to hang in and do the plan fully; that is what makes a big difference.

You are likely to benefit from additional zone 2 endurance rides which are perfect for outside; but my advice would be to stick with the three LV rides and not drop any of them. You said you found some of the workouts challenging - that means they are working :slight_smile: Build will certainly increase your heart rate and you will know they are working at the end of some of them!

3 Likes

As @ellotheth mentioned, how are you approaching your fuelling and recovery? Rest days ARE rest. Hard days are HARD. Low Volume plans are built around challenging sessions so make sure you get that rest. Doing so will help ensure you maximise the gains on your hard days.

Fuelling. @ambermalika has drilled the importance of fuelling on the bike into my head. You can’t perform if you’re not feeding the fire. Use your TR sessions to experiment with your fuelling and find what works for you. As you go longer and harder, it’ll need tweaking but you’ll have a solid base to build on.

FTP is only one metric. :+1:

2 Likes

Amber has talked about this on the podcast too. When she was a competitive swimmer in college, she thought she was working hard until her coach told her she loafed more than anybody else on the team. I even look back at my notes (totally unrelated tangent: use the Notes field! future you will thank you!) from some of my first weeks of training, and I really struggled with workouts like Antelope and Carillon because I was still calibrating what “working hard” felt like. (Not that those are easy workouts by any stretch, but my perception of how hard I was working was hugely out of proportion to what it probably was.)

And really who am I kidding, I’m still calibrating. Ramp tests and long VO2max intervals and suprathreshold work are all a constant game of “is this my limit today or can I keep going”, “do I actually need a backspin or are my legs just whining”, “if I decide to bail does that mean I didn’t need to bail”. It never stops being a learning process, heh.

2 Likes

I picked up structured training in March 2019. I eventually stopped testing in October 2019 as I kept underperforming. Since then I have added more than 40 watts to my FTP.

If I would ramp test today, I would end up with a way lower FTP. I guess for some it just doesn’t work that well but that doesn’t mean you didn’t improve. If I were you I would give it a try. Up your FTP and see how that goes.

2 Likes

I’m actually going the other way now. I think you can work too hard, and it’s not beneficial anymore. I don’t really want every workout to take me to failure and to feel wiped out afterwards. I’d rather do enough for a good training stimulus (so more than last time, enough to feel tired etc), and then stop. I feel like I’m only adding fatigue after that, and it’s not helping.

But I don’t know. I’m still fairly new to training for endurance sports, but I have over 30 years of training for skills-based sports in me. I’ve never trained until I was absolutely dead before, but maybe it’s different in endurance sports.

I’ve made more progress with using the MV plan, skip some workout and reduce intensity or duration in others, than with doing 100% of the LV plan. Plus ride outside more, if you can. But maybe I’m doing it wrong, no idea.

1 Like

I don’t think it’s wrong.
You have to listen to your body.
The element of macho suffering that you sometimes read on cycling doesn’t need to apply to you.

Joel Friel sums it up: do the least amount of training* that still achieves your goal. If you feel like you’re overdoing it, cut the workout short. You want to be able to train hard, anbd for that, you need to rest properly.

We’re not in it for the money (well, at least, I’m not) so do what works for you and your goals :slight_smile:

2 Likes

Agreed, :100:! When it’s in my plan to work hard and go to failure, like in a ramp test, I want to do that; if it’s not, I absolutely do not because it’s miserable.

I love this. I don’t know, I feel like this Joe Friel guy might be onto something.

2 Likes

My opinion…Low volume anything on TR would have me plateauing quickly. Just not enough stimulus.

4 Likes