Notes from a cold garage - reflections on structured training from a non-structured individual

Notes from a cold garage pt I

Intro: Long time watcher, first time poster with what could be described as a somewhat self-indulgent thread but I hope it might have relevance for others. In short, these are reflections of an untrained — but frequent — cyclist coming to Trainerroad. One of the things I seem to struggle with the most is the nagging voices (indicated in bold) that I want to acknowledge and share as from my reading around here and listening to the podcast they seem to influence a number of questions and decisions about training which aren’t always productive. I plan to be brutally honest with myself and with you all. I am not looking for answers to my internal monologues really, and some of them I know to ‘trust the plan’ but they still chip away!

First, some history and statistics:

  • Age: 35
  • Weight: 73kg
  • Height: 5’ 11”
  • FTP: 277
  • Cycling (road) for about 10 years, more seriously for 4
  • These 4 years have seen me cycling much more but rarely training consistently
  • Structured training has been limited to a fortnight here or there before I bailed
  • Biggest gains seen after a few months last winter on Fulgaz just working hard up mountains
  • Average TSS over this last year (before Trainerroad) is 530 (but of course not structured, just riding)
  • Some lower back pain I manage, previous right knee issues that again are managed and mostly cause no issue cycling
  • On average get 7.5 hours sleep a night but often stress about sleep makes it worse after training days (I know I need it so overthink it)
  • Job not too stressful but has its moments

Goals: I’d like to be a fitter human, a faster cyclist and have a more resilient body. I’d like to look good with my shirt off too — at 35 and a new dad I want to show myself I can have a body capable of more than it ever was before and I’d love to feel positive looking in the mirror. I know this may not be a great goal to have but it’s a part of what I am working towards. I would like to break 4w/kg and then to reach an FTP of 300. FTP goals are perhaps looked down on a little but I’m not competitive, I don’t have any interest in racing or have other big events coming up. I wonder if my lack of these points to work towards might be an issue when the harder work rolls around. I don’t need an FTP of 300 to cycle and enjoy riding so maybe I’m on to a looser form the off.

Plan: Having come from cycling quite a bit, and a moderate TSS, I selected the Mid Volume SS Base, followed by MV Power Build and then Speciality (40km TT I figured would be best for me). I took ages to decide what volume of plan. Never even considered low as it just looked too little and was really wanting to choose HV. I am adding in some strength training and one run a week (only 5k) as I’d like to do more than just cycling (part of building a more resilient and capable body). Maybe one run a week is pointless and its not enough to make me a better runner but is enough to hamper my cycling efforts.

Week 1: Well this is mostly quite nice, very easy. I must be loosing fitness each day I’m enjoying the workouts because they are very manageable and a reduction in time commitment for me. Still can’t shake the feeling that TR doesn’t know me and what I’ve been doing despite telling it about my previous volume, FTP and so on. I’m a little frustrated.

Week 2: Now I must really have lost all my fitness. I’m not sure this is for me, I need to put the hours in and I need to go hard. I got to the end of the week and had Three Sisters, it was the first workout marked as hard and it made me feel a little better. considering changing as many workouts as possible to higher scores on PL because in Sweet-spot and Endurance I can definitely do way more than TR is giving me. I settle for just changing one workout in the following week. Not sure I can just stare at a screen like this for the next 4 months or so. Watching stuff doesn’t help much but a minor distraction.

Week 3: I wonder how much fitness I’ve lost with this plan? I’m actually in a fairly positive mindset. I’ve come round to thinking that this is a long term plan and that while I may loose some of my fitness, it might long-term be that I ma in a better position. I’m enjoying having my legs feel fresher when I jump on the bike — I used to feel like I always had heavy legs. I use AI FTP and it gives me 279 (+2). Reassured but sceptical of the number. I don’t want to use the 279 as I think it might reset PLs and I’ll be back to really easy stuff. I rode an endurance ride outside trying to keep in heart rate zone, tricky but possible. I overthink my average speed on this endurance ride — wow I’ve gotten slow. This is the furthest I have gotten into anything that resembles a structured training plan so that’s good. I’m playing with the weekly schedule of strength training and my run — feels like I am simultaneously doing too much schedule-wise and recovery-wise but also not doing enough hard work to get fitter. How can I raise my FTP when I’m barely ever above it? Listening to the podcast is helping alleviate some worries and is always a reminder to rest, nourish etc.

Again, these thoughts are not an attack on TR or the process at all. I know the science is there, I know it can work but knowing doesn’t always translate to internal belief, at least not quickly.

I am currently in week 4 and happy to continue sharing if this is handy/interesting to anyone else.

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Keep posting … and stay patient. :blush:

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Are you using adaptive training and plan builder? I’m assuming you picked little interval training in plan builder, so probably in sweet spot base 1, which is, eh, mainly sweet spot so wouldn’t/ shouldn’t be too intense.

@Macy – quite right, I am on MV SS B1. I can’t honestly remember why I ended up on SS but I believe it was recommended based on my inputs and time. As someone who 3 weeks ago really knew very little about structured work, or training plans, my surprise and concerns have come from the combination of relatively easy work and relatively short durations. I am unfamiliar with time on a turbo not leaving me absolutely drained each and every time. Perhaps this has contributed to previous bailing on any sort of plan. Perhaps this self-flagellation that I think many of us suffer from, contributes to my high(ish) TSS when doing unstructured riding – I just go fairly hard for as long as I can and feel exhausted but productive if I return with tired legs that struggle to walk up the stairs. I hope I am learning such discomfort is not always a requirement of progression.
I am also on adaptive training, yes.

I don’t for one moment believe that TR is the only system conveying this message but, going 'kinda hard’, most of the time is where ‘most’ of us amateurs were and maybe still are… going wrong.

Right now, in MV SS Base 1, you’re building the beginnings of a solid foundation. The harder stuff is waiting for you further down the line. That said, if you stick with a progressive plan, that harder stuff is hard but rarely is it too hard.

In all honesty, I think most competitive cyclists, and most of us are competitive, regardless of your participation in sanctioned races, ask themselves very similar questions during training. Is this right? Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? I can honestly say that I just let my mind wander. In my experience, mental tiredness is a bigger limiter than physical tiredness. Take a moment to review your progress and acknowledge the work you’re doing.

Remember to smile to yourself when you climb those stairs two at a time and then realise nothing aches :+1:

You may know this, but you can raise the PLs faster if you think you are up for it. You don’t have to settle for the default progression. Look at alternatives and pick something that’s a stretch and if you complete a stretch, your PL will advance to that level. Or just pick a workout that you like from the workouts library.
Because of Progression levels, there isn’t really a secret sauce for which workouts you do in week 1 vs. week 4 or 6. It’s all based on your current progression.

Thanks. This is reassuring to know. Having spent some time off and on in Sufferlandria, my prior experience of indoor training was built around a narrative of, well… suffering. It fits with many depictions of cycling/training I have encountered over the years so is somewhat hard to move away from.

Certainly I know the ‘kinda hard’ approach I can see has not been great for me but was always simple and getting out as and when I miss a little. Very much enjoying the legs feeling good and having energy at the end of the day!!!

Thanks Russell, yes I did choose an alternative in week 3 (Endurance I went for ‘Stretch’ rather than ‘Achievable’ and it seemed to go fine so i’ll consider it again. I want to do this with more to see those gains in PL and feel like i’m making big gains but i’m going to avoid trying to rush through and ‘complete’ it.

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yep, but that should also be mitigated by AT using the success of that particular workout and your feedback to the RPE question. For example if you select a workout that you think is reasonable but turns out to be too hard, AT should slow your progression down. Point being, there is no reason to languish in workouts that don’t seem to fit your current fitness, you have control.

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I tend to use TR plans only in the late fall> winter> early spring when I’m less likely to be able to ride outside every day. When I start a new block of structured training each fall, I tend to skip SSB1, because I’ve already got a good “base” from riding ~200 miles a week outside all summer. SSB2 really isn’t a base plan, because of all the V02max and Threshold work, and is more like “pre-build.” You might like this, as more of the works are “hard.”

I’ve also had lots of success using a LV plan instead of MV. This allows me to continue to ride a bunch outside if the weather allows it, or add extra Zone 2 or SS workouts if it isn’t.

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@phishrabbi I think after this round of training (if I see it through), LV might be for me. For now i’m really interested to see where sticking to the plan gets me, even at the expense of some nice outdoor rides (I live in a bumpy landscape and don’t have a power meter on winter bike so hard to really nail much other than Z2). Looking ahead to SSB2 I think it’ll be more in line with expectations certainly and I like the idea that I can skip SSB1 after summer (or use it as a sort of break/ease in to next block).

As someone who has ridden a fair amount over the last half decade but seen very slow progression i’m really curious what will come of getting through the 4 months. There’s often talk of low hanging fruit for people new to structured training but I imagine that as I have ridden a fair amount I may be a ‘half-trained’ athlete and see only very minor gains with this volume.

Essentially the difference between LV and MV is workout length, and 1 extra midweek endurance and one extra weekend “Moderate” workout.

After a few years doing mid-volume, now I’m back at least 2 days in the office, I’m dropping back to LV. I’ll be commuting by bike at least one of those days, and usually swapped the “moderate” workout for a club spin anyway. I just did my best to hit the 3 key workouts a week.

Just to echo what’s being said here. “Don’t worry, the really hard stuff is coming.”

I think it was about two or three months before I hit those workouts where I was questioning if I’d be able to even get half the work out done after the first interval. Those workouts suck so bad, but when I do finish them out I feel a sense of accomplishment, as well as reassurance that TR knows what they’re doing.

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There aren’t a lot of hard rules from the science of exercise physiology. I’m guessing you have been doing 7-10 hours/week at average of 530 TSS. Decreasing volume in exchange for more structure? May work for you, didn’t work so well for me. What worked better for me was increasing volume of endurance work and decreasing structure. Everyone is different.

Individual response to training is part physiology, part training history, part outside influences (work stress, personal life obligations, etc), and part ability to absorb and adapt training. TR is a tool for self-coaching, don’t lose sight of your responsibility to be the head coach if you want to optimize results.

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A lot here chimes with my thinking for sure. You’re right about my time outside and the exchange of volume for structure. Though in summer it’ll be hard to get on the trainer, a benefit in winter of less time on the bike is more time with family, to rest, to take care of other jobs. With this in mind if I simply maintain fitness i’ll consider it a good lesson and not a failure. really though I will still be disappointed. I’d like to be in great shape come spring.

Being my own coach with the help of TR is a great way to think of it, and the podcast keeps reminding me to listen to the body and mind, overriding what is prescribed where I feel it is needed. Regardless of tool, this is new for me.

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Another week of the plan done (kinda). This week was always going to be tricky with a much needed week away with family in a part of the country not conducive to outside workouts. On Saturday I had sweet spot efforts and Sunday threshold intervals. I made a stab at the former and exchanged the latter for endurance. didn’t really fancy going really hard when I was trying to relax anyway. Tried to enjoy just riding somewhere different (and quiet) and mostly did enjoy being a little unstructured but certainly had a nagging feeling that I gave up on the hard workout or made excuses for it.

Have found it difficult to get more than 7/7.5 hours sleep with life/work/workouts but currently going on the basis that if I feel up for most of my workouts, and I complete most of them, then it’s not something to get too bent out of shape over. If/when I fail to hit targets i’ll have to look at sleep more closely.

Away from the bike am pleased to have had some beer and eaten a bit of unhealthy food – often don’t ‘let’ myself enjoy this stuff or feel I haven’t ‘earned’ it.

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Week 5 done and another imperfect week as I decided to try and chase some snow in Scotland (never materialised but some lovely gravel riding around the Trosachs). Still hit 4 of the workouts but replaced threshold under-overs with a long outside endurance ride while away. Trying to see this as an adjustment reflecting mental state/desire for scenery and enjoyment but aware also the hardest and maybe most valuable workout of the week was the one that got replaced.

Unfortunately have had the recurrence of a knee issue. Think I need to give more thought to when I strength train and when I ride. In short I expect that this is an issue brought on by my introducing deadlifts (starting very light but still). I’m going to get some help with form to see if that resolves the issue but otherwise will drop them for a few weeks and see what happens. At the back of my mind I always wonder whether the best thing for my knee is several months off to really work on leg and ankle strength but because almost all of my cycling is pain free, it is a hard decision to make (and never has been).

In a recovery week now and trying hard to remember not to diet and to still focus on nutrition, sleep etc wherever I can. Whatever happens next, this is the furthest I have gone with any structure so that’s something. I wish Trainerroad would give me a consistency/adherence/compliance score – the workouts I have skipped/adjusted weight heavy and give me the feeling I’ve only done 70% of what is being asked of me but actually totalling things up it’s much higher – a quick glance would be nice to recognise when focus drifts/things get hard/motivation is low.

Ramp test Monday. Hate ramp tests but interested to compare with AI FTP. Seems a missed opportunity however for a more productive workout.

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I don’t like ramp tests much, either. I tried the baseline test from @empiricalcycling and found it much more satisfying and obvs a much better workout. Link below:

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Thanks for this – I really like the look of the baseline and progression 1 test. I think I might look at using the custom workout creator to put something into Trainerroad. Also, this sort of test will be kinder on my knee currently than the ramp which always ends up being a real grind.

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There are many of the workouts / test already created and shared in the following team list of workouts. Just join that team and you can access them all.

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