Off-Season/How much reduction in time is too much?

I hope it is appropriate to create a new topic for this. If not, feel free to delete.

I have been riding my road bike since 2020. After the summer season of 2021, I self-diagnosed that I lack basic condiditon. Thus, since the fall of 2021, I had dedicated myself to improving my base fitness, the engine so to speak, on the bike. Over the past summer, I managed to ramp up my training hours to about 15-20 hours per week (polarized approach; about 85-90% of the time zone 1+2; 700-900 TSS per week). In my eyes I was successful: I did several long rides (7h-14h; 200-250km; sometimes 200km on back to back days) during the summer without too much of a drop off in performance and problems with recovery. Also my FTP and wattages in short efforts improved significantly.

This coming winter I won’t have the time – and on the trainer the motivation – to ride 20 hours a week. Therefore, my plan was:

  • Until Christmas:
    Traditional base mid volume plus one run a week (different load on the body and variety) and weight training twice a week.

  • After Christmas:
    Another full run of traditional base mid volume. In the third phase, drop the running and reduce the weight training before I move into a build-up phase in late spring.

Now, I am facing the following problem:
My concern is that with TBMV after my summer of high volume training, the reduced time/TSS will not be enough to stimulate meaningful adaptations. Would I be better off using sweet spot base? Last year I did this over the winter, however I was (mentally) very fatigued in the early part of the year. Now I would have a much better endurance to handle the sweet spot training. On the other hand, with running and weight lifting there will be new, unfamiliar stress on the body. Any advice? I look forward to an outside perspective and the experience of others!

This is an important question. Look into reverse periodization. Some low tempo (LT1) + Vo2 max blocks…Low volume. If that is not appealing, you can repeat what you did last year but start conservatively and add hours only if you feel good.

I have a similar predicament. Except that I also practice snow sports. And that becomes my priority for the 3 month off season period.

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I am on a LV plan before AT I was partially doing a MV plan

Mo - Rest
Tu - Intense WO
Wed - Endurance WO during the season
Thu - Club TT during the season
Fri - Rest
Sat - Open TT/SS WO/ Group Ride
Sun - Open TT/SS WO/ Relaxed Group Ride

And whilst there was occasional variation that was working for me results wise and after the season sometimes Wednesday got replaced with a intense paceline and the club TT was replaced by an intense TR workout. So I guess I didn’t have any reduction in time.

The next season I went LV but kept a similar time intensity its just there was more group rides at the weekend as lockdown eased and no SS workouts.

That close season though I started to commute again (just one day a week though) so again there was slightly more intensity.

That set me up well for this season initially, but as time went on performances have went down. I think its been a lot to do with mental stress but maybe the commute just made it too much training stress. There’s probably mechanical issues too as the same low power is getting me vastly different results. The club TT’s also got moved to my commute day, exasperating both stresses :-/ So I’m looking at reinstating my Monday rest day this close season (in fact I’m already doing it today with one race to go). So this off season for the first time there will be a reduction in time. Lol, If I sort out the mechanical I won’t really know how much was life/training stress. I’m tempted to leave the mechanical :joy:

Mo - Rest
Tu - Commute (maybe I’ll do an Endurance WO too)
Wed - Paceline/TR WO (If my history is anything to go by it’ll probably be the paceline)
Thu - TR WO
Fri - Rest
Sat - Group Ride
Sun - Relaxed Group Ride

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Maybe I’ll go down the “add as deemed necessary” route. So Traditional Base before Christmas and maybe switch to Sweet Spot LV + Z2 afterwards. While your idea with reverse periodization sounds tempting, I don’t think that’s something that fits my “vibe” for the trainer season.

Sadly, snow sports are out of the equation where I currently life. With the amount of rain we get over the winter, I could maybe try water sports :joy:

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I’m really a fan of the Monday and Friday rest day pattern! I used it myself over the summer and it helped me to ensure that I always do my hard interval sessions fresh. So I would like to keep it over the winter time – only problem is that I won’t be able to reach my hours that way. But also I don’t think I can manage riding on more that five days. Commuting isn’t an option either, I only need 10 minutes to university and for my side job I work from home.

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My commute is a bit longer 40 mins tempo cycle each way but if I feel I’m not getting enough training volume I’ll add an endurance session. It probably will though, as there’s a train part to wear me out, but in your case with only 10 mins its likely you will and maybe something more than endurance would be apt too. Good luck!

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I can’t answer that question. However consider the following:

  • you could use a mental break from training
  • there are few long-term studies, but coaches report meaningful adaptations can be driven over long horizons, think years, by consistently doing low-intensity work and complementing that with some high-intensity work (and periodizing it)

I’ve seen that approach work over 2 years, averaging about 7-8 hours/week. I’m at an age where recovery is a challenge, and with some focus (and a smaller yard, less housework) could probably push volume up an hour or two to about 10 hours/week. But it wouldn’t be polarized, it would end up looking more like a classic pyramidal intensity distribution because tempo in moderation works well for a lot of cyclists.

My experience with traditional base - used it to kickoff two seasons. The first season I repeated weeks in both TB-1 and TB-2 and did it mostly inside (so much time indoors it was mentally challenging). The second season I mostly followed the plan without repeating weeks, and I added some intensity to both TB-1 and TB-2 by doing the work outside. In my opinion, there is too much low-intensity in TB-1.

Knowing what I’ve learned about myself, if using TR again for base I would make pretty substantially changes and it wouldn’t look like either TB or SSB, it would look more like the cycling portion of full distance triathlon plan. You might take a look at the full distance triathlon plan for some inspiration.

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I’m actually considering backing off of structured training and using “train now” for a few months. My question was when should I go back into a structured program if I’m planning a Gran Fondo for Mid April and a 5 day bike tour in May. I really enjoy training but I’m not sure I need to chase my (rather anemic) FTP all year round….

Good topic, I’ve been wondering the same question.
I have almost exact same history as the original poster. Cycling since 2020. Averaging about 15 hour weeks, mostly Z2. during base closer to 20.

Really want to hold on to my good base fitness so during this off-season I’ve been doing 10-12 hour weeks. Cycling and some swimming. One or 2 intensity sessions per week, nothing too taxing. Might be a bit overkill with 2-3 gym workouts per week.
But so far feeling good and finding the time for 10 hours comes easy when you’re used to 15.

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Thank you for the detailed answer!

I’m definitely in need of a break – I will take two weeks completely off the bike before I start my winter training.

I do see your point: I have the impression that TB I is too low in intensity as well, but I think that may be why it will be perfect for when I introduce running and lifting for the first time in the off season. I think it’s likely that I’ll be sore enough from the unfamiliar training load and happy that I don’t have to do intensity on the bike in addition to that. I think with Zwift, Podcasts and Movies I’ll be able to tolerate the Z2 work indoors.

I use Christmas as a turning point because I’ll be visiting my family between the years where I won’t be able to train effectively. So my serious training doesn’t start until January anyways. Maybe I’ll skip TB I on the second run and start with TB II right away and repeat it two times instead. I’ll definitely take a look at the triathlon plan as well, haven’t actually considered that as an option.

Ticking off a plan during the indoor season keeps me motivated – that’s why I start with structured so early on.

From my humble personal experience I would guess that picking up structure after Christmas leaves enough time to get fit until April. Especially if you’re doing some consistent riding, even if it’s “only” train now, in the weeks prior.

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Yeah, maybe I’m just not ready to let go of my new gained fitness :sweat_smile:

I’ve considered swimming as well, but they plan to drop the temperatures of the public swimming pools because of the gas shortage. Also, swimming is more time consuming. So I ended up with running. And someone on the podcast brought up the argument that running is a powerful tool in a cyclists toolbox. For example when you find yourself away from your bike because of travels, you can almost always fit in a run. That really resonated with me, so I wanted to make running a habit.

that’s something like 12-14 weeks, and you already have a base, but maybe you want to do a 4 week block of building out tempo/sweet spot, so that would be January for muscular endurance (tempo/SS), and February-March for a build.

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Are you aiming to increase or retain your fitness in the off season? If aiming to retain then that is a up to 40-60% less volume whilst maintaining some high intensity. That’s translates to about 8 hours a week and some high intensity once a week. Maintaining fitness requires a lot less time than trying to increase it.

You need just enough stimulus that your body doesn’t reverse the adaptions you’ve gained. That your body thinks “I need to retain these changes”.

I‘m just trying to keep the broad base I build over the summer. I have the feeling when I’m able to do that, the gains will come very easily when I move into a build phase in early spring.

Do you have any source for the percentages you mentioned? I’m just curious and want to educate myself a little more.

Not to hand, just numbers I have read from the many articles I have read over the years.

Personally for me I find that if I drop below 6 hours volume a week then my endurance leeches away, slowly but surely. If I can maintain 8 hours a week minimum then I can still see some good gains. This volume is mostly outdoor Z2 rides with a bit of low end tempo on the uphills. For high intensity I’ve found sessions somewhere between threshold and VO2 max once a week is enough to maintain.

My volume in summer tends to be 13-15 hours a week. Taking the 6 hours and 15 hours that ties in with the 40% number as a minimum for maintenance.

You’ll no doubt have read the papers of various studies. In each study the participants response to the same stimulus varies. Thus it may be that in your case you need to retain 50%, 60% or maybe 70% volume to maintain your fitness.

The off season is a great time to experiment and find what works for you in terms of minimum volume and minimum amount and frequency of intensity. Just be sure to make notes as you find out what doesn’t or does work.

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Also in similar position. I plan to keep up roughly similar hours/week with additional load from SkiErg:

  • morning: SkiErg, ~1h with very low intensity (bottom HR Z2). Should nicely support cycling, improves core and triceps, i hope
  • evening: whatever TR plan throws at me (due unfortunate season timing I’m on build phase until couple weeks before Christmas)

This way hopefully will get benefit of twice-a-day workouts and will not overload backside more than necessary with indoor trainer :wink:

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