Plan progression rates too fast for the highly trained cyclist

My impression is that there are assumed fitness gains baked into the progression in the plans, and I struggle (fail) to keep up with the rate of progression when the intensity kicks up.

Is this normal for those of you that are highly trained? Is it assumed that someone highly trained will know how to adjust power targets?

Context to the question:

I am in week 5 of SSB MV II. I have documented some of my progression in other threads.

Last fall I did SSB HV I and II. FTP setting was 285. Felt super strong pretty much throughout. My ramp going into build was 292. First week of general build was a disaster. Cracked on my first two hard workouts, despite not coming close during any period in base. I did have some minor equipment changes I had to deal with due to an unexpected PM failure, so that certainly contributed. Anyways, I decided to do a 4 week VO2 focused mini build that I read about on forum - with the idea that I maybe needed to learn how to suffer again. I started to struggle as the VO2 got beyond 2 min in length, and cut that short about 2.5 weeks in. Took two easy weeks around the holidays and then decided to try SSB MV II. There is a lot more threshold and VO2 in there compared to HV, so I felt it filled a region of my fitness that wasn’t addressed in SSB HV.

My ramp going into it came out at 282. So a decent drop, though not totally unexpected. Workouts felt pretty easy at first, but have gotten much harder. I felt a bit shelled after 4 weeks, so added a recovery week in between weeks 4 and 5.

So far I have finished Mills and Darwin in week 5. But I felt absolutely maxed out. And the jumps in the next week really seem impossible: Spencer and Lamarack. I just don’t see, based on lots of experience, the necessary fitness jump needed from now until then to be able to make those.

I’ve been hovering between 280-290 ramp tests (~4W/KG) for a while now, and gains come very hard. My approach is going to be to go into next week conservatively based on what I did this week, so not even try to hit the target throughout but build to them. I just don’t like trying to guess what I should be trying to hit to get a good stimulus. I’d much prefer someone tell me where I need to be to be productive.


I’m not a highly trained cyclist; I only came back to structured training after a 15 year lay off in late March 2020. That said, I’m very similar FTP numbers and weight to you (278 FTP, 73kg). I found that I over test on ramp tests because I have quite a strong VO2 max (possibly due to a lot of Cx as a teenager and young adult).

I found that by pulling my ramp FTP 3-4%, the longer threshold-type workouts (which were brutally hard, sometimes verging on impossible) become hard but manageable, if I fuel well. That may be something to look at.


I might test too high on ramp. I tend to excel at sweet spot based on TR estimated FTP. But fail longer VO2 and threshold workouts unless I scale down similar to what you suggest.

The big question is if we are hitting minimum effective dose to keep improving or not.

I don’t mind putting work in, but I want it to yield something. I would be happy with a few percent over several months at this point. Otherwise if this is just my ceiling I have other areas I can work to improve (like triathlon or strength training) while maintaining current fitness pretty well.

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Some people also do better with more frequent recovery weeks - like every 3rd week.

I would recommend its time to swap off the ramp test. The variances between your tests isn’t anything to worry about and are within the spectrum of normal. 4-5 watts isn’t gonna make a difference in a Vo2 workout.

Your ftp is likely too high. Either back off the the percent intensity for those workouts or re-test.

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Sounds to me like you burn out around the same time in the plan and you keep going for too high of volume. My thought (because I had a similar experience) is that you’re reaching too far by doing full mid or high volume. If you don’t have a lot of experience with interval training, you’ll feel fine and strong until you are not. That many hours of structure just is not the same as the hours you ride without. And if you find you cannot sustain the plan for longer than the base period, perhaps you should consider a low volume plan. I did that and added a Sunday free ride (so four rides per week) as a longer Z2 fun day to bridge the gap between low volume and mid volume. It was a huge benefit for me.

That said, I really struggle with VO2 work but excel with threshold and sweetspot. As such, I always notch the VO2 workouts down a few points and keep the sustained power workouts the same. If you’re struggling with both, it could be like those above are saying about your FTP being to high, or it could be as simple as mid volume being too much stress for your body to handle right now.

4-5 watts isn’t gonna make a difference in a Vo2 workout.

4-5 watts? Spencer calls for 3min at 338. To be successful, I’m guessing I need to back of more like 10W. Similar deal for something like Lamarack I think.

Maybe I misunderstand how things are supposed to work - but the ramp gives estimated FTP ± some error. Which doesn’t mean you can actually hold that number, it just scales workouts based on a given plan. To actually hold that number, you’d need to go through base, build, TT specialty plan, and hopefully pick up some watts along the way up to the specialty plan.

I am pretty comfortable with that concept. What I am less sure of is the plan progressions being a one size fits all with the incremental increases in work. Sweet spot work based on 280-290, I crushed it for 12 weeks and finished feeling stronger than I went in. Start hitting VO2 and Threshold - I need to scale those back, particularly as the plans progress to longer periods of work and less rest. So maybe I hit those numbers early, but then I don’t seem to progress at the rate the plan expects me to. Maybe I’m an outlier, I don’t know.

I’ve got no ego issue adjusting the numbers down in order to finish a workout. I just want to make sure I’m getting the benefit intended. I guess I’d prefer a range rather than a hard target, if that makes sense. is 110 - 120% OK for something like spencer, or should it be 115-120%. Lamarck - is 95% enough? things like that.

@BCrossen I haven’t seen a pattern at any given time frame where I burn out. And I’ve been riding with structure for years with Trainer Road. I used to make big gains and be able to hit targets. It’s been the last year or so that things have stalled. For sure hitting the right amount of volume is always an issue, but I suspect the problem is more nuanced than that.

In the present example I went from a high volume base plan that I never failed a workout, to a mid volume base plan where I did! It sure doesn’t sound like switching to the lower volume plan is the necessarily the right move there.

The consistent factor in failing workouts in my most recent build plan attempt and what I’m pretty confident will happen in the current MV base plan is trying to hit targets that I’m 99% sure are just too darn high. So I need to figure out how to properly adjust the targets to get the stimulus as intended.

I don’t think the issue is the workout progression. The difference in my recent experience between initial FTP going in SSB MVII and knocking the final week’s workouts out of the park was about 3%. 3% is not huge at 300 watts, but is not guaranteed, as you have experienced, but the issue for me has been freshness, more than me reaching my potential. I think you have to expect some rounds to be either stagnant or perhaps a step back and when you hit that, you need to pause and then go again to take two steps forward. And freshness is not just legs, but sometimes mind.

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@russell.r.sage can you clarify what you mean by 3%?

Mental freshness isn’t too much of an issue. Physical freshness goes back to the volume question. You can’t over reach and grow.

For the workouts I discuss in original post, I completed 4 weeks, felt beat down. Took a recovery week. Came back this week and barely survived the VO2 and threshold for week 5. I was both mentally and physically fresh coming in. Are you suggesting I take another recovery week? Either way, I still don’t think the requisite fitness jump is gonna happen to hit the significantly increased targets. To do that, I think this week was gonna have to be hard, but not on the brink.

I don’t think you’re supposed to necessarily have a fitness jump in that week. Rather it’s overloading you. You’re intended to be able to handle and absorb it, but you might even be weaker by the third week of a cycle (and maybe you even should be weaker, especially at the end of the week). Then the rest week comes and you rebuild, and after THAT you should be fitter.

Maybe, think of this as an opportunity to take your riding to the next level by using your own experience to modify the program for YOU. The plan builder sort of tailors a plan but it’s still not really individualized. It’s not quite one size fits all, it’s more like “one size fits all (average cyclists that have the parameters you entered into the plan builder)”

You could slow the progression (reducing the amount of extra load each week gives you), you could remove a hard workout if you need to, you could swap out weeks so that it’s 2 on, one off instead of 3:1

The 3% was the improvement on the FTP test after completing that block. I’m pretty sure how my block is going based on how that last week goes. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes I’m just hanging in there.

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In that case, just drop the workouts down a bit. No biggie. Usually a 5% drop is enough for me to make VO2 intervals productive but not impossible, and I believe for VO2, they’ve mentioned on the podcast you can drop those ones by up to 10% and still get the stimulus you’re looking for. For me, I’d rather chase the repeatability at 5% less than prescribed and complete all the intervals, than only get through a couple of them and blow the rest of the work out. Then next time, I’ll try it at 3% drop.

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@devolikewhoa83 I should clarify what I mean better. I am not suggesting that following a plan should lead to big jumps in any given week. Just that, based on difficulty level of this week vs. next, I personally would need a big boost in fitness to make the targets, and it isn’t going to happen.

Overload and recovery is always part of the process. But, based on my assessment and what I’ve seen written by chad at least once somewhere, there is a planned progression in fitness during each block. As @russell.r.sage said, 2-3% sounds about right as to what is expected if things go as planned. That makes a huge difference near threshold efforts. And the workouts you do at the end shouldn’t be as doable if you did them at the beginning. That is where I am arguing that I have lagged - namely that my fitness does not seem to progress at the same rate as the blocks with intensity assume. For this current block I am in with SSB MV II, things were pretty easy in the beginning, about right in the middle, and seem to be beyond reach at the very end.

On a side note, I’m not using plan builder, just following base, build, specialty progression. Since I don’t have any events on the calendar, that is exactly what plan builder generates anyways.

Regarding missing VO2 targets, my understanding is that it isn’t necessarily 120% for everyone, but a range. So that is probably some of the issue. Regarding missing something like Lamarack, that is a threshold workout that one should pretty much always be able to do at current FTP. So me not being able to do that at current FTP setting indicates that indeed it is just too high. I suspect that Lamarack is put at the end of SSB MV II with the thought that an individual has grown into their estimated FTP from their ramp test and are also mentally ready to handle 4x10 on 2 min at threshold. I’m confident I can mentally handle that, but I’m also almost assuredly physically 5-10W lower than what my ramp in week one said I should be able to do.

I think the take away from this is that I just need to drop the targets to make workouts and not let that get to me. Coggan has a saying that seems to fit perfectly, power is descriptive not prescriptive.

@BCrossen Yeah, that seems for sure the way to go. I definitely tend to close better, so starting conservatively is always good.

One thing I often wish for is for the little power dot that tracks with average interval power to adjust radius based on acceptable power range for desired workout stimulus. So rather than me having to guess what the right range is, having some easy visual guidance on each workout that I’m on track. If I’m touching the target with the dot, I’m good to go. As it stands, I’ve never investigated what the power range is on the dot is. I guess the color of the power bar sort of does that, but there the colors change too continuously for my taste. I’d rather it be red, yellow, green or simply binary at red/green; e.g., green = you good to go; red = you have deviated from the planned the stimulus of effort based on current FTP estimate.

I failed Lamarck this morning after 4 weeks of bliss. 6 weeks ago, I completed it smoothly. I think what you are saying happens to all of us that are pushing their limits. There is going to be some failure if you are truly pushing. I trust that failing Lamarck today will ultimately payoff in the future. I may not see a big bump or any with my next ramp test, but if you keep going you will progress.


Yeah, agree that failing is a part of it. Hopefully progress comes. My growth has been stagnant for 12 months, and I’ve been more consistent and focused than ever. Just gotta keep trucking.

Just as a follow-up, after hitting Mills and Darwin at 100% of targets and being maxed out I have done:

Mary Austin -1: Hit the first set at 100% and was shelled, bumped the last two sets down to 95% and made it.

Tallac +3: Had zero issues completing at target. I continue to feel quite good at sweet spot work (88-94% of ramp test estimated FTP).

Spencer +2: TR target was 120% of ramp test estimated FTP. I hit 115%, 116%, 117%, 116% then cracked on interval 5 and 6 about half-way through the intervals. I should have tried to stay at around 115% all the way through.

Lamarack (4x10 @ 100% estimated FTP, 2 min RI): Based on Darwin and previous experience with Lamarack sneaking up on me on the third interval, I set targets at 95%. I ended up hitting 96%, 96%, 97% and 98%. I was shelled after, but still about 1% lower average for the intervals that what I hit on Darwin the week before, which had 3 min rest instead of 2 min.

Based on how hard my efforts are, I’m pretty confident I’m getting good efforts in. Just not confident that I’m going anywhere new fitness wise.

How old are you and how long have you been doing structure? I’m 63, in my 4th year of TR. I think I’m topped out now, and am just trying to maintain what I have. The intensity is key for that, but I’m still faced with inevitable declines that I hope to slow by riding hard.