Poor Build Phases: Rarely can complete more than one TR workout in a week

Background: I have been training with a power meter since 2012-13. I am self-coached. I am 47 years old. My FTP is about 250. My diet is 8/10. I weight 149 lbs. I sleep well; rating it 8/10. I have average stress, in general compared to others.
Two questions: (1) my FTP appears to drop each year, but race results get better? Maybe the competition is weaker but it doesn’t seem that way. How is this possible to get better with lower FTP numbers over time? Same bike and power meter for last three years. (2) Build periods are awful; they generally end prematurely with 2-3 weeks of recovery rides needed. Other symptoms: High HR => poor EF ratio and pwr:HR. And, most importantly: the inability to finish even one hard workout per week; especially as I get older. Sometimes just one hard workout per 10 days; sometimes I can complete 2 in a week but it’s rare. I’ve tried more volume, less volume … same results for the most part. I cannot imagine this is how build is supposed to work; again, this is not just one year but multiple years worth of observation. What can I do to make my build phase more effective? Or is this just the way the build period is supposed to work?

Could your power meter be giving inaccurate readings? I would verify against another source if available.

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no it isn’t - build is tough - I do SPB (I time trial). I find that sometimes I can’t complete the superthreshold 108% FTP stuff but I usually get through with the odd backspin if I’m focused. Sometimes I choose an easier option like Dade -1 for VO2 or do one of the 105/102% FTP interval sessions instead of the 108%. I think the ramp test over estimates my FTP based on what I can put out in a 25 on my TT bike so this is ok - I would rather finish a session at 95% than blow up half way through. You have enough experience of training to know it isn’t working and as the old saying goes the definition of insanity is doing the same things over again and expecting a different result. Change something…I would knock all your intervals and vo2 sessions down to 95% or to where ever you can complete them without failure then increase by 1% a week and see how you go!

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  • FTP is not a determining factor of performance or indication of potential success. It is a single metric, that is best used for setting training zones, and not necessarily indicative of your abilities as a cyclist.

    • It is “interesting” to see but I have had my tail handed to me by those with lower FTP purely because of will and ability to bury themselves to a point I could not go.
  • MANY other factors determine success in competition and other metrics or intangibles (like “mental toughness” and race craft) all contribute to your abilities in events and any results from them.

    • It is best to look at a wider picture of your fuller power profile, your time to exhaustion at various power levels, and the considerations of race skill and the mental side. “Success” is often more than pure fitness.
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I’m wondering if you are coming into build with out base training?

Or if you are torching yourself in base and coming in heavily fatigued?

In my following examples, just assume you’re doing 120% intervals. But, it could be whatever.

In the past I’ve found that I have had too much fatigue when I can’t really even get into the tough workouts. Like for instance if I’m failing on the second VO2 interval I’d assume its a fatigue or stress thing.

If you’re getting deeper into the workouts, but failing perhaps you are not fueled up. In that case if you are doing the hard workout after work, maybe eat a 10/10 on the hard workout day.

If it is kind of ‘random’. Perhaps you could try to do an easier version of that workout. For instance, if you have not done a VO2 workout in a long time. And you are going to do a workout with 2 minute intervals. If you’re having trouble, find a workout with 1 minute intervals. Then work up to the 2 minute intervals. I think some of us can run into trouble when we are moving to harder build workouts and we haven’t done those types of workouts in a while.

Finally, if you fail an interval, somewhere in the middle of the workout, maybe get off the bike for a moment, stretch a little, get back on for the recovery interval and keep trying to get through the workout. If you were doing a 10 interval workout, and get 8 intervals done, that’s pretty good. Don’t beat yourself up, maybe the next hard workout will be better.

Good luck. I’ve personally had a hard time transitioning into build and it can be frustrating because we don’t necessarily do these build workouts all that often. I’m sure others are going to have some good ideas also.

Chad in the post above has an excellent plan for modifying your weeks if you are just getting too beat down by the workload.

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What is your mix of outdoor riding vs indoor?

I was like this previously. Have done Sweet Spot Base the past 4 years starting in the Fall and each time struggled big time with the subsequent build phase. I’d get a nice FTP bump after base and then almost immediately started failing the build workouts. I’d also typically start mixing in outdoor rides toward the end of base/beginning of build.

This year though with the whole lockdown I’m pretty much 90% indoor riding and I made it through General Build for the first time earlier this year. I’m actually on my second round of it after going back to base for a bit. It’s crazy hard, but I’m thinking for me the change has been really committing to the trainer.

The other thing I have done differently this year is not panic and try and change everything after one failed workout or bad interval. In past I would give up very quickly and switch back to base or just drop following a plan all together and go 100% outdoors with no structure.

This year when I have failed the occasional workout I just move on and continue with the plan. Yesterday I was doing Dade +1 (9x 2:30 @ 120%) and was struggling big time with interval 7, I knew there was no way I could handle 8 and 9 so I turned the intensity down 10% and was able to finish the last two. Even though I didn’t finish the workout as prescribed I walked away super happy with what I was able to do.

Last thing I do is a lot of EZ rides. I ride 7x a week, but if you saw my calendar you’ll see a lot of Lazy Mountain, Baxter -1, and Petit in there. Hard workouts Tues, Thurs, Sat and everything else is typically one of those 3 workouts.

I’m 46 and my FTP is closing in on what it was when I was 35.

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I appreciate your input and I have experienced the same thing. Staying on the trainer year around helps; even if just 1 or 2 times per week. My mix between inside and outside can vary. I complete SST base 100% indoors using TR. I only do two SST TR workouts during the week. All else is Z1 or Z2. Then, mix it up between inside and outside for the Build phase, although I try (90% compliance) to complete 2 TR Build workouts on the trainer - the “hard” interval sessions. Basically, I aim to complete two TR workouts per week during Build on the trainer. This is the crux of my challenge, most of the time I can only complete one TR workout like Dade over an 7-10 day period. All other rides are just Z1/Z2; truthfully, most of those rides are done <50% FTP. I ride about 10 hours per week. I ride 5-6 days per week. I have tried subtle tweaks to my training over the years, and I still really struggle to get through build with 1-2 interval sessions per week - again, 1 session is generally it. As Chad pointed out, I’ve tried 2 weeks on 1 week off. It helped a little, but 2 workouts were still nearly impossible. I’m at the point where I’m considering breaking Dade -1 (for example) into two workouts (Tu and Th) just to see if I can get some momentum.

Thanks vladrath. I feel like my aerobic endurance is good; I could always be wrong. I ride 300-400 hours per year. Not a lot of hours, but I’ve been very consistent over the years. Maybe too consistent? I ride about 80-110 hours during base which seems on par. I really try to manage my fatigue, so I don’t really ever feel like I’m over doing it but that must be wrong since I suffer so much during Build. If I do feel heavily fatigued, I back off unless I’m trying to overreach intentionally before a rest week. Weekly TSS is 300-500. Fueling could be a problem, but I eat a ridiculous amount of food especially when I’m eating superhealthy (plant based whole food diet).

I have definitely tried 2 weeks on 1 off. It did help a bit, but in the interest of trying something different this year I’m back to 3 on 1 off. Thanks for the info.

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thanks jdman. I do try small tweaks to my plan. I think it would be worth trying an approach somewhat like you have described. For example, starting in build, start at 3x6 @ 100%, then adding 1% each week. At this point I really need to try something quite a bit different.

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One other thought is how are your measuring your FTP? Ramp test or the 8 or 20 minutes test?

Maybe try a method different then what you have been doing. When I first started doing the Ramp test I was not that great at Vo2 work so I’d bail pretty early. I’d end up with Sweet Spot and Threshold workouts that were too easy yet the Vo2 workouts were still too hard for me just because I didn’t have the engine for that kind of work.

Over time I think my Vo2 work has improved enough that I get a better number from the Ramp test then I used to.

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Yeah, I hear ya. That’s a whole other can of worms for me. Honestly, I’ve tried most of them: 1 hour, 20 minutes, 2x8 minute, 2x10 and ramp test. My favorite is 60 minutes by far. That’s my current basis for my FTP. Specifically, I really enjoy using Alpe du Zwift which takes me about 55 minutes for my hour of power. The Ramp Test is the worst for me. Maybe that says a lot right there. I enjoy longer, comfortably hard efforts vs. shorter hard efforts. I think the Sufferfest has a 4-dimensional model that “may” allow me to know more clearly what other zones are (VO2 max, AC) ?? Not sure. I do feel like my VO2 max and FTP may be closer than most people for whatever reason. That seems flawed; just my opinion.

Yep, this was me before as well. Spent 10 years doing triathlons and TT’s. I was all about sustained power and barely knew what a Vo2 max interval was. Been more focused on Gravel and MTB the last several years and it’s slowly made me more well rounded in terms of my ability to train different systems.

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