Starting over - lost all fitness

I started using trainerroad around 4 years ago and was in ok/not great shape when I started. I started with sweet spot base and went from there. I honestly don’t remember or even know if I really knew a lot of my metrics at that point, but improved a lot in that first year and steadily since.

Fast forward to this past September - I was riding about 10 hours a week on average - FTP around 280, resting heart rate around 54 and zone 2 rides had me around a 140 heart rate and 185-190 watts or so.

In September I banged my knee, damaged cartilage in it that took me off the bike, required surgery in mid October and I have been rehabbing the knee. I was able to start pedaling a few weeks ago and have clearance to not hold back. Problem is - I have lost all fitness. I have gained 15-20 pounds, resting heart rate is up 10 beats to 62-64 and I will do a ramp test tomorrow, but would guess I am at 215 or so.

In the last 4 weeks I have largely ridden zone 2. For the first few weeks I was working on building up ride length by increasing each ride by 5 minutes. During that time I saw my zone 2 rides go from 110 watts to 130 with my heart rate around 145…pretty awful numbers.

Long story short…what do I do? My first priority would be to reduce my resting heartrate, lose weight and get base fitness back. Should I be doing traditional base work? Should I do sweet spot base? I am not in a hurry and want to build back better - but also am always tempted to ride intervals. Or - should I just ride to ride and see what happens?

It is a bit frustrating to have lost so much fitness, but it is winter and I have time - just wondering which approach may be best.

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We’ve all been there, so keep in mind that pretty solid fitness usually comes back quickly with just riding around if you throw in some hard and focused efforts. Personally I’d focus on weight loss and whatever cycling motivates - just riding around (Zwift or outside) with some hard efforts, or start a base plan if intervals is what motivates! Just start doing something, have fun, and enjoy the sweet taste of success as you drop weight, improve HR, and watch your power numbers go up.


Agree with @WindWarrior. You do not need to “train” to train, though. If you want to start a plan, recommend picking a goal (even if made up, say a century in late August) and using Plan Builder to build your plan. Tell it that you haven’t cycled very much recently, you don’t have a lot of experience with interval training and it will prioritize Base over Build and Specialty. Start with a Low Volume plan. It’ll give you a ramp test on your first day, but with Adaptive Training it will modify your workouts based on how you do. Enjoy the journey!


I would start easy, TBH. Just get moving again. Your leg with the hurt knee has atrophied, no doubt about it, faster than the other parts (hence rehab).

My son is in a similar situation, hurt knee, no surgery, fractured with a non-functioning PCL, crutches, leg strength is completely gone. Off the bike for 5 months so far, with 3 of those in crutches and 4 in a brace. Doc expects another 3 months before being ready to start picking up sports again.

Go slow, rebuild strength and balance, and go from there.

Pick up weights, as you will have an imbalance and need to regain the strength, ROM, and flexibility, in your hurt leg from the trauma. I would prioritize this over anything else. Meaning, do not let cycling, being out of shape, etc., get in the way of rebuilding and rebalancing your body (which is what PT is starting you down the road of doing). In other words, treat the gym leg work as the main focus, and cycling can go around that as a fun thing. Do not impede the leg session by going too hard elsewhere and being unable to do the work needed. Discuss with PT about increasing load (whilst maintaining form) as well.

Once that’s in order, or back to where you feel balanced within reason, feel free to do as you please.


you will be surprised the, I know it hard to believe in the current day, but the early gains come back pretty quick

I would do what @rkoswald suggested and pick an event (even its fictitious) and let plan builder do its thing. I would start low volume.

I took a couple years off (still cycled a little bit) but working adult going to graduate school. Thought I would come out the other side with decent fitness, February went out on a casual ride and thought about retiring, by August I was putting the hurt on my riding friends.

don’t try to do too much early or you will have to deal with setbacks and other injuries

good luck

Here is hopefully a little motivation, I let my fitness drop to single digits(basically zero) last winter with essentially no rides for a few months, in my case due to motivation/pandemic/work stresses. I was able to build up to a reasonable level of fitness by the fall with almost strictly ~1 hour commutes daily.

You can see my dip in FTP/eFTP and recovery corresponding to training load. Just get on the bike and add back some consistency, then worry about how that riding looks like once you are riding regularly again

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Yes. I was assuming @turk0017 was doing this as first priority, but good to point out in case.

I was at 264W in May with similar HR @ power (zone2 138bpm at 180-190W). Then a long hot summer at essentially the same FTP with minor ups/downs. Basically took 5 weeks off in September starting with C19, and came back with FTP around 190 (rough approximation). Came back and spent 3 weeks riding around 122bpm, then 126bpm, and then 132. All zone2 stuff, and that got me back to 230+W FTP. During TR years I’ve been at 220W FTP at the start of SSB1 and 6 weeks later only bumped to 230+, so for my own training I’m a fan of taking it easy on the return. Then October/November I added some intensity, and by the first week of December all of my power/HR numbers were back to 264W ftp. Thats how my body responds to consistently putting in endurance miles, its not ‘training to train’ but recognizing that just riding around is a form of training when you’ve taken a long break. And what @redlude97 said.

Good luck and rehabilitate first and foremost!

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I am no expert, but have been in the same boat. I agree with the others above.

  1. event/reward as motivation (my reward is May 2023 … so a ways out)
  2. weekly fun ride (I’m doing Zwift crit racing one night a week)
  3. I hurt my back bending over on the weekend, as my legs are getting some strength back and I’d not been stretching enough. So I’d also say it would make sense to do some Supple Leopard stretching/core stuff.

Hopefully over the holidays I’ll get some rubber flooring for the pain cave area of the garage and have a stretching area to really start to hit the stretching and avoid further injuries.

My strategy is that when you don’t know what to do on the bike, default to Z1/Z2/endurance riding. You can’t go wrong. You’ll at least maintain your aerobic fitness. The key is to never take breaks unless they are planned for a reason. Don’t fall into the malaise of not having an event on the horizon and not being in a structured block at the right/wrong time of year.

It’s December anyway. Train like it’s December. Go on hikes, go to the gym, ride some Z2 on the trainer. Just be consistent. Plan your season and start your base/build in January or February or whenever it coincides with when you want to be fit for an event.

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