Snowbound Northerners can vacation with their bikes somewhere warm, or teammates can get together for a week of crash training somewhere conducive to large volumes of riding.
The timing of your camp will dictate the types of workout abilities to focus on, the volume of training and to some extent, the best location for your trip.
There are several time frames during which a camp might be beneficial. Base 2, 3 or even Build 1 are good training phases to work one into your plan.
Note -- Base and Build are terms from Joe Friel's "Training Bible" books, and refer to early-season phases of training: Base (and its sub-phases) is the first phase chronologically, where a foundation of fitness is laid through an emphasis on endurance, strength training, form work and flexibility. The Build phase follows, with an emphasis on race-specific fitness. For more information, refer to Friel's "Training Bible" books.
You will want to have a solid aerobic fitness foundation before you try going on a high-volume training trip, but by mid-Base 2 you should be ready.
If you do a camp in Base 2, the abilities to work on would be endurance, force, muscular endurance (tempo work) and skills.
Base 3 might be the best time, as it is the phase that requires the highest volume and includes the intensity of threshold training that can be perfect to work on during long climbs.
A camp during a Build phase would most likely call for an emphasis on intensity.
Most riders will want to attend a camp somewhere warm, and this is understandable, but the location should be linked to your goals for the trip. If you are planning a camp during Base 2 you might consider going somewhere with flat to rolling terrain as you should be doing all of your riding well below threshold intensity.
During Base 3 or Build a location with longer climbs might be a better option.
Once you have a time frame and a basic idea of location, you can move on to the next step. Set out to find a commercial camp that suits your needs, or plan your own trip.
Attending one of the numerous commercially organized training camps can be a great way to circumvent the planning associated with such a trip. Organized camps usually allow for a lot of extra learning and great camaraderie.
However, before you spend the big bucks on a camp package, try to get some references from past clients of the organizer(s). Also, be sure that the camp will accommodate your ability level.
If you are planning your own camp, or even attending an organized one, there are many other things to consider.
Here are a few:
Take the time to plan as much as possible for everything, not just training. This includes meals, lodging, transportation and even entertainment. Be flexible, but have a basic plan laid out.
During the camp, keep close tabs on the stresses placed on your body. Keep in mind internal as well as external stresses.
External stresses are the physical workouts to which you subject your body. Internal stress is the accumulated fatigue from these workouts over time, as well as any psychological stresses that come with difficult training.
If you feel you are on the edge, skip a workout. Missing a workout or two is much better than burning out halfway through the camp.
Another type of camp (or even a second camp) to consider would be a crash block closer to your goal race. In this situation, the emphasis of the camp would be race-specific intensity and duration.
If you try something like this, schedule at least two or three full weeks between the end of the camp and your goal race, for maximum supercompensation (the adaptation your body makes to increased levels of stimulus).
Now that the New Year is upon us, it is the perfect time to plan a training camp. Using your goals, your budget and your annual training plan as your guide, arrange for a challenging, exciting and fun vacation of training.
Andy Applegate heads a2 coaching and is an elite-level road, cyclo-cross and mountain bike racer. He is also a USA Cycling and Ultrafit-certified coach. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information check out www.a2coaching.com.