No matter where you are on the fitness spectrum, you're bound to hit a plateau eventually. How will you know? You'll be putting in your usual training and recovery, but markers such as power output, pace, and group-ride or race performance will become stagnant. Depending on how you got there, here are two ways to break through.
Symptom: Your performances are getting worse and training is about as enjoyable as banging your head against a wall.
Solution: Scale way back. Recovery is a crucial component of training: You push your limits, then grow stronger when you rest. Take at least one rest day every seven to 10 days. After three or four weeks of hard training, you should reduce intensity and volume for one week (and always follow these Post-Race Recovery Tips).
Plateaus can occur when the cumulative fatigue from several build cycles is too great. To bounce back, dramatically reduce your training load for two weeks. The first week, ride no more than four times (or five to six total hours) at an easy pace. During week two, at least two rides should be easy; the other two should be moderate-paced rides of one to three hours. By midweek you'll feel energized and ready to go, but stick to the plan--your patience will be rewarded when you return to full training and blow past your old performance markers.
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Symptom: You're excited to train, you feel good during workouts, and you're getting plenty of rest, but your progress has stalled.
Solution: Train harder, not longer. As you make progress, you need to increase your workload in order to force your body to adapt. Adding training hours is one solution, but if you're anything like the majority of amateur athletes I know, you have a limited amount of time to ride.Instead, you need to increase what's known as time at intensity—either by adding intervals to your workouts or by making the intervals longer. An additional 15 to 20 minutes a week can make a huge difference, and you can spread that time over a few sessions. For instance, you could bump up a twice-weekly 3x8-minute lactate-threshold interval set to 3x10 minutes. Instead of 6x2 minutes at max effort, you could do 8x2 minutes or two sets of 6x2 minutes.
Keep in mind that when you train harder, you also need to rest harder. For example, if you're riding four days a week, try increasing the workload on three days and taking an additional day off the bike.
Q: Can I commute by bike and still race effectively?
A: Yes, but consider your commute when planning your training. Over a month, an 8-mile round-trip could add up to 10 hours of riding. Try to balance hard workouts with easy commutes, or lengthen your commute and include intervals to make it a dual-purpose ride (try these workout drills to Make Your Commute Count). Remember that you still need days off the bike. If you're racing on the weekend, consider riding to work only three or four days that week.Search for a cycling event.
Chris Carmichael is the CEO of Carmichael Training Systems (trainright.com) and the author ofThe Time-Crunched Cyclist.