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Training: how to get your season back on track

What to do if you've over-trained, under-trained or can't hit consistent form

Sometimes life doesn’t go to plan – and that includes cycling. No matter how hard you have tried to train properly, sometime you just can’t reach the level of fitness you set out to achieve.

If that’s the case then it’s often at this time of year, as we head into the middle of summer, that you might start to panic. Perhaps you’ve targeted a specific event – a road race or sportive – and are worried you won’t have the form to do yourself justice.

Typically, there are three reasons why that might be the case: you’ve over-trained, under-trained, or just haven’t hit the right consistency with your training plan.

Here we are going to take a look at all three examples of what can go wrong with your training – and, crucially, how you can turn things around.

Want to get your season back on track? Here’s what you need to do… (Pic: RideLondon)

What to do if you’ve over-trained

As a coach, I have seen this time and time again with riders. They are incredibly motivated and are training really hard – but they just aren’t getting any better. In fact, as they continue to train hard, their form actually deteriorates because they are over-training.

– Six things you need to know about… over-training –

The simple solution is rest. But how much rest does it take to recover without going too far and losing even more fitness? It’s all about damage limitation.

However, the first step – and it’s a really important one – is to recognise you’re over-training in the first place. Be honest with yourself – are you going as well as you were a few months ago, even though you’ve still be training hard? Do you still feel energetic and motivated?

If you come to the conclusion that you have done too much training without adequate recovery then it’s time to rest. However, complete rest probably isn’t the right answer – chances are, if you do that it may feel like your body shuts down mode as it desperately tries to recover as much as possible.

Instead, what I recommend is to take a couple of days completely off the bike to start with, but incorporate some other light training – for example, stretching or core stability work is great – as that will keep your body active without adding any real fatigue.

– How to taper for a major road race or sportive –

You should find that as you freshen up, your motivation will return. Once you have your motivation back and you are itching to get back on to the bike then take one more day off. That extra day will just ensure it’s not too early and you have built up a little bit of a buffer of freshness.

It’s all to tempting to keep training if the sun is shining – but adequate rest and recovery is absolutely vital

How much time you need to take away from the bike depends on how deep the hole is that you have dug for yourself. I have had riders come to me having over-trained and the first thing I have done is tell them to take a week off the bike. It’s not until ten days off the bike that you will start to lose any real form so don’t be worried about taking a considerable chunk of time away from the bike if it’s necessary. It may be frustrating but remember it will do you good in the long term.

The longer you take off the bike, the more important it is to do something else other than cycling to keep your body active. Again, core work, body weight strength exercises and stretching are the perfect partners to time off the bike.

What to do if you’ve under-trained

Everyone has been in this situation – from newcomers to the sport, to professional cyclists. You’ve set out with the best will in the world and full of motivation, but things have got in the way and training has had to take a back seat.

– Five training sessions for the time-pressured cyclist –

There can be a number of reasons for this but I want to address two in particular – injury and sickness.

If you have been unlucky enough to be injured then it’s really important to remember that health comes first. No matter how keen you are to get back on the bike, if you aren’t healthy you will never be a good bike rider and you may just cause yourself more problems down the line. So make sure any health issues are dealt with before you start training.

But what happens if you haven’t been training enough but have an important event coming up? Put simply, the best thing you can do is to start again and go through the phases of training but to compress the time frame.

– Understanding Strava: six key metrics to guide your training –

That means starting with base training, then introducing some strength work before moving onto your threshold power and finally your top-end form. So get planning – you need to know how much time you have between now and your next important event, before splitting that down into segments of equal time and focusing each segment on a specific aspect of fitness.

Importantly, you need to remember to allow some time between each training block to let your body to recover and process the training. You also need to be realistic – be careful not to do too much as you won’t have the base fitness required to suddenly train very, very hard.

Targeting a summer event but worried you haven’t trained enough? Don’t panic! (Pic: Antton Miettinen)

If you get the overall training load (the intensity) right, a typical plan might look something like this: one week of base training, one week of strength work, three days easy, one week of threshold, one week of top-end work and then a four-day taper into your event. Again, remember to take a day or two between each block to recover.

It’s important to remember that there are no quick fixes in training but working in this way will mean that you have good level of general, all-round fitness and, therefore, you won’t have one particular area of weakness holding you back.

What to do if you can’t find any consistency to your form

If you are in this position then you’ll probably feel like you have a reasonable level of fitness, but not the level you want for the event you are targeting.

– How to become a better climber… if you don’t live near any climbs –

The key here in getting everything back on track is to look at what you have done so far. Chances are that one area of your fitness is quite good but you are lacking in other areas.

If you can’t find any consistency in your form then it pays to go back and take a closer look at what training you’ve done so far (Pic: Media24)

Most time-stretched riders will do shorter, harder rides during the week and longer, steadier rides at the weekend when they have more time available. As a result, it may be that you have missed out on harder efforts – in which case it may be worth sacrificing some longer weekend rides for sets of intervals. On the other hands, it may be that you have got the high intensity work done but have been missing longer rides, in which case it would be more important to prioritise endurance training.

It sounds obvious, but the best way to find consistency is to be consistent with your training. However, you don’t have to go back to square one as you would if you simply haven’t been training enough – you are far better first identifying the areas you are weak on, or have missed out on due to the lack of consistency, and then focusing your training time there.

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