By Joe Friel
If you want to make it simple, the basics of training come down to three steps:
Step 1: Early in the season, gradually increase the weekly volume of training with medium and easy rides while including strength work.
Step 2: Once a solid base of aerobic fitness and strength is established, include a few high-effort workouts weekly, gradually making them more race-like.
Step 3: Significantly reduce the weekly volume starting a few weeks before an important race while keeping intensity race-like.Pretty simple, huh? Even Elmer Fudd could understand it. But perhaps you’re the scientific type. If so, read on. We’ll take a look at the system Albert Einstein would have preferred had he been a mountain biker.
You’ve probably heard of periodization. That’s just another way of saying “time management.” It is a strategy for arranging the pieces of the training puzzle into a pattern that systematically brings fitness to a peak at just the right points in the race season while making the optimal use of your limited time. The heart of periodization is the annual training plan. Usually, the season is broken down into seven-day “microcycles” on an annual training plan, but other combinations, such as 10-day “weeks,” are possible. When I develop an annual training plan for an athlete, I typically divide the season into five periods known as “mesocycles.”
General Preparation Period
This mesocycle usually lasts 12 to 24 weeks. For some, especially novices, this could be the entire season. Most athletes call this the “base” period.There are four outcomes that are desired at the end of this period. They are, in their order of importance at this stage of training: 1) excellent aerobic endurance, 2) exceptional muscular strength, 3) refined pedaling and bike-handling skills, and 4) improved muscular endurance.The methods to bring about these changes include long endurance rides at a low intensity, weight-room training that eventually gives way to big gear and then hill work, pedaling and handling drills, and long intervals done just below the lactate threshold.
Specific Preparation Period
I call this the “build” period and usually schedule it to last six to eight weeks. The name “specific preparation” comes from training that is specific to the event for which you’re training. Intervals of all kinds, fast group rides, anaerobic hill repeats, and off-road time trials are typical in the specific preparation period. But they don’t have to be. The idea is to do workouts that simulate what you expect the race conditions to be like.
Most of us call this the “peak” or “taper” period. It’s the last few weeks, usually one to four, that immediately precede the major races of the year. By the week of the race the miles or hours ridden are only a fraction of what is typical.During this period it is important to do a race-effort workout every 72 to 96 hours. It should be shorter than the goal race, but just as fast. The workouts between are short and easy to encourage full recovery.
This is the period you’ve been aiming for – the week of an A-priority race. There should only be two or three competition periods in a season. Since you peak and taper for each of these, more than that will prevent you from maintaining your fitness. It may be necessary to return to an abbreviated base period following a competition period to regain some of that lost fitness.
It’s time to rest. Immediately after each competition period take a mini-vacation from training. This may be two days in May, or four weeks in October. The farther you go into the season, the longer the transitions should be.
Joe Friel is the author of The Cyclist’s Training Bible and The Mountain Biker’s Training Bible. He has an annual training plan format posted on line at http://www.trainingbible.com for a free, one-time usage.