Cyclocross Training: Rest Week Versus Taper Week

Hello everyone,

Yeah right! Unless your opponent is taking his rest week, then he will be back to eventually kick your unrested ass.
I used to believe this and it hurt my performance.

I wanted to take some time out to talk about training on the bicycle.  I’m doing this more as a diary entry that I can refer to in the future.  One of my biggest issues when it comes to anything I pursue, is my “More is Better” mentality.  I used to believe that taking time off to rest from blocks of training were causing me to detrain rapidly.  The fear of losing hard earned fitness always loomed in the back of my mind.  So, I never really tried to rest properly even though I’ve read tons of books and articles on the need to rest.  It wasn’t until I read an interview online (don’t remember where I saw it) that I figured out this rest week and taper week stuff.  The interview resonated well with me and it helped me figure some things out when it comes to resting and tapering.

Basically it goes like this, when you are training hard your body is releasing all kinds of great chemicals.  These chemicals help dull the pain in your muscles when you are pushing yourself to the limits.  Some of the other chemicals are also catabolic, meaning they impair your ability to do the required work and repair yourself over time.  Taking a rest week helps your body clear out all of these chemicals which allows your body to truly repair itself.  (Now, here is the part where I feel like I’ve lost everything when I was trying to rest.)  When you come back from a 4 or 6 day rest week of super easy exercise, your muscles are healed but those pain chemicals are gone.  You feel every bit of stress when you get back to your workouts.  For the first 3 days you feel very slow and everything seems so much harder.  However, on that fourth day you will find yourself back to where you were before.  By that next weekend, you are breaking your personal records.  The rest week works, but when you are self coached those doubts really creep up when your underperforming at the end of the resting block.  Tapering is a little different.

When I taper, I start reducing my volume at the end of my last build block.  I keep all my intensity in place.  The reduction of volume by 10 to 20 percent each week allows me to slowly recover without losing my ability to push hard.  This means I can keep racing during the taper and not feel like I’m underperforming.  Racing after a rest week is impossible for me and I won’t be doing it anymore.  For me, 14 to 18 days into the taper I’m breaking my personal records again without feeling like crap compared to post rest week.  I’ll provide some quick examples with my performance management chart.

Here are my training blocks for the 2015 cyclocross season.
Here are my training blocks for the 2015 cyclocross season.

You can click on these charts to zoom in and see my notes a little easier.  I did three blocks of training after I came off a 3 week rest period in the middle of the summer.  Each block of training had a big block of volume to really increase my Acute Training Load (ATL) and help drive up my Chronic Training Load (CTL).  My rest weeks are highlighted in green and this is where I allowed my Training Stress Balance (TSB) to move into the positive range.  Well, except for the first rest week where I was just getting my fitness back and didn’t need that much rest.  You can also see that I did not increase ATL significantly during my last training block.  I cut volume down here but increased the amount of intervals I did.  It was still enough to raise CTL during this block but not the drastic increase in the other three blocks previously.  I started doing VO2 work and intervals during my last block because the studies show it improves work capacity over a three week period.  Also, the closer I get to racing my priority cyclocross races, the more the training needs to resemble the demands of cyclocross.

TSB increases where rapid in the resting blocks and gradual in the taper block.
TSB increases where rapid in the resting blocks and gradual in the taper block.

The next image is how rapid, positive increases in TSB really affect how I felt at the end of a rest period.  During my two primary rest periods I increased TSB by around 27 to 29 points within 4 to 5 days.  That’s a rapid increase in TSB during a short period of time.  My rest started on Monday and finished on Saturday.  During that period, I only did three workouts Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for one hour in strictly zone 2.  I felt horrible during this time.  That Saturday and Sunday my legs felt locked up and I could barely hit my previous wattage numbers.  However, by that next Tuesday when those great chemicals start flowing again, I was breaking my previous weeks records.  Now, if you look at the taper week, I increased TSB by the same amount but I took 11 days to do it.  I never felt like my legs were blocked and I was ready to perform the entire time.  Within 17 days of starting my taper, I broke another 20 minute power record.

You can see my increases all came after raising TSB.
You can see my increases all came after raising TSB.

As you can see on this chart, looking solely at 20 minute power, my increases in power came after each resting period.  My biggest gain of 326 watts for 20 minutes came 17 days after slowly reducing training stress in the taper period.  I know some of you are saying “no kidding buddy, you rest and you get stronger.”  Well, for a hard head like me, I needed to actually test out this theory for myself and prove it actually works.  The literature on this subject is right.  You have to rest to get stronger.  You have to taper differently than you rest.

That’s it folks.  It took me three years of training to figure this stuff out.  Now I know why people hire coaches to guide them through this process.  I could have really used a coach those first two years of training but I couldn’t necessarily afford one.  I will be using this same formula next year when road season approaches except I’ll be adding in weight training to the formula.  I made huge gains in my 5 minute to 5 second power range just by adding plyometrics and strength training exercises to my base phase.  Thanks for reading and if anyone ever needs more information or if you want some advice I can go into greater detail.  You can email me at kidsandcowbells@gmail.com. I’m not a coach but I might have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express once for a race.

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