Many of us do not have the opportunity to fly out to Mallorca or anywhere else warm and sunny to conduct a winter training camp. Most of us poor souls are just creeping along this time of year trying to find breaks in the weather to keep our fitness up. Some of us may have training plans or even coaches that are monitoring our progress as we slog away at the trainer in the basement. That’s mostly the position I have been in over the years. Winter training is a steady progression of Sweet Spot Tempo (SST) work that keeps me in decent shape, but never really pushes me the way it should. I understand the philosophy behind building a strong foundation with base training since I’ve done it myself many times. However, we need to challenge ourselves in the base building phase to try and get our fitness to the next level. If you follow any of the professional cyclist on Strava over the winter months, when they are out in sunny tropical locations, you will see that they are not just building zone 2 in these warmer climates. They are riding very, very hard at times. There is something we can learn from this.
As a recreational cyclist in the winter time, we have two options when it comes to base training. If we are the type of cyclist that has unlimited time, we can ride, ride, and ride some more for hours in zone 2. For the time crunched cyclist, like most of us are, we must focus solely on SST training. Base training usually has two parts.
The first part of base training is just getting our legs back under us. This may be a 6 to 8 week block of training where we re-focus on aerobic adaptations and do very little anaerobic work. The second part of our base block has us working more in our threshold zones with a good deal of aerobic work still built in. The whole base training phase could last anywhere from 8 weeks to 16 weeks depending on how long you have been consistently exercising. I have done both zone 2 base and SST base and SST base is prefferable since I am an individual who is limited on time. However, there has always been something missing within my base training program.
The person who moves from block one to block two of their base training may see a slight increase in FTP. This slight increase in FTP is good, but I think we fall short in really challenging ourselves when building our base. For instance, listen to Jens Voigt at about 1:15 into the video when he talks about their training camps over the winter.
Did you hear anywhere in this video where Jensy is talking about doing a bunch of zone 2 rides during February? I didn’t hear it. Jens talks about gutting himself and laying himself bare during certain training blocks to make his body adapt. This forceful adaptation doesn’t just happen, you have to make it happen. That’s where we may fall short as cyclists with working jobs. We get into our base routines and we don’t progress the way we could if we just pushed a little harder. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t do base training; I think we need to do it a little different.
Here are my thoughts and ideas that are only backed up by my own experiences and observations. I believe that a good 6 to 8 week block of SST is necessary to get your body back into shape and prepare it for the increased workloads in the coming months. However, once block one is over, and before block 2 begins, we can create a training stress that we can use to our advantage and carry over into block two of our base training. So, how do you do this and what does it do for us?
I utilize trainerroad’s SST base training plan. It consists of two blocks of training that are 8 weeks long each. However, I create a 2 week block between trainerroad’s base training plan. During this two week training block, I pile on about 1100 TSS within 9 days. You can see the training stress in my Performance Management Chart (PMC) posted below.
I create this stress by participating in the Tour of Sufferlandria. The Tour of Sufferlandria is a made up tour from a mythical nation. The Tour requires you to execute the Sufferfest videos over a 9 day period which completely exhaust your body. I’m pretty much doing my own winter training camp right in my own basement. These types of efforts will undoubtably raise my FTP higher than if I had just rolled into the base two block without doing anything. I’ll break down the numbers for you real quick.
I took a short break after I ended cyclocross season near Thanksgiving. I did some weight training, cross training, and just enjoyed getting out on the bicycle when I could. Starting around Christmas I retested my FTP and began trainerroad’s SST Base I. My FTP was a dismal 250 watts. After my first block of training I re-tested my FTP to be 274 watts; not bad making a 24 watt improvement. Now here is the part where I changed things up. I would have started Base II at a 274 watt FTP, but I chose to do my version of a winter training camp with the folks at the Sufferfest. That 9 day challenge with about 10 days of rest increased my FTP to 288 watts. Now I’m starting my Base II training at 14 watts higher than I normally would have. What is going to benefit me more, training at a 274 watt FTP or training at a 288 watt FTP? I think the answer is a simple one to figure out.
That’s my opinion folks and I’m sticking to it! I’ve heard the arguments about burning out and all that other nonsense by pushing to hard in base training. I don’t believe an amateur cyclist can truly burn out doing 8 hours of cycling a week. Sure, the guy that has all of the free time to ride 15 to 20 hours a week could hit overtraining, but the average joe is much less likely to overtrain if he or she is only riding 8 hours a week. We need to keep the intensity in our training plans. I now look for new ways to boost my fitness before I hit these blocks of training. This allows me to train at a higher FTP which will have compounding benefits as I progress. Creating your own winter training camp is one option. Using the Sufferfest app and their videos really helps me push my legs to the next level. Again, I didn’t hear anywhere in the Jens Voigt video where he said his workout blocks were tough, or kind of hard; he said they stripped him naked and left him completely destroyed. That’s how you keep edging your fitness up to the next level. You have to take some time during the year or maybe a few times during the year to just pummel yourself for future gains.