Week 2 of New Training Plan 6th March 2015

I’m now into week 2 of a new training plan which I have essentially copied from Andrew Coggan’s book, ‘Training & Racing with a Power Meter’ (chapter 9, location 3645). It’s a 16-week plan geared to improving:

  • Muscular endurance @ 60 and 90 minutes
  • Improving fatigue resistance at level 4 and 5 (Lactate Threshold & Anaerobic Capacity)
  • Increasing force for better sprinting & time trialling
  • Improving FTP

I’ve adapted it slightly to include at least one long endurance ride every week. I’ll be monitoring my response to the plan using HRV readings and adjusting the sessions where required. I will also be reassessing my FTP every 6 weeks.

At the start of the plan I completed an FTP test which came in at 231 watts. I was quite disappointed with this as it had previously been around 260w last September. I have been cycling the past few months but it has been general stuff and the intensity has dropped off quite severely. It just goes to prove how quickly you lose fitness – three times the rate at which it is gained. My long term FTP target remains 320 watts but realistically this year I’ll be doing well to just get it close to 300 watts! Well, thats my target and my overall approach will combine the ‘Coggan’ plan with long endurance rides and lowering my weight to 66-67kg (around 146-148lbs). Reaching 266w FTP will give me a power/weight ratio of 4 (Category II), so this will be my first target which equates to 280w on an FTP test.

My last weight measurement came in at 69.4kg and 7.9% body fat – over the course of the first week of the training plan I had managed to control my diet using myfitnesspal.com to get my weight under control. My muscle mass reading was coming in around 60.3kg. If I assume my muscle mass is 60kg and my bone mass is 3.2kg, then my base line weight is 63.2kg – if I can get down to 66.5kg then body fat will work out at 3.3kg or 5% of total body weight.

I’m planning on doing three weeks on and one week off, however, this is also subject to how I respond to training using HRV readings. If I’m not responding quickly enough then I will factor in some active recovery rides as a means of returning me to the training plan after appropriate rest and recovery and as a means of avoiding over-training. I will use the long endurance rides to extend my total weekly TSS in a manageable and careful way. I do believe that getting TSS up is the key to improving FTP.

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Having a Plan – Feb 10th 2015

I’ve discussed plenty of objectives on this blog but over recent months it hasn’t yet translated into an actual plan so it is worth reviewing why that is and then actually putting something down on paper. Here goes….

I know I want to increase my FTP power to 320w – that is a massive jump from where I am but I got up to 274w at my peak last September which would leave me 46w to gain, an increase of 17%. Achieving this will feed into all sorts of performance improvements in other areas so this is what I’m going to focus on. So, why have I not got a plan written out? I think the main reason is mental fatigue. Sticking to a plan which also involves watching very carefully what I eat and drink and monitoring my HRV is very demanding. In the end, I think I just got mentally exhausted with it as well as being physically tired. The body clearly does need breaks both in the short-term and in the long-term and what applies to the body equally applies to the mind. So, now I’ve got my excuses out of the way what are the resources I have got to hand to help me achieve my target of 320w?

  • Intelligence
  • Time
  • Body shape
  • Determination
  • Endurance

I’ve had a couple of false-starts recently, I’ve got back into training and then overdone the intensity on a couple of rides which has left me with colds!! Duh! I need to gradually get back into my training and gradually build up volume followed by intensity. As far as training periods I am thinking of training for 2 weeks followed by 1 week of recovery training which is a 3-week training block. Each training block can focus on developing one of the main energy systems so I can start with building my endurance and work through LT, VO2 Max, Anaerobic Capacity and then Neuromuscular.

So, looking at timescales, events, etc it could work out as follows:

  • 9/2-15/2 Recovery
  • 16/2-22/2 Cottage Cornwall, recovery & endurance (500TSS)
  • 23/2-1/3 Recovery (400TSS)
  • 2/3/8/3 Endurance (550TSS)
  • 9/3-15/3 Endurance/tempo intervals (575TSS)
  • 16/3-22/3 Recovery (450TSS)
  • 23/3-29/3 Majorca – endurance/tempo intervals (625TSS)
  • 30/3-5/4 Majorca – endurance/tempo intervals (675TSS)
  • 6/4-12/4 Recovery (500TSS)
  • 13/4-19/4 Endurance/Tempo, Exmoor Beauty (675TSS)
  • 20/4-26/4 Endurance/Tempo/LT
  • 27/4-3/5 Recovery (525TSS)

OK, the good thing is I have already put this into Training Peaks. I now need to use MyFitnessPal and iThlete regularly to make sure my training is headed in the right direction. I am confident I can get down to 67.5kg so this is another goal.

Body’s Adaptations To Training Stress – My Own Theories

Since 11th September I have been aware of significant positive changes in my cycling performance, namely:

  • The ability to climb without the onset of muscle fatigue
  • A lowering of my heart rate by around 20bpm for the same power output
  • An increase in my ability to cycle at elevated HR for a longer period, well into the 170bpm range
  • A reduction in hunger fluctuations, especially at night time
  • An increased capacity to handle higher training loads – ability to train 6 or 7 times per week and train twice a day where necessary

I have also been aware of positive changes in my physiology, namely:

  • Steady reduction in body fat, down from around 12% a year ago to around 8% today
  • A steady increase in body water from around 62.5% a year ago to 67.5% today
  • A steady decrease in overall body weight from 74kg a year ago to 70kg today

Currently, my main limiter to cycling performance improvement is muscle failure or more specifically the capacity of my fast-twitch muscles to handle bigger workloads.

It is useful to explore what is behind the improvements which I can summarise as follows:

  1. Planning, monitoring and reviewing training
  2. A mixture of the right kind of training sessions combined with appropriately timed rest & recovery
  3. Structured nutrition and hydration to dovetail training programme

Of the three key reasons, it is in the arena of training and R&R where I am least clear about the contribution of each of the different training components to actual physiological improvements so I am going to assess and speculate about which of them has led to the biggest gains. From the assessment I will hope to draw out some conclusions to help better inform and determine future training.

A Review of Training Approach 

The main contributors in my training can be identified as follows:

  • Gradual steady increase in training load – average TSS score of 30 (210/week) one year ago, rising steadily from around 40 (280/week) in March/April to around 70 (490/week) today. Practically, this correlates with an average of 3 activities per week one year ago to 6/7 activities per week today. One year ago, it would simply not have been possible for my body to handle the current workload of 6/7 activities per week. Training load was gradually increased through the year at an increase rate of no more than 5 TSS points per week and 15 TSS points per month
  • Training consistency – there have been no sharp increases in training and more importantly no sharp reductions either, apart from a 2-week holiday in July when only one short activity was completed. An important lesson learnt was that training gains are lost at three times the rate at which they are gained. Therefore, it is absolutely critical to apply training consistently and continue to build on previous gains and not have extended breaks. It is better to train lightly and regularly than to train heavily with big gaps in between.
  • Distinct training phases or periods – training sessions have been organised into two or three week periods followed by one week ‘recovery’ weeks. There have been three key training phases: phase 1 (March-August) – long endurance rides, phase 2 (August-September) – HIIT & power, phase 3 (October-Present) – strength & fast-twitch muscle. Each phase has clearly contributed to performance gains, however, I would argue that the biggest returns have come from the HIIT phase. The question is whether or not it is possible to embark on a HIIT phase of training without first having established a solid endurance base.
  • Appropriately timed rest & recovery and  – one week recovery weeks followed two or three-week training sessions. These recovery weeks maintained frequency of activities but at reduced volume and intensity. Essentially, the activities have allowed the body to ‘tick over’ from a training perspective whilst the lower intensity has allowed the body to recover and adapt to the training stresses applied in the previous weeks. Over recent months, I have become more aware and responsive to signs of physical and mental fatigue. I recognise the value of R&R to allow the body to make positive adaptations to training stresses. On each occasion I have recommenced training following R&R I have felt much stronger. I have used Heart Rate Variability (HRV) to monitor my body’s response during both training and recovery periods.
  • The introduction and use of recovery rides – I have been using recovery rides between active training sessions and also during R&R. Recovery rides provide slow-twitch muscles with a low-level workout whilst fast-twitch muscle fibres get a complete rest, provided of course it is performed correctly, that is, at power or HR less than 50% of FTP or FTHR. Therefore, recovery rides are great for maintaining training of slow-twitch muscles whilst giving fast-twitch muscles a break. During the last R&R period I also used recovery rides to gauge my body’s recovery. On successive recovery rides I would slightly increase intensity or volume or both and measure my response to the increases. If the response was positive then I would increase it again, if negative then I would maintain the same level. HRV was very useful during this period as it allowed a ‘window’ into my body’s parasympathetic system to gauge how it was responding to rest and recovery. This methodical and objective approach minimises the risk inherent in using subjective cues to determine when to get back to full training.
  • Increased duration and distance of aerobic training – the main change in my aerobic training has been the increase in duration and distances. Every week I was completing a 75/80 mile endurance ride, typically with a group of other riders. This was done from April right through to the beginning of August. With the start of the HIT training, the long endurance rides were maintained but at a lower frequency, once every two weeks. With repetition the longer endurance rides became a lot easier so much so that the 50-mile club rides felt short in duration and distance in comparison.
  • Increase in weight resistance training – I have been including two gym sessions per week on average since the beginning of March. To date I have completed 55 hours in the gym which works out at approximately 7 hours or 7 gym sessions per month. I’ve been doing these sessions to help build strength in my arms, chest, back and core and to work my fast-twitch muscle fibres. They are not specifically done to improve my performance on the bike, they are more related to reducing body fat and improving my appearance but I do feel they are making some positive contribution to my cycling, but I am not entirely sure what. I do know that building strength in my core and back does contribute to improvements on the bike.
  • The use of a power meter to design, monitor, and determine the length of training sessions – I started using a power meter 18/7 and it helped immensely in designing an executing HIT sessions, especially in improving VO2 Max and Anaerobic Capacity. My cycling performance went up a couple of levels during my HIT phase and it was instigated by the use of a power meter. The power meter can be used to accurately determine how many watts to use for a given exercise and more importantly to signal when enough exercise or intervals have been done. The avoidance of overtraining is critical to ensure training consistency and gradual gains. An illness will typically rob one
  • The introduction and use of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – I have used HIT for VO2 Max and Anaerobic Capacity training sessions. This was prompted by use of a power meter which allowed me to accurately design and adhere to a VO2 Max training session. The power meter also allowed me to know precisely when to stop the session which is invaluable as a means of avoiding overtraining. The gains from the HIT sessions were immediate – improved climbing ability, improved strength, improved aerobic ability and improved anaerobic capability. The results were astounding. If the long endurance training represented the base foundation of a pyramid the HIT sessions truly represented the pinnacle. The sessions involved intervals of between 3, 5 or 10 minutes followed by 5 minutes rest and a warmup and cooldown of 20 minutes. The sessions were usually completed within 90 minutes so very efficient training in terms of benefits realised versus time invested. Normally, I did one session per week and I always followed it with a rest day. Research has revealed (Burgomaster et al. 2005, Gibala et al. 2006, Gibala 2007) big gains from HIIT training. In the Gibala et al. study (2006), one group did 2.5 hours of HIT training (630kj) and another group did 10.5 hours of endurance training (6,500kj). Surprisingly, all training measures improved with both groups to an equal extent. In fact, the power output of the HIT group increased to a higher level than the endurance group. Subsequent studies reinforce the value of HIT and HIIT training. The question I ask myself, is what is happening physiologically to elicit the performance gains? My own view is a combination of: stronger heart, increased concentration of mitochondria in slow-twitch muscles to clear lactate generated by fast-twitch muscles, increased engagement of fast-twitch muscles when climbing through lower cadence, increased stroke volume of heart, increased plasma volume, increased blood capillarization in muscles, increased ability for muscle cells to convert glycogen into energy, hypertrophy of muscle fibres, interconversion of fast-twitch muscle fibres. But, which has a greater impact than another?

High Heart Rate & Low Fatigue – 21st October 2014

On last Sunday’s club run my HR rose to 180 and for over 2 minutes it averaged 178 and 1 minute 179. During this period of elevated HR I had no trouble breathing and there was an absence of muscle fatigue in my legs. I had been in a chain gang all the way from the Whimple turn-off on the Rockbeare straight and we were climbing the last leg just before the new science park. I knew the effort was demanding but I felt in control and not about to keel over. I was riding alongside two other riders, one of whom was Alistair Lobban who I know is a strong rider (cat 3), and I felt I just had an edge over him which is a bit of a turn up for the books as Alistair usually outmuscles me.

At the time I couldn’t quite believe that my HR had risen so much and yet I hadn’t blown up. Clearly, my body was coping at a level that previously it would not have coped with. This got my head spinning with the potential training opportunities and performance gains. If previously I had blown up in the high 160’s HR then what could I now achieve if I could keep cycling within myself in the high 170’s? Exciting times indeed and what was behind the apparent performance improvement?

As for the physiological performance improvement how could this be explained?

  1. I had rested for nearly three weeks – this included 2 or 3 recovery rides per week and very little gym work.
  2. My rest & recovery followed a block of training which had been uninterrupted since mid-July.
  3. My recent training block had focused on improving VO2 Max, strength and muscle endurance where I increased my VO2 Max power (CP5 342w, CP20 274w) and my climbing had notably improved.
  4. Working on VO2 Max had clearly improved my Anaerobic Capacity. Although AC hadn’t been the main focus, it is inevitable that it would have been worked when training at VO2 Max because there is overlap between the body’s different energy systems, especially at the upper end between VO2 Max and AC.
  5. My weight had reduced down to 70kg just a few days prior to this ride so I was carrying a lot less weight than I was just 2 months ago (approx 74kg).
  6. I had eaten quite well just 2 days before this ride so my glycogen stores would have been well stocked. I was also well hydrated.

After my last training block I felt very fatigued both mentally and physically. I was acutely aware of the need to rest properly and not to rush back into training. I was also conscious of the need to keep my legs spinning and so I made sure I went out and did some recovery rides at power below 150w and typically 90 mins duration. I also closely monitored my HRV which steadily decreased during my R&R. I think my HRV would have declined more quickly without the recovery rides. I can’t say that the HRV readings provided an accurate measure on when to return to training but they were useful in monitoring how my body was responding to the R&R. With regards to returning to training I became more sensitive to how my body was responding. With each successive recovery ride I pushed a little harder to see how I felt but one thing I certainly didn’t do was rush back to start my next period of training. I’m glad that I took this approach as the evidence from my last club ride was that my body appears to have fully recovered from my previous training block and more importantly my body has changed physiologically such that I can now train at a higher HR. This, as I said above, is extremely exciting as it opens the door to new training possibilities, namely:

  • Anaerobic Capacity training such as hill repeats
  • Time-trial training – long intervals at near maximum effort
  • Sprint training
  • Strength training

I am beginning to set my sights higher with regards to what I can achieve from my training. It is becoming clear that getting the balance right between training & rest and setting the right intensity for training sessions is returning very positive results. So, what is realistic in terms of what I can now achieve?

  • Goal 1 – complete a 10 mile TT in less than 24 minutes – average speed 25mph
  • Goal 2 – climb Stoke Hill course in less than 5m 30secs
  • Goal 3 – complete a 24 mile TT in less than 60 minutes – average speed 24mph
  • Goal 4 – complete 100 mile TT in less than 300 minutes – average speed 20mph

In order to achieve these goals I will need to improve my power output profile as follows:

  • CP1 = 600w (468w) = 28%
  • CP5 = 400w (342w) = 17%
  • CP20 = 325w (274w) = 19%
  • CP60 = 305w (256w) = 19%

My speed/power based on recent training sessions is as follows:

  • 265w 20.3mph = 13.05w per mph
  • 241w 19.2mph = 12.55w per mph
  • 224w 17.6mph = 12.73w per mph

Therefore, to achieve an average speed of 25mph I would need to turn out approx. 320w. Therefore, breaking down goal 1 of riding a 10m TT at an average speed of 25mph:

  • Step 1 by 9/11/14 – 25m @ 275w & 10m @ 280w
  • Step 2 by 30/11/14 –  20m @ 280w & 10m @ 290w
  • Step 3 by 21/12/14 -20m @ 290w & 10m @ 300w
  • Step 4 by 11/1/15 – 15m @ 300w & 10m @ 310w
  • Step 5 by 1/2/15 – 15m @ 305w & 10m @ 315w
  • Step 6 by 22/2/15 – 15m @ 310w & 10m @ 320w
  • Step 7 by 15/3/15 – 15m @ 315w & 10m @ 325w
  • Step 8 by 5/4/15 – 15m @ 320w & 10m @ 330w
  • Step 9 by 26/4/15 – 15m @ 325w & 10m @ 335w

If we assume each of these steps is achieved within a 2-week training block followed by a 1-week R&R then I will achieve my target of 320w and average speed of 25mph by April 26th 2015. As the TT season starts in May this will give me just enough training time to achieve my target assuming no layoffs or injuries. I think I should make CP20 @ 320w and average speed of 25mph as my main training focus. This will feed very nicely into all my other training goals.

 

The gains needed are extremely high

VO2 Max, What is it Good For?

I’ve been doing some VO2 Max Hill Repeats over the past couple of weeks and I have noticed an improvement in my cycling, especially my climbing. Last week I went to watch the Tour of Britain up on Haytor. On the way back there was a big group of competent cyclists heading back to Exeter along the Teign Valley and Longdown. When we got to the start of the Longdown climb I was up the front with a Uni Exeter rider (Jack Holman) who is quite high up on quite a few of Strava’s KOM’s. Anyway, I paced myself up the climb keeping to about 320w. As we approached the 3/4 mark there were just two riders ahead of me, Jack Holman and a chinese looking bloke from the ‘Bad Lodgers’ club. I could see that they were slowing down and I was gaining on them. Just before the last corner near the top I went passed them both. I then got out of the saddle and sprinted a little bit before sitting down and completing the climb first!! Wey hey, monumental, well that is how I felt. My average power for the climb was 337w and this resulted in my best ever CP50 moving me into Cat 3 territory. Well chuffed.

Anyway, it struck me that the VO2 Max hill repeats I’d done a couple of days back had already returned an improvement in performance. The hill repeats I’d done were 3 x 5min @ 320w although I didn’t manage to complete the last of the three intervals and the average power for my final interval had only been 295w. I’d actually felt disappointed after that session because I believed that I could have given more if my glycogen stores were at 100% which I believed they weren’t because I’d been on a calorie reduction diet for about a week and had therefore depleted my glycogen stores. So, this got me thinking more about VO2 Max and I did a little research and this is what I have revealed so far:

  • VO2 Max is trainable but is also partly genetic
  • VO2 MAX is all about our capacity to deliver oxygen to the muscles
  • At VO2 Max we breathe heavily because of the heavy demand for oxygen being made by the body’s muscles
  • Muscles can process at least double the amount of oxygen they receive at VO2 Max. Therefore, it follows that if more oxygen can be delivered then the muscles can work harder and performance will subsequently improve
  • Improved breathing can increase the amount of oxygen being taken into the body. I already have a breathing tool which I can start to use to improve my capacity to take in more oxygen

The main physiological adaptations connected to VO2 Max are:

  1. Increased stroke volume/maximal cardiac output
  2. Increased muscle mitochondrial enzymes
  3. Increased lactate threshold
  4. Increased plasma volume
  5. Increased muscle glycogen storage
  6. Interconversion of fast-twitch muscle fibres (type IIx to type IIa)
  7. Hypertrophy of slow-twitch muscle fibres
  8. Increased muscle capillarisation
  9. Increased anaerobic capacity (lactate tolerance)

There appear to be a lot of benefits accruing from training VO2 Max and my own personal evidence is that it has a had a positive impact, primarily

  1. Delaying the onset of muscle fatigue and allowing me to push out more power for longer periods
  2. I am generating more power at a lower HR which means my speed at recovery, endurance and tempo is increasing but my HR is going down

So, how can I build on what I have learnt to optimise my training?

Need to do more research on the 9 physiological adaptations noted above. Which of these has a greater influence on performance and how can they be developed to increase performance gains?

I would make the following observations from my own training sessions:

  • It is taking longer for my muscles to fatigue – this could be due to increased numbers of mitochondria which are responsible for clearing lactate. The increase in mitochondria is probably related to the long period of endurance riding from January through to August, especially the once-a-week 70 or 80 mile rides. Mitochondria are developed in the slow-twich (ST) muscle fibres so it is plausible that the long base period was responsible for the increase in mitochondria and an increase in mitochondria improves the muscles ability to clear lactate.
  • My muscles are receiving more oxygen than previously so given my lower HR this is probably because my heart is pumping out a higher volume of blood per beat, ie., increased stroke volume
  • Anything blood related needs to take account of hydration – the more hydrated I am the more optimised the blood will be to carry oxygen to the muscles. If the blood becomes more viscous then the heart has to work harder to pump it around the body. My body water % has risen from about 64% a few months ago to around its current level of 67%. Water % may also have risen because muscle mass has increased but it is difficult to extrapolate any definitive conclusions regarding muscle mass as the data taken from the Body Mass Machine is up and down. Also, does body hydration increase with a decrease in body fat? This requires further investigation.
  • The higher water % may also suggest that glycogen storage has improved. The normal storage is 500g glycogen which carries with it 1.5kg of water. Therefore, as glycogen storage increases water % also increases. Each gramme of glycogen needs 3 grammes of water.
  • I am now not suffering from hunger pangs during the night which may suggest my body is less dependent on a constant supply of carbohydrate. How this specifically relates to VO2 Max I am not entirely sure but it may have some bearing following additional research so it is worth noting.

HRV Flatlining 27th December 2013

Over the past two weeks my HRV readings have plateaued around 50-55. Even when I have exercised and sometimes intensively my HRV has budged very little. So, what is happening? Could it be that my body has not completely recovered from a period of training? Well, in the absence of any other explanation I think this must be the answer. So, what is the solution to raise my HRV? The only thing I can think of doing is to slowly increase volume whilst maintaining low intensity and slowly but surely build my base endurance.

Power Training Plan July-14 to January-15

The outline plan for the next 6 months is as follows:

  • Total hours training: total 300 hours or 12 hours per week
  • Power-based training; increase CP6 and CP60 by 10%
  • Meso-cycles of 6 weeks and training cycles of 3 weeks (2 weeks training, 1 week recovery)

Main cycles

  1. July 18th – August 10th: preparation, general gym work, endurance riding, climbing
  2. August 11th – September 21st: strength building gym
  3. September 22nd – October 26th: raising LT and building strength on bike
  4. October 27th – December 7th: strength building gym
  5. December 8th – January 18th: raising LT and building strength on bike

Training

  • Total 5-6 activities per week
  • Always have one rest day
  • 3 gym sessions per week totalling 3 hours
  • 1 session – building leg strength: squats, plyometrics, internal turbo
  • 1 session – building leg strength: weights-only with focus on stretches between sets
  • 1 session – general gym work & stretching
  • 9 hours cycling per week
  • 1 long ride between 80-100 miles every week (4 1/2 hours)
  • 3 shorter bike sessions averaging 1 1/2 hours or 2 bike sessions (1 x 3 hours, 1 x 11/2 hours)

Nutrition & weight

  • Reduce body fat to 3.5-4kg
  • Organise nutrition partitioning around activities – carbs before and during training, protein afterwards
  • High quality nutrition – make meals in advance. Reduce dependence on non-paleo carbohydrates