Recovery Taking Longer Than Planned

It’s now over two weeks since I completed the Old Roads 300k (200 miles) and my HRV readings have still not rebounded which indicates that I still haven’t fully recovered from that ride and preceding training.

  • Week 11 (4/5-10/5) Old Roads 300k Audax – planned 818 Tss, actual 835
  • Week 12 (11/5-17/5) planned 842 Tss, actual 383 Tss
  • Week 13 (18/5-24/5) 497 Tss recovery week, actual 295 Tss

Planned Tss per week for the last 3 weeks = 2157 (719/wk), actual = 1513 (504/wk), ie 30% lower than planned. So, what do I do moving forward? Do I stick to my original plan and Tss scores or do I revise it down? I’m not too sure what to do. It would be useful to do the FTP test and then decide what to do. If it is taking over two weeks to recover from training then that would suggest my Tss scores need to revised down. Having said that and looking ahead, the Dartmoor Classic is in 4 weeks time so I need to get in some hard training to prepare for that. If I find that I need more time to recover from weeks 14 & 15 then I will still have two weeks in which to fully recover.

  • Week 14 (25/5-31/5) 870 Tss  FTP TEST
  • Week 15 (1/6-7/6) 856 Tss
  • Week 16 (8/6-14/6) 505 Tss recovery week
  • Week 17 (15/6-21/6) 852 Tss Dartmoor Classic
  • Week 18 (22/6-28/6) 887 Tss

There are a couple of issues I need to address, the first is relating to diet and nutrition and the second is sleep. My sleep over recent months has been disturbed primarily because of Benjamin. Yemi and I have to share the responsibility of looking after Benjamin so this means that neither one of us gets the uninterrupted sleep we used to get. Now, the issue with heavy training is that sleep plays a critical role in aiding recovery, in fact, I would go so far as to say that it is the most important ‘activity’ one can do to ensure full recovery. So, looking ahead I am going to have to schedule in some quality sleep time. In week 17 Yemi is away in Rome so I should at least get some decent sleep that week. In weeks 14-16 I need to schedule nights were I go to bed alone and early in order to get sufficient rest.

As for nutrition and diet, over the past few weeks I have really just eaten what I wanted and I have not been disciplined about what I have been eating. My weight has risen to 71.7kg and body fat 8.2%. I will now focus on reducing my body fat to 7.2% and and my weight to 69.7kg in preparation for the Dartmoor Classic.

I start working at B&Q Monday 8th June so I need to make sure I get some solid training in over the next two weeks.


Review Weeks 1-7 Training Plan

A summary of what I have completed so far (TSS, distance):

  • Week one – 865, 215
  • Week two – 908, 204
  • Week three – 611, 162
  • Week four – 235, 85

In the above block I completed 3 active weeks followed by 1 recovery week

  • Week five – 300, 91 Mallorca
  • Week six – 325, 92 Mallorca
  • Week seven – 456, 94

My overall activity in weeks 5,6, and 7 was significantly reduced compared to weeks 1-4. On the rides in Mallorca I felt strong, especially on the long 70 miler. In week 7, on my return to UK I felt tired and did very few activities. On the last day of week 7, I did a Sunday Club ride and felt mentally and physically tired. How can I explain this fatigue given how fresh and strong I felt in Mallorca?

  1. Perhaps it is a result of heavy training in weeks 1-3 and not giving my body sufficient time to recover. Therefore, I was still carrying over fatigue from this initial period
  2. I was following a controlled diet up until week 3 but then I was unable to maintain it and felt compelled to eat. I followed by body’s response and began to eat more than I’d planned. In weeks 5 and 6 in Mallorca I ate freely. I ate high quality food and I consumed a large number of calories on a daily basis
  3. At about week 3 my weight went below 69kg and on my return from Mallorca my weight was 71kg and body fat 8%
  4. I’ve not been able to take HRV readings since week 4 because the iPad is not working so I’ve not been able to accurately gauge my body’s response to training. I really need to get this working so I can adjust my training plan to speed up recovery and return to more challenging training
  5. I am now in week 8 which includes the Exmoor Beauty sportive on Sunday. I’ll schedule recovery rides and get the iPad working. I’ll also return to controlling my diet

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 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.

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?

Feeling On Top of The World (from a cycling perspective)

It is 31st October 2014 and I feel on top of the world with regards to my cycling. I feel strong, climbs I used to have difficulty with are now feeling, dare I say it, easy and I ride with a feeling of positivity and enjoyment. Given, I was struggling on rides earlier this year, it is worth reflecting on exactly what has happened and how lessons learnt can be used to fuel further improvement, not only in cycling, but in other areas of my life.

What are the main reasons for the improvements:

  1. Weight loss – I now weigh 69.5kg compared to 74.5kg in January, a loss of 5kg or 6.7%. More impressive is my body fat has come down from 12% to 8%, a reduction of 35%
  2. I have used to plan, monitor, and review my training sessions. I have consistently raised my total stress score (TSS) from an average of 38 per day in April to an average of 80 by the end of September. My Intensity Factor has remained around the 0.7 mark for most of the year so the increase in training volume has delivered the biggest improvements. I can now train more regularly than I could earlier this year. Last year I would have struggled to train more often than four times per week. In addition to cycling 3 or 4 times, I have also been going to the gym, typically twice a week but at least once. I have focused on building strength in my core, chest, back and arms.
  3. My heart rate has come down by 20 bpm across different exercise intensities but it has also risen into the high 170’s when I am required to make a big effort which is not something I could have done earlier in the year. Earlier in the year I could only last a few seconds when I hit 170 or higher. I can infer that either my heart is stronger, the stroke volume is greater, my blood plasma volume has increased, there is an increase in both mitochondria and mitochondrial enzymes
  4. I can cycle longer distances with less food which indicates that my body is burning more fat which means my metabolic system is more efficient at working aerobically and less reliant on anaerobic energy production
  5. I can cycle at a higher pace without my legs succumbing to increasing fatigue
  6. I can climb so much easier without breathing too heavily which again suggests improvements in my aerobic metabolism
  7. I can push bigger gears for longer periods of time without fatigue and cramps. There are still occasional niggles of cramps but nothing major. I have recently been working on improving my fast twitch muscle resistance to fatigue by doing sessions that focus on pushing big gears over sustained periods of time.
  8. I have been training consistently – I typically train 6 times per week with one rest day. In days between demanding workouts I do recovery rides rather than simply rest
  9. I rest fully when I feel tired. I use recovery rides to gauge my rate of recovery and when I feel fully recovered I increase the intensity. In my last period of R&R I took a total of 12 days off during my last recovery period. I came back from it feeling the strongest I have ever felt on a bike and definitely a level or two higher than I was previously.
  10. I have been adhering to a strict calorie-control diet to lose approx. 0.5kg per week. I have reduced the total weight of fats I eat and maintained carbohydrates at around 300-350g per day. I have matched calorie intake to training sessions, therefore, on demanding days I have eaten more and conversely on easier days I have eaten less. I have always eaten within 1 hour of a training session and I have consumed enough calories to replenish what has been consumed during the session. I have used to monitor, inform and control my calorie intake.
  11. I now eat three times every day, breakfast, lunch, and supper. Occasionally, I’ll add a snack if I’ve done a particularly demanding session to help quickly replenish muscle and liver glycogen stores.

I definitely need to do some more objective-style reviewing of my performance improvements and try to understand more clearly what is having the biggest impact on my performance. I kind of have an outline idea but it isn’t certain but then again where the body is concerned there never appears to be any definitive arguments for one course of action as opposed to another. For every argument for one way of doing something there is a counter-argument professing the exact opposite. So, armed with more objective facts I intend to nail down what is behind my improvements in order of priority and contribution and then use this to inform, refine, and design my upcoming training programme.

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

Mental Fatigue 13th October 2014

T a demanding 3-week training block in September I began to feel mentally as well as physically fatigued. originally, I had planned to take a one week recovery and then return to a new three-week training period, however, I have made a number of changes, notably:

  1. I have extended my recovery from one to two weeks
  2. I have decided to schedule two-week training periods followed by one week of recovery
  3. I will be joining a gym where they have a wider selection of weight resistance machines and run classes

During my recovery I have begun to realise that my mind as well as my body will eventually succumb to fatigue. Presumably there must be some kind of chemical imbalance that leads to mental fatigue – it is a defence mechanism to prevent one from overtraining and causing actual physical harm by way of an injury or illness. My HRV has come down from the low 70’s to about the high 50’s and has only recently started to climb again and I am reading this as a signal that my body is approaching recovery from a long accumulated period of training, from March right through until the end of September, that is, six months.

My position is to return to full training shortly and that means averaging around 100 TSS points per week for the two-week full-on training period and somewhere around 60-75 TSS points for the recovery week.

One positive over the past two-weeks has been my continued adherence to the performance-management diet. My weight is now 70.8kg and I feel confident that I can lower it to my target weight of 69.5kg within a few weeks.