What is happening within the body when it is ‘recovering’ from training? By understanding the process is it possible to optimise the speed of recovery. Are there any markers, apart from HRV, that provide insight into the state of the body with regards to how well recovered it is at any given point in time?
Well, apart from HR, HRV and pulse there doesn’t appear to be many objective measures of a body’s response to training. Therefore, any proposed solution to speeding up recovery is going to involve a degree of trial and error. Based on what I know so far I’d be needing to focus on the following areas to improve my rate of recovery:
- Sleep – quantity & quality
- Nutrition & hydration
- Body manipulation – massages, foam rollers, etc
- Minimising & removing environmental stress – ie., relaxin’ and chillin’
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?
- 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
- 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
- At about week 3 my weight went below 69kg and on my return from Mallorca my weight was 71kg and body fat 8%
- 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
- 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
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.
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?
- Body shape
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.
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:
- 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%
- I have used trainingpeaks.com 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.
- 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
- 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
- I can cycle at a higher pace without my legs succumbing to increasing fatigue
- I can climb so much easier without breathing too heavily which again suggests improvements in my aerobic metabolism
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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 myfitnesspal.com to monitor, inform and control my calorie intake.
- 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.
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:
- I have extended my recovery from one to two weeks
- I have decided to schedule two-week training periods followed by one week of recovery
- 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.
With just the recovery week left of my 4-week training in September it is useful to review progress against objectives. The main objectives are outlined below alongside what was actually achieved:
- Increase CP20 to 280W – increased to 274w (98%)
- Increase CP5 to 330w – increased to 333w
- Reduce weight to 72kg – last reading 72.5kg
- Average 700 Tss for weeks 1-3 – actual 676 (97%)
Overall, it is been a highly successful training period. It has been quite tough especially switching to 3 weeks training and one weeks recovery. I certainly felt the accumulated fatigue in week 3. I didn’t manage all the sessions, especially the last 2 gym sessions although this was down to social engagements. I also missed a Saturday session in week 2 because I had a sore calf picked up during a session that week. The biggest improvements came from the VO2 Max hill repeats. These have proved hugely beneficial and have led to a significant improvement in my climbing. I would also argue that they have led to a reduction in my HR for the same power output. I have noticed that my HR is much lower now even though I am putting out more power.
In most of my sessions I have reduced my cadence. When hill climbing it varies between 60-75 rpm and when on the flat it is around 80 rpm. I have reduced my cadence in order to build strength and muscular endurance. Spinning a high gear does not fire up all the muscle fibres, especially the fast-twitch types. Engaging the fast-twitch muscles is leading to an increase in power output.
During this training period I switched from 6 meals a day to 3 or 4 meals per day to allow my body to burn fat between meals. This switch has gone well and I am hoping that by the end of next week that my weight will be at or close to my target weight of 72kg. I continue to closely monitor my meals using myfitnesspal.com. This allows me to record and evaluate my meal and food choices.
My HRV readings have risen to new all-time highs. My readings are now in the high 60’s were before they were in the high 50’s to low 60’s so there has been a very pronounced and positive impact on my HRV. Again, I would argue that the VO2 Max workouts are behind this.
Looking ahead to the next training period I need to consider the following:
- Introducing a new strength programme as the current one has been running now without too much change for three months
- Introduce anaerobic training sessions
- Add a recovery ride midweek following a hard session
- Maintaining the VO2 Max sessions – not possible as doing anaerobic capacity hill repeats
- Using long intervals to improve muscular endurance
- Maintaining long endurance rides
- Completing two sessions in one day – a recovery ride in the morning and strength training in the afternoon
- Targets: increase CP1 to 600w, CP5 to 350w, CP20 to 280w on the flat, 290w when climbing, Tss 736/week
- Reduce to 2 training weeks so a 3-week cycle. 2nd 3-week cycle to focus on CP60 rather than CP20
- Begin breathing exercises in final recovery week of September and continue through October