How Cyclists Should Plan for Multiple Peaks in a Season

Thursday, March 24, 2016 | By Stephen Gallagher
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How Cyclists Should Plan for Multiple Peaks in a Season

The ability to sustain consistently good performances throughout a long competitive season can be challenging. If you have major objectives at the start of the year, in the middle, and at the end of the year, you will need to have all the tools in place to allow for three peaks of fitness. I am going to put together some tips and essentials that you can use to help build your perfect 2016 season.

Planning is Key

Being focused on your daily training routine is one thing, but being organized and targeted in your long-term approach to a season is just as important to enable you to have good condition at key moments in the season. Start this planning by following these basic points:

Proper Timing

Pinpoint three major events you want to be at peak fitness for with at least 12 weeks between each event. Ideally, this will be an event in March or early April, another in July, and a last peak for an event in September or October.

A Steady Build Up

The six to eight weeks leading up to your major event should have as few interruptions as possible. You want to avoid prolonged periods away from inactivity for reasons such as holidays, work commitments, etc.

Riding B Priority Races

In the eight week build up to each peak, try to have smaller events, or B races, that you can use as markers to gauge current fitness as you build towards your goal.

The Right Mix

Peaking for an event is part art, part science, and can be a complicated affair when planning to hit a particular day or week in the best possible form. This is even more complicated when you want to have three or more peaks during a season.

Bringing all this together at the right time takes both strategy and planning, and you have to get the following components right:

  • Specific training sessions based on demands of the event.
  • A balanced taper to strike the balance between fitness and freshness.
  • A mental approach which will ensure you are focused and relaxed.

If you can bring these three pieces of the puzzle together then you are onto a winning ride. Let’s look at each piece to show how to put everything in place for a great season.

Essential Components for Peak Fitness

As explained earlier, the ability to peak for an event requires you to combine a number of different components. Each athlete will need to adapt and learn from the process as they aim for peak condition. At times, this can be trial and error until you have the perfect formula, but there are some crucial steps you must take.

Be Consistent

If you want to be successful in your ability to sustain good levels of fitness throughout a year then I would suggest you have previously had a number of months with consistent training and be free of illness or injury.

Build Phase

If you already have a good basic fitness and are ready to get focused, start your training with a four to five weeks of solid aerobic and threshold training to boost your cruising pace and Functional Threshold Power (FTP). I would also recommend working on some of your general weaknesses in this period. For instance, if you have a poor pedal stroke, then perform specific drills to improve during this time. I would expect your FTP to be close to optimal by the end of this phase.

Peak Phase

This phase can be from three to four weeks depending on your chosen event. During this time, it is crucial to look at the specific characteristics of your event. Analyse the demands of the event to understand exactly what will be required of you on the day. For example, say you are aiming for a road race that has four climbs lasting three minutes each, and come in quick succession. For this event, you would want to consider the power and cadence required to be competitive and, crucially, your ability to recover rapidly between efforts. You need to bring these three components together in specific training sessions. Focus on the quality of each session and avoid junk training. Each training day must have a purpose to your fitness and targeted towards your ability to perform in key areas that will be required on event day.

Your Taper

The taper should be seen as ‘icing on the cake’. The taper comes after all the work is done and the fitness is gained. The perfect taper will allow you to see that fitness maximised with adequate rest. The taper is a balancing act you need to play with in order to make it work, but normally lasts 7 to 10 days before your goal event. One big misconception with tapering is that your fitness can change in the week leading up to your event. Your fitness won't change but your freshness will, and it's why you need to use this time to make sure you are ready to make the most of the form you've built up. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that one more hard session will help build your form. If you do too much you can undermine all the hard work you've done. The above phases should combine to approximately 10 weeks, this will make up the core of preparation towards each event.

Prioritize Rest and Recovery Periods

To make sure you can continue this progress through three different phases during the year, the recovery/rest after your goal event is crucial so you can build again. One to three weeks of lowered activity/intensity is crucial if you are to maintain the freshness required to hit your aims throughout a long season. Prioritize your rest as much as your training and avoid either a physical or mental burn out.

It can be a complicated puzzle to put together, but by following some simple guidelines and planning ahead, you can have multiple peaks in a single season. Lay out your goals, create your plan, be consistent, rest when needed, and don’t forget to have fun too.

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