Getting faster isn’t confined to training within the typical Base, Build, and Specialty training phases. You have other options to continue your quest for speed after a typical training season.
Once athletes complete a full cycle of training, the next step will depend on their goals until the next training cycle is scheduled to begin. This period of time may vary from rider to rider, but I will outline three different rider scenarios that should provide enough direction no matter what circumstances you’re under.
A quick note: We visited TrainerRoad in Reno last year to discuss the concept of a blog series designed to educate athletes about the principles of exercise physiology. This series is the result. Thanks to coach Chad and the team at TrainerRoad for all of their hard work putting this together. Links to all articles in the series are listed here.
- Base Phase Training: Everything You Need to Know
- Build Phase Training: Everything You Need to Know
- Specialty Phase Training: Everything You Need to Know
- Re-build, Off-season, or Maintenance for Your Fastest Season
The Transition After Specialty Training
With 52 weeks in the year, and with the full Base, Build, Specialty sequence typically lasting 28 of those weeks, many riders wonder what they can do to fill in the gap. This is the period of time most refer to as the “off-season”, and I will outline 3 different approaches based on three different goals.
- There are some riders who are targeting another high-priority event/competitive season following the completion of a full Base, Build, Specialty sequence of training.
- There’s another camp who chooses to fill their time focusing on a limiting aspect of their performance, appropriately known as a “limiter”.
- Then, others prefer to simply maintain the fitness they’ve established throughout the previous months of training until the next training cycle is scheduled to begin.
One thing is clear for each and every rider coming out of the Base, Build, Specialty cycle: a small period of time-off (1-3 weeks) is recommended before going down one of these paths. Depending on your fatigue and/or motivation, this time off can be spent with some totally unstructured riding, active recovery rides, or time off the bike completely. But my biggest concern in making this recommendation is to provide brief stress relief on the autonomic nervous system and endocrine system before diving back into training.
How to Build a Second Fitness Peak
Athletes who choose to target another high-priority event following the final phase of training can continue getting faster by manipulating Base, Build, Specialty to fit a shorter time frame.
Depending on how long the gap is between the event you “peaked” for at the end of your Specialty training and the second event you’re targeting, you will return to Build Phase training. This is what I like to call a “rebuild”, in which case you will do the latter half (typically 2-4 weeks) of your Build training before “re-specializing” (i.e. entering another Specialty training phase).
For Example: Say you have 12 weeks between two high-priority events. Since you won’t have enough time to complete entire Build and Specialty phases, the solution is to complete the partial revisitation of Build training before reassessing your fitness and completing another Specialty phase training plan. Should the gap be longer than that, you can apply this “rebuild” principle by extending the time revisiting the Build and even Base training.
Note: Athletes who follow the re-build approach to target another event should also schedule a small break between their second high-priority event and the beginning of the next training season.
Off-Season Focus on a Limiter
Athletes who aren’t planning for another event following a full training cycle, but wish to focus on a limiting aspect of their performance, can address that limiter using similar principles as the re-build approach.
Just like the re-build approach, you’ll need to evaluate the time period you have until your next season of training is scheduled to begin. With that in mind, you have the option to return to Build Phase training for 2-4 weeks and follow that with a Specialty plan of your choosing. If you’re designing your own plan, you’ll select workouts that specifically address the weaknesses that are plaguing your performance.
For Example: You complete a small break after your high-priority event following a full training cycle and take note that your climbing ability was the aspect of your performance that held you back. After taking a look at when you’d like to begin training next season, you find you have 18 weeks to address the limiter. You’ll also account for 1-3 of those weeks to include a significant reduction in training volume/intensity in anticipation for the next training cycle.
With 16 weeks to dedicate to training, you’ll have enough time to focus on the limiter in the same format as a Build and Specialty sequence of training. So you’ll use 8 of those weeks to build your climbing capabilities through a blend of strength endurance work (Sweet Spot power zone), lactate tolerance workouts (Threshold power zone), and maximum aerobic power intervals (VO2max power zone). And you’ll take this one step further by reassessing your fitness and entering into a 8-week revisitation of a Specialty training plan. The workouts you’ll focus on in this period will emphasize a split between high-power, often explosive efforts and extended, near-FTP efforts that all find their way into your climbs.
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Maintaining Fitness in the Off-Season
The final possible route an athlete may take is to simply maintain the hard-earned fitness they’ve established through the previous training cycle. The good news is properly established fitness takes comparatively little to maintain than what it took to build.
There are four separate types of fitness that I’ve outlined below. If you’d like to simply maintain any/all of them, research supports that you can do so on relatively little work. If you’re not too concerned with slight decreases in any of these categories, feel free to leave it/them by the wayside.
- Aerobic Endurance: Once every 2 weeks, do a long, low-intensity ride. Ride long enough that the fatigue comes as a product of the ride’s duration, not its intensity.
- Anaerobic Power: Once a week. Something along the lines of 30- to 60-second repeats upwards of 130% FTP should suffice.
- Muscular Endurance/Threshold: Once a week. Try a 2×20-minute Threshold or even Sweet Spot workout.
- Sprint Power: Once a week. Perform 4-6 all-out efforts somewhere between 20-30 seconds long.
Note: Athletes who follow a maintenance approach to the off-season will not require the “padding” of downtime before the training season that follows.
Training Plan Guide Summary
Considering the typical 28 weeks in a full training cycle, the period between your last season’s training cycle and next season’s is typically 24 weeks. Cut that down 2-6 weeks or so with the “padding” of downtime at the tail-end of the last training cycle and that precedes the next. But not all athletes fall into a single category within these confines.
Some wish to target another competitive season, while others choose to address a limiting aspect of their performance. Others simply want to hold onto the fitness they’ve earned. In all cases, principles and structure of the Base, Build, Specialty cycle can be used to continue getting faster, even in the off-season.
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About this guest post series:
To help you achieve your fastest season, Chad Timmerman, TrainerRoad’s Head Coach, shares his proven, science-backed training process that takes busy athletes from base to peak fitness. Coach Chad's complete "How to Coach Yourself to Peak Fitness" guide was originally published on TrainerRoad's blog.
TrainerRoad makes cyclists faster through their proven, all-in-one training system. Riders of all disciplines and fitness levels use TrainerRoad to perform structured indoor workouts, follow science-backed training plans, and analyze their training with easy-to-use performance analysis tools.