Winter training plan

Since the end of September I have been training quite well, I felt I’d recovered most of the early-season fitness that I’d lost during the summer through lack of consistent effort.  As I have documented, I spent a lot of time fiddling with position (some of which was very fruitful in terms of race times), but nowhere near enough time training.  This resulted in my worst performance of the season in my last race.  It was a great opportunity to post a good PB to end the season, but I didn’t have the legs for it.

The recent session I had with Drag2Zero has brought my training regime into sharper focus.  In particular Simon’s comments that I have a very good aerodynamic position, but only ‘average’ (read sh*te) power output.  I have set myself some pretty ‘stretch’ goals for next year (which will remain private!).  Knowing what I know about my aerodynamics, if I am able to hold the tunnel position in races, I pretty much know the ballpark wattage I need to hit in order to by able to achieve my goals.  This is liberating, but daunting, because there needs to be a big increase.

I trained best in the early part of last season.  I didn’t have a plan as such, but I was doing similar sessions and so was able to track progress, which I found motivating.  Because of this I decided to make a plan for the winter.  I don’t have many hours per week that I can train, so I need to make the most of the time I do have.  At the same time, I am new to this and still learning about what works for me, so all of this is experimental.  If it works, great, if it doesn’t, I’ll have learned something.

In time trialling, what seems to be very important is FTP (functional threshold power, the power you can hold for 25 miles or about an hour).  There are no breaks, or sprints in time trialling (well, you do sprint at the end, but there’s no point training that sprint).  You need to be able to hold high power for the duration of the race.  So from what I have read, and the conclusions I have drawn from my experience so far, the steady state power that a rider can hold is crucial to their performance.  There are a number of ways of training to improve FTP.  Two of the most common are interval training, where you train for short, repeated durations at very high intensity, and sub-threshold/threshold sessions where you train at or slightly below FTP.  Earlier in the year I did a lot of both types.  As the year has progressed,  I’ve been doing mostly intervals.  They have worked to a good extent, because I’m a lot fitter than I was when I started.  But the biggest gains I made were earlier in the year.  Probably because I was starting at a lower base, but even so, it seems silly not to try something similar.

According to the literature, one of the most effective ways of improving FTP is by training in the ‘sweet spot’.  This is an area around 90% of FTP, or 95% of threshold HR.  The idea being that training just sub-threshold really boosts your FTP, but because it is below threshold, you can do a lot of it.  I know from my training earlier in the year that a tough interval session would require 48-72 hours rest before I could train again, and a threshold session would require at least 48 hours.  Training in the sweet spot, in theory, can be undertaken on successive days.  This is quite appealing because I can spare an hour or so to train most days.  So after reading around I devised a session where I do two blocks of 20 mins at 90% of FTP, with 5 mins in between.  With some warmup and cooldown time, that will take an hour.  If I can do 4-5 of these sessions per week without getting bored (that might be tough) then because the session is the same I will be able to accurately track progress.  Within a few weeks I should be able to tell if it is being effective or not.

So what’s the plan?  I need to increase my power level, so it’s no good just sticking to the same level throughout the winter.  I thought, why not try and increase the power by 1w per session?  It’s a tiny increase each time, but if I was able to sustain it, would produce good results over time.  The biggest risk is that the session feels harder and harder as the weeks go by.  If that is the case, then FTP will not be rising at the same rate, and presumably I will become fatigued and not be able to complete so many sessions.  So as well as monitoring power, I need to be able to monitor ‘effort’.  I am not very good at understanding my perceived effort level to a granular level, so I decided to see if I can use heart rate.  I find on indoor training bikes such as my turbo, or the wattbikes as work, that HR creeps up through a session even if power is constant (I think this is due to increased body temperature and/or dehydration).  But it creeps up in a fairly predictable way.  Also, HR changes quite a bit from day to day, so I can’t compare adjacent sessions and glean much of any use.  Instead I am hoping that by using HR and power I can spot any trends over several weeks.

To do this I will monitor watts per heart rate (w/bpm).  So if I am able to push 300w (I can’t, by the way) at 150 bpm that would be 2.0 w/bpm.  If this ratio rises, that is good news, because it means I am producing more power per heart beat.  If it is flat it is pretty bad news, because it means that HR is increasing at the same rate as power.  My threshold HR is not going to increase that much, so quite quickly these sub-threshold sessions will move up to threshold and beyond, and I will soon fail.  If the threshold goes down it is very bad news!  An upward trend in w/bpm is required to get fitter.

I have a couple of pictures!  The first is a chart of projected wattage increases.  The red line shows what would happen if I was able to increase by 5w per week.  Cloud cuckoo land!  I’d be able to trot round to a PB if so!  The blue line is more realistic, but still optimistic, showing the increases at 3w per week.  The green line shows my actual performances so far, in the 10 or so days I have been doing the sessions.  I have not been disciplined so far in trying to increase by exactly 1w per session, but I must try and do that.

Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 15.00.49

The second chart shows w/bpm for all the sessions I have completed so far.  As you can see, it’s pretty inconsistent.  The current trend line is upwards, but I think anytime you start to apply some rigour to a process, if there is room for improvement then you will see it pretty much immediately.  This trend line will be far more pertinent in January.

w/bpm as at 14th Dec


I am going to persist with this experiment for a few weeks at least.  If it is obviously not working when we get into the new year, I will abandon it and try something else.  I want to start updating the blog more often.  I don’t really have much of interest to say, but at least I can report progress.  Anything that gives me a little more motivation is good.  Thanks for reading 🙂


Posted on December 14, 2013, in Training. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. thanks for doing this carl.i did more 20+20 ss 2 years ago.then last year a plan with lots of intervals.the ss year was slightly better with a higher http://ftp.but my 5 min power was much better in the interval year.ten tt power was the same “315”but blunt as a brick “22.45”am currently mixing both but am interested in how you get on as at the back of my mind 20+20 would be more effective leaving this 52 year old fresher at the same time. i felt jadded most of the interval season.

    • Hi no problem, thanks for the comment. I am a little concerned about top end power if I concentrate only on SS, but willing to give it a go. I got very tired during the season doing 3×10 minute intervals. I’ve been doing some in recent weeks and can manage 320 for the first one, but struggling to hit 300 for the next two. I find it very unpleasant, hence the change. But if it doesn’t work, I’ll be back to the painful and less frequent interval sessions. Good luck with your own training 🙂

  2. Hey Carl, interesting reading indeed. Are you doing any weight training like squats, lunges, etc?

  3. Hi Carl, nice post. I’m in similar position of deciding what winter training is going to be most effective for me. I almost 1 year into my comeback to cycling and really want to try and push on next year, as the second half of this year didn’t really happen for me. Will be interesting to see your results. In the meantime I am riding for an hour each time at what I perceive to be tempo/sweet-spot. No HRM or power-meter though, so I’m not being very precise…

    • Hi Clint. I will post an update probably, during the Christmas week. It’s not currently going to plan, let’s say that much. In fact I have been forced to change the plan a little. Still doing sweet-spot though. Without a HRM or power-meter, yeah it’s a bit tricky to keep yourself in the right place without any instrumentation? Are you working on a turbo, or on the road? If the former, at least you can find approximately the right area and then stick to that speed.

      For what it’s worth, in my case the trick seems to be in monitoring the breathing. I am trying to find that point where breathing is deep, but just before it starts to get shallow. I think the threshold is around where your breathing gets shallow, so I am constantly thinking about what my breathing is doing. Trying to bump along just under the point where it will change from slow and deep to fast and shallow. No idea if that’s correct but it seems to be working for me and I am using this in conjunction with power and heart rate. In fact I have switched to caring more about HR and breathing than power.

      • Yes I have setup a circular route and done a baseline. The plan is to improve by 2% then set a new target 2% quicker, rinse and repeat until I have a TT bike sorted (spring time). I’m training on my 29er over winter so my speed is a bit slower than i’d like to see. 16.8mph ave with my breathing staying controlled and not going to shallow. Definetly pushing on though. I think the numbers can verify what you feel and that can give extra confidence in the method.

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