By Chris Carmichael Head Coach CTS
RETEST BEFORE RESTARTING
While you have likely tried to maintain some level of fitness through the stay-at-home’ orders, it is important to take a new field test and establish an accurate lactate threshold power value based on the fitness you have right now. Two common tests are a 20-minute or an 8-minute time-trial effort. Your training intensities should then be based on 95 percent of your 20-minute power or 90 percent of your 8-minute power.
These two values should be within a few watts of each other, because your power output will be higher for the shorter effort. For instance, I recently had a novice athlete do both tests. His average power was 206 watts from the 8-minute test, which gave him a lactate threshold value of 185 watts, and 191 watts from the 20-minute test, which resulted in a lactate threshold value of 181 watts.
WATCH YOUR RAMP RATE
CTS coaches use Training Peaks to monitor our athletes’ training, and ramp rate is one of the important metrics for someone looking to rapidly increase fitness without overdoing it. As you pile on training, the rolling average of training stress over days and weeks will increase, as will your ability to carry that workload—otherwise known as your fitness.
What you’re looking for is how rapidly chronic training load (CTL) is climbing. Ideal ramp rates vary by athlete, but a 5–8-point increase per week for a few weeks at a time (followed by a recovery week) is a good starting point for most athletes. A ramp rate above 10 points per week is typically too aggressive for amateurs and masters.
“CTS coaches use Training Peaks to monitor our athletes’ training, and ramp rate is one of the important metrics for someone looking to rapidly increase fitness without overdoing it.”
The risk from an aggressive ramp rate is that you are accumulating fatigue faster than you can recover and adapt to the work you’re doing. You may be able to get away with it for a week or two, but in the long term, the under-recovery will catch up with you and you’ll be forced to take a prolonged break (and lose the fitness you gained too quickly). CTL and ramp rate are a rolling average of past training stress.
If you lost a lot of fitness during the COVID crisis, you’ll be restarting with weeks or months that contain many days of little or no training stress. Because of this, your ramp rate may look aggressive initially just because you are adding new data more consistently. After about two weeks, it should settle into that 5–8-point range per week.
DON’T CRAM FOR THE EXAM
I imagine that once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, there will be a lot of pent-up demand and desire to get out and make up for lost time. Enthusiasm does not change the time it takes to adapt to training or increase the amount of workload you can handle. You can’t make up for training you missed by doing more now and trying to cram more training into a shortened runway before a goal event will do more harm than good. Do the training you can, with the time you have, and remember that almost everyone was affected by the crisis that kept you indoors.
FITNESS FIRST, THEN WEIGHT LOSS
If you gained the “quarantine 15” or some amount of weight during the crisis, focus first on training to gain fitness and let weight loss take care of itself. Don’t actively create an energy deficit to induce weight loss while increasing training-energy expenditure. It is wiser to ensure you are consuming enough energy to support your training and immune function.
WATCH YOUR OVERALL STRESS LEVEL
Prior to this crisis you may have had a consistent pattern of training going back years. If you experienced a major disruption in training and drop in fitness, it may take a while to reestablish your ability to carry as much workload and fatigue as you used to. In the interim, you may be more vulnerable to under-recovery or over-training. This will be exacerbated by increased lifestyle stress if the crisis has negatively affected your employment, financial situation or relationships. Lifestyle stress won’t show up in the ramp rate mentioned above, so in your training diary/software, it is important to include subjective information about how you feel.
As a matter of priorities, your cycling performance ranks far behind your family’s health, safety and financial security. I hope we have all weathered the crisis well enough that we have the time and ability to once again focus on training, riding and competing together.
*If I am wrong, then I hope we’ll all have a chance to use this information in the near future.