Toolbox: The physical and mental challenges of late-season events can be significant. Season fatigue, burnout, and loss of focus often become real challenges in the late summer and fall. The mind and body yearn for rest and rejuvenation even as you have to get ready to go for it one more time! How do we prepare for these one-more-time events?
End of season World champion – Alejandro Valverde
First, face some facts
At this stage, how much preparation time do you have? Maybe two or three weeks? We have to start by accepting the reality that the human body typically takes about four to eight weeks to adapt to exercise. This means that the workout you do today has maximal fitness benefits a few weeks down the road. Assuming you are typical, this reality presents you with your biggest challenge in this scenario: at this point in the season, you really do not have any time left to gain much true fitness. What you’ve got is what you’ve got, so you need to focus on maximizing your performance.
By this time your training has probably become pretty patternistic. A great way to give yourself that late-season motivation and performance boost is to introduce some change to shake up your system, improve your performance, and achieve great results in your late-season event.
Change your training schedule
With a solid aerobic base in play from the season, late summer and fall is a great time to change your training pattern. The typical training pattern is rest on Monday rest; train on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; rest on Friday; and race or do a group ride on the weekends. Your body adapts to this pattern throughout the year, and changing it up now can get some results.
Let’s say you’re three weeks out from your final event. Why not switch to two weeks of block of training followed by rest/tapering? Block training can be done in different fashions, but you could try something like this: three days of hard training, two days of rest, four days of hard training, three days of rest, and two days of super hard workouts then rest / taper. This two-week block system will challenge your body’s rest-and-recovery “status quo” and push some response.
Change up the power
By now you’ve done a lot of work building and racing, but if you look at your training files or power numbers, you’ll probably notice that you’re losing some high end power. A great way to squeeze in some late-season performance is to reduce the duration and up the power significantly. High-intensity intervals and sprint/speed work are great here.
Here are two sample workouts you can use to accomplish this:
Wind-ups and Sprints
These are simple and easy strength builders. After a good warm-up, find a quiet stretch of road and complete the following:
1. 5 x Max Wind-Ups: A wind-up is simple. Get in a big gear (such as 53:14), slow down to a track stand, and then explode, winding up the cadence as quickly as you can till you get over 95 rpm. (Warning: this is harder to do than you think.) Rest for a full four minutes between. After the set, ride easy for ten minutes, then continue.
2. 5 x Max Small Gear Sprints: These are simple too. Find a quiet place and knock out 5 max sprints, each about 50 meters. These need to be done in a small gear, rolling into the sprint at around 10 miles an hour. Cadence should get over 130rpms. Rest for 4 minutes between intervals.
3. Cool down
Functional Reserve Capacity Builders (AWC)
This workout will help build strength and neuromuscular power and be a wakeup call to your muscles. Find a short hill (preferably about 5-6% grade) that takes you around 40-50 seconds to climb when going hard. Get in a good warm-up, then complete the following:
1. 6 x 40-second Max Efforts: Each effort is a total max effort! Rest for at least 7 minutes between efforts to ensure you recharge your watts. The point is to hit each one all out. You should hit the same power (or the same point in the climb) each time. If you start dropping off more than 10%, you’re done.
2. Cool down
Late season form for Autumn
Change up the cadence
A lot of us realize late in the season that we have forgotten how to use those little levers located on the bends of our handlebars, and we’ve settled into a predictable cadence for intervals and rides. One of the ways you can push late-season performance is to introduce some changes in your cadence work. A simple little trick is to make your rides or longer intervals cadence progressive, simply starting at a cadence lower than self-selected and progressing to one higher than self-selected. These can be done as part of an endurance ride or any steady-state interval. It’s more about mixing cadences than targeting one specific one.
Progressive 2 x 20 SST
A lot of people use 20-minute sweet spot intervals, and at this point of the season, you’ve spent plenty of time here. Here are two ways you can introduce change.
1. Make your intervals cadence progressive. Try breaking the 20 minutes into 4 sections of 5 minutes and assign a cadence goal to each. For example, the first 5 minute can be 10 rpm below self-selected cadence, the second 5 minutes can be 5 rpm below, the third 5 minutes can be 5 rpm above, and the final 5 minutes can be 10 rpm above.
2. Another way to do this is to add high-cadence surges to your SST work. For example, you can add 30 second high-cadence bursts of 110+ rpm every 4 minutes during the 20-minute effort.
Change your long ride
Build one really long ride into your block training. If you typically ride 3-4 hours for your long ride, go 5 hours. Add about 20% duration to your typical long ride, and do it late in the above-mentioned training block (the last day is a good spot for it).
Change your rest
One of the best ways to improve your form is to simply rest. Test your late-season performance by resting more than you typically would. Try completing a two-week block as described above and then resting two weeks into your event. Most people have poor sensations after that much rest, but if your event is shorter with higher-power demands, you’ll often find your actual power numbers and performance are better. The rest cycle is always tricky because it is highly dependent on your unique physiology, so it’s hard to be specific here.
By incorporating some of these changes into your final two- or three-week block (followed by some rest/taper), you can recharge your late-season performance and even see real gains.
Vincenzo Nibali and Thibaut Pinot held their form for Lombardia
Tim Cusick is the TrainingPeaks WKO4 Product Development Leader, specializing in data analytics and performance metrics for endurance athletes. In addition to his role with TrainingPeaks, Tim is also Head Coach at Velocious Cycling Adventures. You can reach Tim for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org . To learn more about TrainingPeaks and WKO4 visit us at TrainingPeaks.com.