What's Cool In Road Cycling

How to Plan Your Best Spring Training Camp

Pro tips for getting the most out of your warm weather training camp

Even with the massive improvements in indoor cycling technology, winter still presents a significant challenge to cyclists trying to build fitness and stay motivated. Warm weather training camps can provide a big mental and physical boost when preparing for the season to come. In this edition of Toolbox we provide some do’s and don’t to get the most out of your winter cycling escapes.

soudal quick-step 2024

Cabin Fever

Pre-season training camps are an essential part of an athlete’s preparation in many sports and for good reason. Whether they provide suitable weather, access to more focussed coaching or even just a clear schedule for training, a camp can help set the trajectory for a successful season ahead.

For most cyclists braving cold winter climates, a week away with nothing to do but ride in the sunshine sounds like paradise as they stare down their smart trainer ahead of another sweaty interval session. Many riders, though, fall into the temptation of treating a camp like a last minute cram session for the exam that is the season ahead. With that all-out approach, they arrive home broken down, susceptible to illness and without the fitness benefits they were looking for.

Thankfully there are some simple guidelines you can use to keep yourself on track and come out of camp flying, whether it is a formal coached camp or just a personal riding getaway.

Take It Easy to Start

I recently had the opportunity to help host a 4-day long weekend training camp here in Tucson with the Vancouver based TaG Cycling crew earlier this year and I was careful in my planning to optimize the experience for the athletes.  My first rule with training camps is to start moderately and resist the urge to get off the plane and start chasing every Strava segment in sight.

Travel combined with a shift in climate and environment is a significant stress on the body, even if you feel great on arrival. So on Day 1 of the TaG camp we went for a flat 90km ride on the bike path, aiming to stay in zone 1-2 and open up for a big few days ahead. A few athletes took the option to include a short 10 minute tempo type effort near the end but nothing to tire themselves out for the days to come.

Every professional camp I ever did started the same way, with no rush to push the pace and the very best riders often started the slowest. You can’t “win” a training camp on the first day, but you can certainly lose by digging yourself into a deep hole of fatigue immediately.

Going Long

After the “break in period” to start camp it was time to remove the rev limiter and dig into some hard training with a lumpy 5 hr ride. “Hard training” doesn’t mean riding as fast and as long as possible though. Every athlete only has a certain reserve of energy for training and it is crucial to spend it in the right way. Aerobic volume is almost always the best, first priority.

Only the most hyper-committed riders can slog through 3+ hr trainer rides and accumulate the kind of low end aerobic base work that they can in the warmer months. For the rest of us, camp is the ideal opportunity to stack up the miles in zone 2 and stretch our endurance capacity. I’m always careful to remind athletes not to “race base pace.” In this scenario, faster isn’t better for base riding and will usually only deplete your reserves more quickly.

Aim for a relaxed, conversational pace on your big volume camp rides and pay extra attention to fuelling, hydration and even sun protection as you push yourself into uncharted outdoor territory coming off the trainer.

van der poel evenepoel training

Revving the Engine

All of that is not to say you shouldn’t include intensity in your training camp rides, you should just use your physical resources methodically. For camps, I often suggest athletes focus on work that they can’t perform as effectively on the trainer. Often that means hitting the hills for steady zone 3-4 climbing work to rebuild the core strength that often fades indoors while also enhancing the ride’s aerobic stimulus.

I also recommend some small doses of faster group riding, pacelines and generally punchy, acceleration-intensive efforts for athletes preparing for early season racing. Without that type of preparation, it is difficult to simulate the real world inertia and micro accelerations indoors which can make the first race of the season a big shock to the system.

With those intensity goals in mind, on Days 2 and 4 of the camp, we included optional efforts for those who felt up for it. We rode a faster paceline on the long false flat downhill sections and allowed athletes to ride their own higher end pace on certain longer climbs. The rest of the riding was back in that easier conversational zone which resulted in high quality but manageable days on the bike and a fairly optimized training stimulus for everyone.

Big Days = Big Recovery

The last ingredient for a highly productive training camp comes in when you arrive back at home. I know the feeling: you finish with a big ride at camp, take a day off for travel and feel ready to smash your PRs on the trainer and prove the worth of your training. Ironically this is when all that hard work can be jeopardized, if you don’t give yourself time to recover and actually absorb the big training stimulus you accumulated.

No matter how you feel, commit to taking at least a few easy days and if things aren’t clicking on your first workout back, don’t force it. The body can be unpredictable in how it processes a huge infusion of training fatigue. If you allow some space for that to happen and you will reap the maximum fitness benefit and see the resulting boost in power in the coming weeks.

Seasons in The Sun

In summary, patience and smart allocation of your own energy for training are key factors in getting the most out of your hard earned time riding in the sun. Early season training camps should be fun too, even at the professional level – a time to enjoy the bike and gain a sense of momentum, rather than bury yourself in fatigue.

By starting slow, mixing intensities appropriately and taking care of your body throughout you can have the best of all worlds and come away with some extra wattage in hand and a smile on your face.

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