What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: Do It Yourself Training Camps

Lots of miles in exotic locales and riding with your favourite cycling heroes – you really can’t beat a training camp as a perfect working holiday. However, what if you can’t or don’t want to join an organized camp and want to design your own camp solo or with your team?

Jail Break
Sitting here typing this, we’ve spent the past week in southern Ontario consistently below -10°C with whipping wind. While I personally have a high tolerance for indoor riding and lots of toys for that, it’s getting to the point where I’m starting to hallucinate about the warm days of summer riding. It doesn’t help seeing pictures of the pros riding in sunny weather training camps or getting set for the Tour Down Under.

Despite my being a cycling nut, my research lab has a history of elite-level swimmers, including a two-time Dutch Olympian and a Masters Worlds competitor. And it’s about this time of the year that they always headed off for 2-3 week training camps in somewhere exotic like Hawaii or Bermuda. I always wondered just why the heck athletes in a sport that involves training in the aquatic equivalent of a treadmill needs to go to Hawaii just to swim in another pool.

One huge benefit of a training camp experience is simply that it is a huge motivator to have a goal or event that becomes your target in and of itself. Nobody ever likes to flunk a test, and so the trickle-down effect is that we become motivated with our training prior to the camp itself in order to get the most from it.

The moral: setting an early-season camp, either a commercial one or one organized by yourself, can give you that motivation to stick with a consistent winter training program.

Cycling: Team Etixx - Quick-Step 2015 / Media Day

The Pampered Life
However, getting away from it all is only half of the entire raison d’etre of a training camp experience. Why are the pros so good (besides their obvious talent)? Well, a part of it is that the truly pampered elite pro can dedicate their whole day to training and recovery, without the distraction of a full-time job, running down to the bike store to get things fixed, shopping and cooking, etc. Indeed, a lot of the early research on altitude training, where subject athletes came together to a place like the USOC in Colorado Springs, found that both their control and experimental groups automatically got better over the course of the experiment because they suddenly had a huge support staff taking care of their extracurricular concerns.

Camp Basics
So what are some basic considerations and essentials if you’re serious about organizing your own training camp?

Get away from it all. If you’re serious about a camp, it is best to get away from the home atmosphere. Not only does it eliminate distractions, you end up burning up so many brownie points with your family that you’ve got no choice but be serious about training and recovery during the camp itself!

Pick a place with guaranteed good weather! The last thing you want is to get sick from bad weather or to have to change your riding plans because of weather.

Plan your rides beforehand. With tools such as Google Maps, Strava, Map My Ride, not to mention social media, it is simple to figure out some main routes in the region. Connect with locals to figure out routes too. It makes for a much lower stress level to know the basic ride routes for each day before the camp, rather than getting there and improvising. At the same time, leave things flexible in case an unexpected route presents itself.

Err on the side or over-planning and organizing all the logistics prior to the camp. Arrange all of your food and plan your meals ahead of time so that you’re not wondering what to have for supper or ending up relying on unhealthy restaurant choices (you can do that at home!). Your goal is to be able to dedicate as much time as possible during the camp itself to training and recovery.

Stay in place! Related to the above, the better choice generally is to base yourself in one location so that you avoid the hassles inherent in traveling.

Be a team! If you’re organizing a camp with your team, consider having each member take turns playing “soigneur” for a day.

The Main Ingredients
With a good infrastructure in place, what should your DIY camp consist of?
• Riding. Duh! You want to get in lots of challenging bike time, but be really careful. You still need to stick with the basic rules of progression in volume/intensity or else risk throwing all the effort down the drain by overtraining. Assuming you’re not going from sitting on the couch all day, the maximum you might consider is to double your previous riding time for a one-week camp. However, make sure you monitor yourself carefully and plan adequate recovery in the week following the camp.

• Your camp needs to be tailored to your own abilities and periodization schedule. A camp in February for pasty-faced and frozen Northeastern US riders might focus primarily on steady endurance efforts to build up an aerobic base, and there’s little point in doing anaerobic hill sprints. A camp in May might focus on efforts that closely simulate your main limiters and/or the requirements of your key events. For example, if you’re a weak climber and your goal is the Mt. Washington hill climb, then guess what kind of efforts you should be building your camp around?

• The main drawback of a self-organized camp might be the lack of access to physiological testing. However, data is useless without the ability to interpret them. You can certainly do excellent self-testing with your power meter if you have one. Another possibility, if you have a consistent field test that you have developed, is to perform that test prior to the camp. Alternately, you can incorporate a field test into one or more of your rides. Use the data both as a benchmark for the season and also to modify your riding plan as needed.

About Stephen:
Stephen Cheung is a Canada Research Chair at Brock University, and has published over 80 scientific articles and book chapters dealing with the effects of thermal and hypoxic stress on human physiology and performance. Stephen’s Cutting-Edge Cycling, a book on the science of cycling, came out April 2012, and he can be reached for comments at [email protected] .

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