Toolbox: Getting the Most Out Of Training Camps
Besides racing, training camps are the catalyst for maximal training improvement for modern professional cyclists. Whether it’s early season team camps in exotic and warm locales to pile up the base miles, or mid-season camps at altitude or recon of mountain stages, training camps can be as different as the rider. If you’re considering a training camp of your own this year, how do you choose the best one for you?
I’m Outta Here
Many of us were drawn to cycling initially by the freedom that it gave us as kids, and for allowing us to explore much further than we could by foot. As adults, one of the thrills of cycling remains its ability to transport us to places we haven’t seen before. However, after a while, you’ve hit all the local routes many times over, and things can start seeming the same day after day.
No matter how beautiful the local area where you live may be for cycling, eventually a break or a change can do wonders for both your training and especially for your enthusiasm. That’s certainly one of the reasons for the popularity of cycling tours to Europe and elsewhere. Not much can match the fun and thrill of riding in the heartland of cycling, enjoying epic climbs and fine cuisine.
The other type of cycling adventure away from home is a dedicated training camp. Here, the holiday is still a valuable component of the trip, but the main purpose is to achieve a specific training goal with as few external obstacles or distractions as possible. Within this overall purpose, there are as many options under the sun as there are cyclists. Camps can range from do it yourself affairs through to commercial ones run by coaching services, and each company design multiple camps to serve different clients and goals.
It may seem like the simplest thing to just pick a camp and pack the bike, but the variety of offerings make it important to pick the right one to suit your goals. Secondly, another consideration is planning your training before and afterwards to get the most out of the fitness boost you’ll get from camp.
If you’ve read my articles in Toolbox before or in my recent profile, you’ll know that I’ve made a career out of using science to pay my travel bills, almost always with my bike in tow. It may not appear so to my family and friends, but none of these trips have actually revolved around the bike! I got a lot of terrific rides and kilometers in, but it was much more about exploring new roads than focusing on fitness. That’s going to change this year, however, as I’ll be participating in my first-ever training camp.
This April 12-17, I’ll be heading down to Virginia to join Hunter Allen and the Peaks Coaching Group’s flagship training camp in Bedford, Virginia. Besides giving talks on cycling science and about the effects of heat and cold on human performance, I’ll be participating in all the rides too.
To figure out the ins and outs of training camps, I sat down with Hunter to talk about how to plan for this and other training camps you may be considering:
Pez: A big group of local riders usually head south each winter to rent a cottage and do a DIY informal training camp. What are the benefits of a commercial training camp versus doing it yourself, or simply training at home under your coaching guidance? For example, what do you learn about a client up-close that you can’t just from their data files or talking with them?
Hunter Allen: Even though we have done camps now for 13 years, it never ceases to amaze me how different a rider can be from the start of the week to the end of the week. Some of the improvements are incredibly dramatic. So there’s a lot of concentrated learning and improvement over a few days or a week that might take a few months or more in a normal coaching relationship. It’s like you teaching a student online versus having them spend a week with you in your lab!
Sure, one of the purpose of camp is to get in lots of bike time, but the overall experience is important too, both on- and off-bike. We structure the day so that campers have a short ‘classroom’ session in the morning to discuss the day’s ride and how we are going to apply the power training principles within the ride. Then we go for the ride, where myself and my coaches have the opportunity to teach on the bike all kinds of concepts from sprinting to climbing to pacing and to just sitting on the bike properly.
After the rides, I teach a short recovery yoga class and then we have 1-on-1 power analysis appointments with each camper. We set up their charts in the TrainingPeaks WKO+ software, teach them how to use it and what to look for. In the evening, we do another short classroom talk, so it’s a packed day!
Camp isn’t just about riding – it’s about learning on AND off the bike. Camps feature specific talks and guest speakers, and also one-on-one coaching. This is your real chance to soak up information, and something that a DIY camp can’t match.
Pez: There are so many camps available nowadays, and this year you will offer four different camps with different objectives and goals. When an athlete calls you up, how do you help them decide which camp is the best for them?
HA: We offer three types of camps. Our early year Bakersfield, Venzuela and Bedford camps are focused on build your power foundation while learning how to use power to improve your training and racing. Bedford Camp is our longest running camp and we try to teach a very well rounded camp that gives each rider a strong foundation for the season. Race Tactic Power Camp at the Pocono Raceway is a unique camp focused on learning and practicing the skills need to win races. Closed course racing, numerous race scenario practices and working with former pros like Thomas Prehn, Scott Moninger and myself. In the fall we have a “Planning Camp”, this camp is focused on helping coaches and self coached athletes use power to develop annualized plans while practicing application of testing and training methods.
Pez: Put yourself in the client’s cleats. What are the important things they should be considering and questions they should be asking about a training camp from yours or any other commercial company?
HA: The first question should be “How will I be a better rider if I come to your camp?” For example, one strong emphasis of all our camps is teaching the different facets of how to maximize the use of power training (and racing) by understanding the tools, the data and the application. It’s a two-way street, so I would also want to know about the people and who is attending. Last thing you want to do is go to a camp where everyone is fitter than you and you just get dropped every day. That’s no fun. So making sure that your fitness level is similar to the other campers is definitely important. Training camps are also about riding with different riders and coaches and enjoying the camaraderie. We all learn from each other and some of the relationships created at camps have grown into long term friendships that last a lifetime.
Pez: What type of athlete can benefit from a training camp? Is it only the hard-core racer type?
HA: No, all can as the general principle of camp is improvement no matter what level you have achieved. There are ‘nuggets of knowledge’ that each rider takes home with them. Some of the more experienced racers might learn something about pacing from a coach that they had never considered and one of the fast recreational cyclists might learn a new concept about power analysis that helps them to peak for their upcoming century ride.
Scott Moninger takes a camper through a specific sprint drill.
Pez: How do you work with athletes who want or have specific objectives? For example, not every rider at your camp will be one of your existing clients, and indeed they may have their own coaches and their own ideas. How do you work in those needs?
HA: Again, it’s about communicating with the client before the camp, so that they know what we’re about and we know what they want from the camp. If there’s another coach, then we’ll try to get them involved in the planning too. Every rider that comes to our camps gets an in-depth power analysis and power training review from myself with follow-up meeting with the coaches. This gives us the ability to work with each athlete one-to-one and help customize the learning to their needs. One of the key things we do at camp in the first few days is power file review to help “diagnosis” the riders needs, often they are not sure themselves.
Camps also are not just about endless miles. Here, Hunter’s talking through a specific sprint training skills session.
Pez: Considering the chilly Canadian winter, much of my riding before camp will be indoors, and it’ll be an interesting challenge to handle the big jump in distance over this April week of camp. I have a good base from many years of riding and maintain decent fitness throughout the year, but how do I get ready for this sudden jump in duration and intensity?
HA: Great question! Continue building your functional threshold power (FTP) while increasing time at FTP. If you are doing (4) x 10minutes at Sweet-Spot (88-93% of FTP) now, then build that to (2) x 20 or even (3) x 20, and then move to (2) x 20 at 100% of FTP in March. Two weeks before the camp, you should start to do some more intensity including a sprint workout or two, some hard anaerobic capacity efforts in the 30 second to 1 minute range and even a VO2max interval or two (5 minutes at 113-115% of FTP). If the weather breaks up there in the great white north on the weekend, then go for as long as you can stand. If you can do some 5 hour rides then get them in to help with your muscular endurance. All that being said, even if you didn’t get the long rides in, you would be fine because of your solid foundation on the indoor trainer and FTP work.
Pez: How do you handle a camp where there may be riders with quite different fitness levels, along with some campers wanting to turn each day into a race? What about if some are focused on summer events while others have primary targets in the fall, like cyclocross?
HA: We have a very high coach to athlete ratio and a clear system of working with groups of mixed fitness. We have enough coaches that each group has a coach with them and that way each group learns the same concepts as well. Coaches are designated for a group role each day that we are on the road in an open format. On drills days, like sprint day, we stay together and work the drills.
Pez: So I come to camp and get a week of super training in, plus I go home super-psyched to ride hard. How do you help athletes schedule their training post-camp to avoid their overcooking themselves?
HA: That’s definitely a concern! The week after camp is absolutely a rest week and you’ll need to take it easy all week. The 2nd week after camp you’ll be ready for a nice week of hard training again and I recommend a bit of intensity in order to keep the knife sharp so to speak, and then follow up with a week of FTP work.
Camp isn’t just about riding, Part 2. Camp is also about getting together with folks sharing the same passion as you.
A training camp can be the highlight of the season, but only if you come into it knowing what the camp is all about and also what you want to get out of it. Choose your camp carefully and make sure you get as much information as possible in your decision. Look at it as a chance to get in both concentrated training but also concentrated learning, with professionals who are there solely to help you improve and achieve your goals. It’s also important to plan your training around the camp, preparing for this concentrated high dose of training stress both beforehand and also planning some rest and recovery afterwards.
Stephen Cheung is a Canada Research Chair at Brock University, and has published over 50 scientific articles and book chapters dealing with the effects of thermal and hypoxic stress on human physiology and performance. He has just published the book Advanced Environmental Exercise Physiology dealing with environments ranging from heat and cold through to hydration, altitude training, air pollution, and chronobiology. Stephen’s currently writing “Cutting Edge Cycling,” a book on the science of cycling, and can be reached for comments at [email protected] .