Mid Winter Training Report

It’s mid February and I’m nearing the end of a recovery week, at least from the bike. I knocked out a pretty awesome 3 weeks of tempo and sweet spot base work and I’m starting to feel good again about training and cycling. I am happy overall with what my numbers look like right now after having such an inconsistant off season this past year.

In this report… I’ll dive into the workouts I did, the structure of my week and why I did those workouts.

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Simple Intervals

Just a couple notes or personal preferences on intervals… I’ll start by saying, if I’m going to spend time on the trainer; I prefer doing planned and structured intervals and somewhat enjoy it. I enjoy the training that’s repeatable and has a focused purpose. I like it because it’s measurable and I can guage where my fitness is, based on the efforts and results of the intervals. I can also easily go back in time and compare workouts from previous years to see where I was at then and how I’m progressing.

Coming from an engineering background; I see large value in collecting data that is repeatable, easily measured and can be compared over time. This could spin off into another discussion about keeping workouts simple as I’ve seen so many complicated workouts out there. Some very purposeful and others designed just to keep you entertained. Whether purposeful or entertaining… I think 90% of us just need to get on track with the basics, but that’s another discussion.

Moving on…

Weekly Schedule

Here is what my ideal week would have looked like during this period… I said ideal as it worked out close to this, but not exact.

  • Monday – Off w/ light core work
  • Tuesday – Max Force Intervals
  • Wednesday – Aerobic Threshold or Recovery Spin
  • Thursday – Sweet Spot Intervals
  • Friday – Off w/ core work
  • Saturday – Tempo Intervals
  • Sunday – Endurance work or Recovery Spin

This goes back to my post a few weeks ago about scheduling your week of workouts. At least during the base season, I like to start with the most intense early in the week, when I’m hopefully the freshest, and work my way to lower intensity by end of week. I tend to work in 4 week blocks a majority of the time. (3 weeks work and 1 week recovery).

With that said… Nothing ever works out to be ideal and I was trying to mix in some skiing as well to be better prepared for the Birkie, so there were some adjustments. I also wanted to ease into the sweet spot intervals vs potentially overstep my bounds in the first week.

Here is what my workouts actually looked like for the 3 weeks…

This is a screenshot out of Training Peaks, so the color coded ones mean I actually had something scheduled in Training Peaks with a defined workout plan for that day. My overall plan was fairly close to the bulleted outline above, but I would adjust from day to day as needed. This is another topic; but it’s also why I think stock training plans can be a bit dangerous if you don’t have the foresight to adjust when needed. They can be a great template though, if you don’t know where to start and understand that it is ok to adjust when needed.

This is important because you’ll notice that I adjusted the first week to account for some skiing and again the third week. The first week, I would have preferred to do longer than 8 minute intervals on Thursday, but Wednesday’s ski never really let me recover well enough from Tuesday and I was afraid I might stack myself up, so I dialed back the interval length and even the power a little bit. It turned out to be a good workout, but the intervals were a little short for the power level.

On the 3rd week, I also made an adjustment. I went skiing on Wednesday and was feeling fairly crushed after the ski as it was my first ski session on hills this year. I opted to do some recovery spins the next couple days and reset with a solid workout on Saturday where I bumped the power a little from the previous Saturday’s workout, but shortened the intervals a bit. It turned out to be a good sweet spot workout, which I discuss below.

As far as the color coding goes… Green means I did the workout near plan. The orange means I did a workout, but was way under plan and yellow means I did the workout, but didn’t complete to plan still. The others, don’t neccesarily mean I didn’t have a plan, I just didn’t have it loaded in my calendar prior to completing the workout. I’m not afraid to change workouts or move things around. I’ve heard a lot of stories about people sticking super rigid to their plan and workouts and end up finding themselves in a hole. I’ve done it myself as well.

The workouts

I’ll run through my last threshold test with training zones before reviewing the workouts. The workouts are pretty classic and basic workouts that are easy to follow. If you read any Friel, Coggan, Carmichael stuff or any other training material… you’ll already be familiar.

Threshold Testing

Prior to starting this training period, I did 2 different Threshold Tests. I’m not sure how prepared I was for them and might have jumped the gun as far as being well recovered, but I did them anyway. The first one I did was the traditional Any Coggan 20 minute test that I’ve been using for the past few years. I like it and it’s an easy and repeatable protocol to follow. I like that he has a specific warm up protocol that’s repeatable. I’ve actually incorporated a very similar warm up into many of my other workouts. Anyway, the second one I did a few days later and was the Trainer Road Ramp Test. I came out at 273 watts for the 20 minute test and low 260s for the Ramp Test. Not where I’d like to be, but given my lack of training this past year… I’ll take it.

I hadn’t done a threshold test since last spring, which came out at 282 watts. I was lighter then also, so a little better situation all around at that time. Anyway, I ended up resetting my threshold power for training to 270 watts and recalculated my training zones off of that. Based on how my workouts went the past 3 weeks… I’m feeling like I will be able to bump my FTP back up a bit after another test, which is pretty exciting. Even though my FTP was down for this test round… It’s a couple months earlier than last year’s 282 test, so I believe my strength work paid off and if I stay on track… I should be making FTP improvements over last spring and will be back into progress if I can lose some weight to go with it.

Here is my training zone windows based on the 270 watts and 172bpm using Coggan training zones…

Reference Book: Training and Racing With A Power Meter by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan, PhD

By the way… I have training zone calculators set up HERE for anyone to calculate their zones.

I was planning to do a Threshold Test at the end of this week, but I’m dealing with a rib issue right now that I’m not sure it will allow me to give it my all…. I slipped and fell down my stairs this week in a rush to get out the door and messed up my ribs. The pain was enough the next morning to bring me to my knees during a short coughing spell.

I went into the doctor for x-rays, but nothing is broken. I’ve been through this before and it feels exactly like my last rib issue that had me laid up for a month. The good thing is this one is lower, so it doesn’t seem to impact deep breathing. The bad part is… Any pushing or pulling with my upper body fires that thing up, so I may not be skiing the Birkie in a week either. I was hoping for some quick healing, but some coughing again this morning dropped me to my knees with some ridiculous pain that brought tears to my eyes. Time will tell and we’ll see how things are feeling in a few days…

Regardless, I’m excited about how these past 3 weeks of bike workouts went. Regarding the Birkie and this rib issue… I’d rather heal up quick and continue making progress on the bike than have a miserable Birkie ski and potentially mess up my bike progress at the same time. We’ll see, I’ve got a week till Birkie.

Max Force Intervals

mid winter training

These intervals lasted about 10 seconds and were brutal. It’s only like 6ish full revolutions of the crank at max force, starting from a near stop or below 20 rpms in the big chain ring (road bike) and 11 or 13 tooth cog out back. I did these out of the saddle for full muscle recruitment to hit max force output. I feel like I get more out of the workout when done out of the saddle. The other thing that happens when done out of the saddle is you are forced to fully engage your core and upper body to transfer the force output to the pedals. This happens to the point that I was fighting a little tendonitis in my left elbow and this workout would completely flair it up. My core and upper body would actually be sore after this workout as well.

It’s taking max strength training from the gym and applying it to the bike. It’s kind of like doing low rep and high weight deadlifts, but on the bike to train those muscles to apply that force to the pedals to create power. I had done a training block of strength work off the bike with weights previously as well and wanted to transition it to the bike for more bike specific strength.

Although it’s interesting to see the power numbers that you produce… I was hitting around 1400 watts, I wasn’t targeting a specific power number or percentage of ftp. I try not to spin up past 90 rpms in this specific workout during this training period. If I find myself getting over 90 rpms at the end, then I would increase the resistant or find a slightly steeper grade, assuming I was out gears.

I was doing these on my trainer in free ride mode using slope control and would steepen the slope to increase resistance when running out of gears. I have a 50 tooth ring, so I did need to increase the grade a bit. I’m using a Cycelops H2, which seems to work just find for this, but I do believe some trainers out there have issues dropping to that low of an RPM without throwing a fit with resistance. It seems to work fine on the H2.

It’s early in the training season, so I’m not trying to peak out my sprint power. I’m focused on building max muscle strength that I can build power from later. Closer to race time, depending on type of racing… Then I would do something similar to this, but would start at higher rpm and spin out with some higher cadences like a finish line sprint, but that’s not the goal right now.

I should have taken a picture, but this excercise creates so much load and requires so much blood flow to the quads, that I had a small bruise on my right quad basically blow out into a big welt with massive brusing after one of these interval workouts. It would come close to healing up by the next week and then blow out again. It was pretty crazy. I thought it was entertaining and somewhat proud of it, but my wife said it was gross.

Sweet Spot Intervals

sweet spot intervals

There is a lot of talk lately about sweet spot base work vs old school traditional long hours of zone 2 work. Dr. Andy Coggan wrote about Sweet Spot work in his book Training and Racing With A Power Meter… He wrote that if you have only a few hours a week to train, that it’s best spent training here. But, he also mentioned that it will not make you the fastest, but you’ll likely not get dropped from the main pack and it’s your biggest bang for the buck on a limited schedule.

With that said, I think most agree there is still some great value in the big long zone 2 workouts/rides, but that’s just not going to happen in my schedule right now and I’m not going to do them on the trainer. With that said, I’m subscribing to the sweet spot interval workouts during the winter months to work on my endurance. By the way, this is that area right between tempo and threshold.

Regarding the workout… I like the 12 minute interval when it comes to Sweet Spot Intervals. You can start off with 6 minutes and work your way up, but I personally feel like somewhere in the 10 to 16 minutes is a good interval length for sweet spot. Less than 10 minutes, then I prefer to up the power closer to threshold, which I don’t want to go there quite yet so early in the season. More than 15 to 16 minutes, then I like to drop the power into more Tempo and go 20 minutes. The nice thing about training in this zone is there is a lot of wiggle room with what you can do with it to mix it up and still have some good data to compare over time.

Tempo Intervals

tempo intervals

The Tempo Intervals are similar to Sweet Spot, but done at a slightly less intensity level and longer duration of interval. 20 minutes seems like my go to duration for tempo intervals. You can start off with less duration to test the waters and work your way up. Infact, I did 8 minute intervals on the Thursday during the first week just to test the waters and ease my way in. They were near the high end of tempo, but not quite at sweet spot. I adjusted for the next week to dial things in. This goes back to the idea of simple intervals being easy to adjust and know where you are at.

If I could get outside and ride the roads or gravel… I would just ride a tempo pace for a few hours. I love these rides actually. They’re the rides that I didn’t do much of this past year and feel like it really hurt my endurance by not doing them. During the winter and crappy road months, these 20 minute tempo intervals will work for now and are a great way to get through indoor trainer workouts. As the roads clear up, I will take these outside on Saturdays and bust out some long gravel rides.

Next Training Period

It will likely be more of the same sweet spot and tempo work, but I will not be doing the max force intervals with this new rib issue as they take way too much core engagement. I’ll either replace them with another sweet spot workout or some other variation of seated force work. I’ll be careful about increasing power and duration together, but will dance back and forth between adding intervals and increasing power. I’ve gotten much more in tune with my body the last few years to get a feel for when I’m starting to ramp too fast. The Performance Management Chart in Training Peaks is helpful as well.

I’ll try to circle back after each period for an update to share what I’m doing and where I stand. At the end of the day, I enjoy writing this stuff up and miss not doing much of it this past year, so I hope to get more of this out in the future. It just takes a little time to pull it together. Until next time… Stay steady and keep getting after it!

-Steve

PS. You can find links to a bunch of great reference books HERE

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