By Doug Katona
Realizing your potential—isn’t that what most of you want to accomplish through training? Chances are you’re trying to figure out the right formula to help squeeze in training with the rest of your life, how to exercise at the right intensity and how to improve results without increasing volume of training. Whether you want to get leaner, become more competitive, have more energy or maximize your training, the following guidelines will help you create a plan to step up your training without over training.
Create a Plan of Attack
As a Category 2 cyclist and USCF coach, I can tell you that the formula for a quality training program begins with having a real plan of attack. Based on over twelve years of experience racing and training at an elite level, I believe there are two main ingredients that distinguish successful athletes from continually frustrated ones: consistency and planning. The key to enhancing your training without undermining your goals in the process is to have a well-planned program that defines training periods, intensities and recovery periods—this is called a periodization plan.Overtraining is one of the most significant ways to undermine your training goals. The most common ways to over train are 1) training with too much intensity (in relationship to the volume of training), 2) not enough recovery time with an insufficient aerobic base building (as part of your periodization plan),3) outside stresses like not enough sleep and the psychological pressures of family and work. and 4) poor nutrition (especially pre-competition, recovery and sugar control).According to a traditional martial arts mantra, you cannot be in balance until you know what it’s like to be out of balance. And once you experience overtraining symptoms, you’ll have the wisdom to understand how to find the right balance, with a well-planned program that gives you the results you want.
Break It Down
The second step is to break your training plan down into specific phases. Past experience has taught me that breaking up a training plan can rejuvenate motivation and help maintain a consistent training schedule. To do this, divide your training schedule into microcycles (weekly), mesocycles (2-6+ weeks) and macrocycles (comprised of a set number of mesocycles that outline your annual plan or competition season). Once you determine these phases, you can more easily work on specific objectives and training phases.
Recovery and Nutrition
Are you recording or monitoring your resting heart rate? You should be! Resting heart rate (RHR) is a sure-fire way to monitor your progress and determine if you are overtraining. Most experts agree that an elevated RHR of 6-plus beats on any given day is a signal that you should back off intensity. If your body is slightly fatigued or if you are a little tired, you should back off the intensity. When in doubt, leave the intensity out! You will not lose your fitness if you take an extra day to recover. For example, I just finished a 4-day stage race, so I’ve decided to take the following 5 days to train in a recovery mode.Recovery is not complete without proper nutrition. After an intense training session, it is crucial to begin recovery by refueling your body properly. Replenishing sodium is one of the easiest ways to get your body back on track. Although rare, drinking excessive amounts of water could lead to a condition called hyponatremia, in which sodium levels become diluted. Without adequate sodium, your body cannot move water across permeable membranes to distribute fluid throughout the body. The result is that you stay dehydrated!
Staying consistent and maintaining a positive and energetic approach to training can also help you overcome your shortcomings (trust me, we all have them). In other words, if you don’t have the lung capacity or wattage output capability of Cadel Evans, you can still greatly enhance your success with consistency rather than training hard for short spells and then taking blocks of time off. I can honestly say that I have had very few days when I did not want to ride. As long as your training plan is well-defined and you stick to a consistent and patient program, it will roll out smoothly.
On the Bike—and Off
There are 168 hours in a week. If you work, training 16 hours of that time can make you an elite athlete. Most Category 1 and 2 riders train about 18-23 hours per week, elite Masters being on the low end of the volume scale. The difference between those who are successful and those who aren’t is how they spend the rest of the time! When they’re not training, endurance athletes’ number one rule is: never stand when you can sit (to conserve energy). They also wear shoes that have adequate support to help alleviate stress on the legs and back.
The Best Time to Train
If you work during the week and have to mix in higher intensities, when should you train? The answer—in the morning! Why? During the morning, you have more energy and your metabolism is more efficient. Also, early morning workouts help you focus on recovering throughout the day and serve as a mental reminder to eat nutritiously to complement your training. When you put off your training until later in the day, the day’s stresses can cause you to fatigue, lose motivation and focus. In addition, if you have planned your training sessions (especially those with intensity) for the afternoon or evening, you’re much more likely to cut down on the amount of time and/or volume of the session than you would in the morning.
Keep a Training Diary
This is vitally important! I have recorded every single ride and training session I’ve done for the last ten years. A diary holds you accountable— it also serves as a history of performance. If you felt especially good during a given period, you can look back and analyze the circumstances surrounding that success (what you weighed, how you felt, how much intensity and recovery you had, how you tapered, etc.). At the very least, a diary should contain the following key components every day:
- Bodyweight (record once a week, same day, same time)
- Weekly, monthly and yearly cumulative totals for volume, mileage and results
A training diary is best recorded immediately after you finish your training session. This helps you consistently record your training and motivates you for your next workout. Remember—be sure to schedule time off!
Lucky for us, there’s an abundance of technology available that calculates baseline physiological measurements. Numbers don’t lie—getting tested allows you to determine whether you’re on the right track or need to make adjustments to your training to get the results you want.I recommend you get the following key tests: body composition, blood work (a basic CBC is sufficient) and cardiovascular components (Maximal HR, Recovery HR, AT, VO2 and Power Output (watts). Make sure you get tested by a reputable sport-specific professional and, if possible, get tested at specific periods of your season or plan (start of season, mid-season and during base building period/off-season). If you get evaluated by a reputable person, you should also get a snapshot of a training prescription based upon your goals, including heart zones to emphasize.As it turns out, stepping up your training without overtraining is simply a question of finding the right balance. Oftentimes, the most physiologically gifted athletes are not the most successful—they just have a vision and a plan to get what they want.Only you are in control of your training. You alone make every choice. Choose the right path for you.