Your big race is over. When is the best time to return to full-power workouts? Here's how to build power on top of fitness for your season's second act. By Chris Carmichael.
Act I of Lance Armstrong's comeback was a bit bumpier than I would have liked, but it worked out in the end. Despite breaking his collarbone this spring, he had a strong performance at the Tour of Italy. Lance adapted, grew stronger and played an active part in the race.
At the theater, intermission is relaxation time for the audience, but a frantic period for the actors. For many cycling fans, June is like intermission, a breather between Grand Tours. Not so for the racers. With only five weeks between the Giro's end and the Tour's start, there's little time to both recover and prepare.
Amateur racers and riders often end up in similar scenarios, with limited time between two big goals. It can be hard to balance recovery and the ramp-up for your next act. Lance took it easy for about 10 days after the Giro. He rode about three hours a day around Aspen, Colorado, at a moderate pace, with no structured intervals.
For most cyclists five to seven days of relaxation and light activity are typically enough following a race or endurance event you specifically trained for.
Remember, you're not just resting your body, you're also mentally recovering from the focus, regimen and sometimes anxiety that come with long-term preparations for goal events. Amateurs should be conservative when evaluating when to return to full-power workouts; if you start before you're fully recovered, you'll limit your progress in your next round of training.
You're ready to really train again when you go for a ride and feel no leftover heaviness or sluggishness in your legs, when your pedal stroke no longer feels forced, and you can stand up on a small hill without an immediate burning sensation in your legs.
You'll also notice that your heart rate is likely to respond quickly to hard efforts and return to low levels fast. If you have a power meter, you'll see your perceived exertion decrease for a given wattage (for instance, if 200 watts ranked as a 7 on a 1 to 10 scale right after your event, that same effort post-recovery may feel like a 6).
So you're ready to start Act II—but what does the script look like?
With Lance we completed a final altitude-exposure and climbing camp in Aspen. A modified lactate-threshold test confirmed he was recovered from the Giro, and also that completing the three-week race had bumped his maximum sustainable power up by about 3 to 4 %.
With that information I increased the intensity of some of his interval work, and he began a combination of race-pace climbing and hard (sometimes above race-pace) time-trial efforts.
If you're an amateur anticipating your second goal—a fall race series, bike tour or century, or even an early start to cyclocross season—intensity and specificity should be your main focus. Your cycling training thus far has built endurance, and adding mileage now isn't going to help much.
In fact, greater volume could increase fatigue and hurt performance. Intensity workouts are hard enough to make you stronger, but short enough that you can recover quickly.
It's time to use your aerobic engine to gain greater power. Instead of starting a hard interval from a slow roll, you should begin these workouts with two minutes at a hard but sustainable pace (lactate threshold power, time-trial power, max sustainable heart rate or power, or however you define your highest sustainable intensity).
Over the course of one minute, accelerate to a maximum effort. To do this right, you should reach your maximum intensity about 30 seconds into that minute and hold it all the way to the end.
Complete three sets of three negative-split intervals, with three minutes of easy spinning recovery between intervals and five minutes of recovery between sets. You will need at least 75 to 90 minutes to complete the warm-up, workout and cool-down.
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