Advice for 2019 after a frustrating plateau year


#1

Could use some advice as I start my off-season after a frustrating year of training, where I felt like I couldn’t break past a plateau.

Some background. I am entering my 3rd year of training with TR, 4 total on the bike. Mid 40s, 70kg @ 5’ 11", FTP plateau of 185-200w. Train on average 6-7 hours/week. 90% bike, 10% gym. I travel (plane/hotels) 100 days year for work, and work at home otherwise (about 60 hours/week). Father of 2 and some other volunteer commitments. Generally a well-balanced, healthy diet (no Popeyes :slight_smile: , soda, limited alcohol, limited processed foods).

This year started out on track to build on prior gains, but February saw a month long flu. Then 2-3 week periods of increased work hours and international travel over summer, then minor surgery had me off again for 3 weeks. Compared to year 1, I put in less time, fewer climbs, fewer long rides, with more TSS coming from a more casual group ride. I guess there isn’t a big surprise here that I didn’t see gains. And while I am generally pain free, when I get closer to 200w I tend to develop IT band/knee issues in one or both legs.

Goals for 2019 - I generally want to be able to keep up with some of my fitter friends/riders - and think that going from 2.7 w/kg today to 3.3-3.5 should get me there. I am eyeing a few “A” rides, in spring and fall - lots of climbing, gravel, long distances. I enjoy the social, travel, and overall experiences too and prioritize my personal gains/experiences over competition. Having said that, in the heat of the moment, I can get competitive - winning the occasional town line sprint or not finishing DFL results.

After 2 weeks off the bike for work and vacation, today I ramp tested and saw a slight, expected decline in FTP. Starting SSB Mid Vol 1. I am contemplating the following in trying to design a holistic plan:

  • More polarization (easier easy, based on HR, and harder hard)
  • Adding 1 longer endurance ride/week to mid volume
  • Adding more core/stretching for a healthier me, perhaps with some heavy weight training
  • More lower cadence high intensity drills in TR workouts (simulating climbing) and outdoor drills (though I live somewhere hilly, not mountainous, most climbs are < .5 mile)
  • Maintaining 7.5 hours of sleep more regularly

Realities:

  • My training will continue to come in clumps, interrupted by work travel. I could do 5-8 days in a row, and then nothing (or hotel gym - with 50% access to a peloton bike where I can simulate a TR workout) for a week
  • Vast majority of my rides start early. During week by 6 am for 1 hour workouts, almost always fasted. Weekends, more like 7, and I eat before if doing more than 90 minutes.
  • I can’t get much more than 8 hours of sleep a night
  • I eat healthily but considering eating more volume at dinner to load for next morning (more complex carbs), and maintain hydration (currently drink ~100 oz a day).
  • I have very low blood pressure and a high Max HR for my age (185)

I realize that is alot - but I wanted to also sort it out for myself. Thank you in advance!


Breaking through an FTP Plateau
#2

An unscientific take…

I think there is definitely more out there for you to gain, and you seem switched on to what you need to do and what your shortcomings are. Consistency is key, so trying to make adjustments wherever possible to build consistency will help a lot… maybe make more effort to work something in on work trips.

Secondly, when I hit a big plateau the biggest breakthrough came when I entered my first crit and then competitive road race. Pinning a number on, and holding the wheels of some really fast guys who were out to drop me, led me to find a new level of effort I didn’t know I had in me. I’m pretty sure I got faster overnight, and that wasn’t physiological. Hope that isn’t patronising, but I wonder if you know how deep you can go (and therefore how hard you can train).


#3

Your best bet might be to dig yourself into a deep hole with back to back sessions as you’ve got enforced lengthy recovery time. Then find some HIIT spin class for maintenance. Loads everywhere these days and you’ll only need one of two after say 4 days of recovery until you can get back home onto your bike. Basically compressing your training blocks so you rack up a ton of stress that forces your body to adapt to it before you start recovery.

Say you had 400TSS in the 7 or 8 days before you started travel. Try to do 420TSS after you’re back home again. You could work in progression.

The only thing I’d worry about is your moods. Travelling and working on deep fatigue isn’t pretty and you could feel like a buttplug for a couple of days at the end of each block.

That said, these periods where you’re off the bike for 2 weeks isn’t great. You’re detraining by this point so if you’re not really hitting it hard you could be going one step forward, one step back instead of two steps forward, one step back.

I’d try to make sure that those two week blocks off the bike just don’t happen. Find any way possible to get in a few HIIT sessions. Some 30min sprint work or 1min VO2 intervals. Anything you can handle. Even some budget-gym bike that you can get your heart rate up on.

Shame there weren’t TrainerRoad or Zwift or Sufferfest studios everywhere. Would make this a whole lot easier.

Feel your pain by the way, I had a rough year this year too.


#4

You haven’t plateaued, you’ve been struck by inconsistency. Consistent training would solve these issues. You may be up against your “life limits” of potential. Meaning you have too much stress and other obligations to allow yourself consistent training to improve. Above all, you’ll need to find a way to change that so workouts don’t get missed. If you know you have travel, you can front load the week before if you won’t be able to train as much during travel. That is, if your life can handle that without digging yourself a deeper hole.

Regarding knee issues at 200w, that seems more of a cadence issue. If you’re a slow grinder (sub 85 rpm) I’d work on upping your cadence to relieve the stress on your joints. Ideally you’d be 85-95 rpms but even slightly higher at times if you can handle it.

Good luck!


#5

Hey there. I am on the road a minimum approximately 140 (days) a year. Meaning, I might leave Monday at noon and return Wednesday at 9am=3 days/2 nights. I’m older than you by a few years fwiw. Kids, wife, busy life like everyone…

  1. What do you mean by “when I get closer to 200W I tend to developIT band issues…”? All I can think of is you have a cleat issue or maybe a fit issue. Cleats either too far rotated in/out or too far fore/aft (combined with current fit) can cause mega problems.

  2. Regarding your plan:

-Polarization seems to be a buzz word here but, it’s nothing new and exists in the workouts I’ve been doing in the general mid build.
-Yes to the endurance ride outside. More endurance at the right time will yield bigger gains later.
As you know the stress from that ride will affect you the next couple days. So, if you are trying to manage all the other things in life + train = not recovered for your polarized approach.
-Yes to core and strength training. For injury prevention and more varied muscle fibre recruitment.
-Yes to drills but, if you are having IT band issues at 200W I don’t know what to recommend. Single leg drills are probably the most important for us older guys to keep muscles balanced.
-Yes to more sleep. If you’ve not tried a smart watch or sleep app to track I think the simple act of tracking hours makes you want to sleep or find more sleep. JMO/E.

  1. Realities…

-Clump training. Be careful. My plateau for a long time was because (in part) I’d overdo the stress for too long a block followed no training for long blocks. At our age 3 quality days/week block of cycling is good. 4 max.
-Fasted riding…not a fan if you are doing polarized or HITT. Fuel up and smash the target power for prescribed time. Time in zones (VO2 etc…) is key.
-Eating strategy (timing) more at night is pretty much opposite of what every elite athlete I know is doing. The workouts your doing I doubt you need to eat like that the night before. Your not Nate:-)

Overall thought: Getting “faster” while hard is not a mystery. Methodical and planned increase in stress over time + increased time in specific zones (quality intervals) = more power. TR build plans do this well IMO! Get your cleats/fit checked. And when in doubt, rest. If super tired from work travel skip it. This is one of the pillars of polarized training and training in general. Cheers!


#6

Thanks everyone for the advice and solidarity! You have given me much to think about.

  • MI-XC – you are right - I can see it was very much impacted by the lack of consistency. That give me hope - though consistency will still be tough.

-I should have clarified that the knee/IT band isn’t when I put out 200w but when I reach 200w in FTP (the higher end of my fluctuations in FTP range). Vo2max workouts aren’t a problem in general.

  • Shrike - you hit the nail on the head – I had periods of stress that put me in foul moods and I was down more this year than in the past. It lingered after trips / work stress - even when I had the time to train. Double whammy. They contributed to a few of the extended time off bike. I need to work on that. Hope you also have a better year coming up!

-nico_synergy - I hear you on pushing yourself. I have done some hill climbs and some group rides that had me past my limit for sure and those are reinforcing even when I am in a down period. I can go to dark places and think generally that is one of my strengths.

-I get the point about eating at night - I meant just being conscious of eating more complex carbs, etc., like adding a sweet potato, but not gorging. Same with drinking – topping myself off at night so less dehydrated in the morning.

-Landis – great call outs on the clumping of workouts and eating before early morning (hi intensity) rides. Those are probably my biggest hurdles and I need to think about how to accomplish and still keep to my schedule - like getting more mileage out of the hotel peloton bikes when I travel (and/or more intense strength training), and focusing most of high intensity on weekend, when I can start rides a little later than during the week.


#7

Just a quick update a few weeks into implementing my plan. Feel I am on a good path.

-Making an effort to eat beforehand and even some yoga/stretching before has been a game changer. So much more energy. This is true for a hearty oatmeal/banana and at least 90 min before ride. Not nearly as noticeable on work week rides, where I don’t have the luxury of time and use toast/jam just before the ride.

-Doing the core/knee/leg strengthening during the week does wonders for how my knee feels and my overall form. Unscientifically notice it when going up the stairs, or other movements. Everything feels more supported/stable.

-Mixing in lower cadence drills (~80) during sweetspot/threshold that are closer to my climbing cadence, activates more muscles, helps with form, and helps intervals pass by.

-My hamstrings are all sorts of F*cked. They do not like to be contracted after the bike. Instant cramp. Need to continue to work after rides on that.

Progress!


#8

Careful with those hamstrings - I see cramps as a red flag for overtraining.

You’re a similar age to me. But ten kilos lighter and at my target weight (!) Im also inconsistent - I can’t advise you there: I spent last year trying for consistency over everything and failed miserably.

A couple of points I’m mulling over;

Work stress encourages training as an escape, but I suspect it doubles up in some way and leads us to crash out of training.

Work stress ruins sleep.

At our age more protein is needed than with younger folk to reap the rewards of training.