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It happens to the best (and the rest) of us – we hit a period of time that our improvement stagnates, no matter how hard we work. Commonly people believe this is a plateau and become frustrated by the lack of demonstrable progress. If you are currently experiencing a period like this, or have gone through one, we have a few tips to keep you motivated and prepared for a break-through. Take heart, it is just around the corner....
- Determine if this really is a plateau – It is quite normal to have changes and stagnations in your fitness during the course of a season (if you do not have a plan and would like some help, please click this link). Not every workout or training plan phase is designed for you to see max wattages or break Strava PR’s. Fitness should be viewed at a macro level rather than day by day or week by week. It takes your body a while to adapt to the physiological stresses of hard workouts and be prepared to increase the load.
- Begin tracking progress – Corporations spend an enormous amount of time and money to produce reports that contain the appropriate data to determine how they are performing. These reports target specific information that is both general and comparative. Without the proper information corporate executives would have to make decisions based on hunches or best guesses, which are quick ways to get fired. As athletes we can learn a lot from this model. Fitness is built over the long haul, alternating periods of stress and recovery to optimize fitness, strength, and ideal weight. Without proper historical tracking it is impossible to determine what is working or not working, how long we take to adapt to specific workout types (VO2max vs steady state), are you improving year over year, etc. Write it down so you have history to compare against.
- Build a sufficient base – As the saying goes, the wider the base, the taller the peak. Do not neglect to build in your base aerobic fitness. While the temptation is there to train hard all the time, focus your early season efforts on creating a cardio engine that can burn hot. Longer sub-threshold intervals and 3 hour steady state (rubber leg) rides are tremendous workouts to help with this. A small cardio base will typically allow a single season peak that last a very short amount of time. Big bases can allow multiple peaks that are sustainable for a longer period.
- Take the test – Nothing proves that all the homework has paid off like a test. Whether you do a field test or a lab test, get the quantifiable results that allow you and your coach to know if there are any changes required. We highly recommend lab testing if it is feasible because the environment and protocols can be replicated with consistency. Field testing is helpful, but subject to variation in conditions (amount of traffic, weather, etc).
- Change it up – If the data proves you are not seeing the progress you and your coach feel you should be making perhaps a change in plan is required. Sometimes a plan can become so routine that your body has fully adapted to it and needs new stimulus. Perhaps alternate workouts will suffice. Perhaps introducing intensity earlier or more often will suffice. Perhaps new goals are in order to stir a new motivation. Don’t be afraid to try something new when required.
- Avoid comparisons – “It’s a trap”. Friends, competitors, and other athletes are quick to see if how they stack up against one another. Typically this will lead to a disappointment or a false sense of security. People have different plans, physiological capabilities, family obligations, and other life factors that have a direct impact on their ability to adapt and prepare. Follow your own plan and do not caught in the temptation to keep up with someone else.
- Have patience and have fun – Rome was not built in a day and neither is your ultimate fitness. Very few people are paid to do their hobby, and if you are not paid then it has to be fun. Enjoy the process and let it play out before becoming discouraged. Most people get frustrated and make changes too early in their plan, not knowing that their break-through was just around the corner.
As we stated at the beginning of the article, everyone goes through a time period (if not many) when they are not improving and their morale is tested. It’s all part of being an athlete. Understanding that there are ups and downs is part of the journey. The key is to have a good plan, good guidance and good perspective!
Ride safe, ride strong!
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