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Dealing with Training Interruptions

Few things derail motivation the way that illness, injury or life’s many non-cycling obligations can. And it always seems to happen when your training is on the upswing, power numbers are going up, relative heart rate numbers are coming down, and the potential for improvement is inspiring to say the least.

But the sad fact of the matter is that training derailment due to illness, injury and day-to-day obligations is less of an if than a when. So what can we do but take these situations in stride and try to get back on track as soon as possible?

Low-Stress Interruptions

Low-stress obligations that can interrupt your training may include:

  • relaxing vacations
  • family time around the holidays
  • low-stress work functions

These types of interruptions are unique because, if planned carefully, they can act as recovery time, which helps to minimize their impact on your training.

Frontloading

If you are able to anticipate these low-stress events that will take you away from the bike, it is possible to frontload your time away with additional stress, knowing that you will have time to recover from that stress during your training interruption, whatever that interruption may be.

The safest way to frontload this stress is with TSS filler rides, which are additional low-intensity endurance rides that raise your TSS without adding too much intensity to your week.  This approach is a bit easier to hit perfectly without overdoing it, and can be achieved very easily by adding an extra 30 minutes to the end of each ride, or doing an extra endurance ride on your usual day off.

For those more experienced with structured training, you can also try to compress your training in the weeks leading up to your time off to allow for 1-2 extra interval workouts.  To do this, you will cut out a rest day or two and simply drag a few of the workouts that you are scheduled to miss into the week prior.  You can then shuffle things around as you see fit.

Able to Train in Limited Capacity

If you still have access to your bike during your low-stress interruption, but not quite as much time to train as usual, then prioritize your highest intensity workouts first.  These workouts will have the most "bang for your buck."  If you also need to shorten the time for each individual ride, you can select a "-1" or"-2" variation of the workout, which will shorten the overall duration.

Miss 1-3 Days of Training

Don't stress it! 1-2 missed workouts won't have a huge effect on your training, so simply "skip" those workouts in your plan, but make sure to prioritize workout quality and get your high-intensity workouts done before any other less intense workouts.

Miss Up to a Week

If you are able to frontload this period of time with additional stress, or if you are able to line up your interruption with a recovery week, then you can simply "count" your time off the bike as a recovery week and pick up where you left off.

Miss Over a Week

If you miss over a week of training, your fitness will start to backslide a bit. If you were able to frontload the time off, or align it with a recovery week, then you can count that first week as recovery, but every week thereafter you will lose fitness as fast as you built it.

For example, if you miss three weeks of training, you will backstep your plan by two weeks when you jump back in.

Often enough, you’ll find that your fitness hasn’t slipped as far as you’d thought and you’re capable of exceeding the demands of the week’s more demanding workouts.  This allows you to jump back into your training plan closer to where you would have been without the low-stress interruption.

High-Stress Interruptions

High-stress obligations that can interrupt your training may include:

  • Non-relaxing vacations.  Think skiing trips, hiking trips, constant stressful travel, etc.
  • High-stress work functions.  Constant meetings, seminars, and networking events can be quite stressful
  • Illness

Unlike Low-Stress Interruptions, the high-stress type will not act as a recovery week, and thus, you should not preload the time off.  Since these interruptions are high-stress, you are simply trading your training stress for a different and less productive stress.  As far as your body is concerned, stress is stress, so you can't count on recovering under a high alternative stress load.

Able to Train in Limited Capacity

For a high-stress interruption, especially in the case of illness, it is best to stay off the bike and let your body recover.

Too often athletes impatiently and unrealistically try to make up for lost time by almost punishing themselves with too-high workloads, and there’s arguably no worse time to do this than when your body is healing from an illness no matter how commonplace.

Something as simple as a cold can lead to a sinus infection which then leads to a bronchial infection and a maddeningly slow return to form. But rather than honestly recognize that one’s body has been put through a wringer, overzealous and all-too-eager athletes immediately heap stress onto a body that’s barely on top of its illness overload.

Miss 1-3 Days of Training

Don't stress it!  1-2 missed workouts won't have a huge effect on your training, so simply "skip" those workouts in your plan, but make sure to prioritize workout quality and get your high-intensity workouts done before any other less intense workouts.

Miss Up to a Week

Missing a week of training is not going to derail your training too significantly. In these cases, just jump back into your plan where you left off, even if the next week is a recovery week.  It will be helpful for helping your recover from your stressful interruption, as well as your previously accrued training stress.

Miss Over a Week

If you miss over a week of training, your fitness will start to backslide.  Once you've missed over a week,  a good rule of thumb is that you lose fitness about as quickly as you gain fitness.  So if you miss two weeks of training, you should step backward in your plan by two weeks.

Often enough, you’ll find that your fitness hasn’t slipped as far as you’d thought and you’re capable of exceeding the demands of the week’s more demanding workouts.  This allows you to jump back into your training plan closer to where you would have been without the low-stress interruption.

Returning to Training After Illness

If you find that 3 days of intervals is too much, reduce it to 2 days of intervals and 1 day of tempo or aerobic endurance. Whatever you decide, err on the side of caution for your first 1-2 weeks of training and don’t hesitate to pull the plug on a workout, or at least scale it downward, should you feel as though you’re doing more harm than good.

And when it comes to training with power, you have immediate, objective feedback that will tell you when you aren’t ready for the task at hand; if the numbers simply aren’t there, you aren’t ready. Consider a reduced workload or a few more days of easy mileage.

And if you truly feel healed, symptom-free and unfettered by the chains of illness yet the numbers still aren’t there, if you simply can’t perform the intervals as prescribed, then reassess your FTP using the Ramp Test. This is especially important if you derailed during a time of higher intensity like Build blocks and certainly during Race phases of training.

 Podcast Discussions:

[35:50] Podcast 134:  Adjusting for Illness

[37:40] Podcast 134:  Adjusting for Business Trips/ Vacation

[42:05] Podcast 074:  Missed Workout Due to Illness

[34:55] Podcast 084:  Missed Workout Due to Illness

[54:00] Podcast 090:  Missed Workouts Due to Vacation

[1:11:25] Podcast 133: Missed Single Workout

 

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