In the first post of this series(is it a series?) I wrote about The Athletic Mindset, and the triangulations that form it: Zen Buddhism, The Flow State, and Expertise. Now the trick is to employ these elements in a manner that helps drive development. For the most part that can be summed up in one word - Consistency.
If we take the precepts of the Athletic Mindset to be worth striving for, then bringing consistency to your workouts is an elemental first step. Yet, it is often difficult to master. There are too many distractions, too much work, too few hours in the day. Whatever the rationale it really boils down to a question of committment. Instead of striving for consistency, many athletes follow the 'too much, too little' paradigm. They'll have a world class ride, better still a world class week or two and then, because the training was so focused, too focused, they over cook themselves and training plummets for a day, a week, or a month. Or perhaps training is steady and work/life/family/stress gets in the way and training plummets. Whatever the reason it's these 'ON/OFF' patterns that result in sporadic fitnes gains. The challenge is to establish a new pattern...
Consistency is really just making the committment to steady progress with your training. My recent ToolBox article on Pez Cycling News covered some of the traditional approaches to organizing your training week, including how some of those traditions may contribute to sporadic fitness. As noted in the article it is often a good idea to take a larger view of your training. One way to do that is to look at your goals for a particular block (threshold development for example) AND how that fits into the big picture of training towards that marquee goal you've set vis-a-vis training load. Another way is to look at the individual rides and better manage their efficiency. First let's look at Training Load.
Thanks to people like Andy Coggan, Hunter Allen, Eric Bannister, Phil Skiba etc. we have any number of ways to track training load for both individual workouts and over time. Personally, I like the Coggan model because it is built from a solid platform of research and it's pretty intuitive to understand (you can brush up on it here). I also like it because it's part of the WKO+ software that I use, so I don't have to do much to keep track of the numbers.
There have been several good threads about training load on the Wattage forum. They have dealt with the imposition of training over time - usually reflected in one's Chronic Training Load (CTL). The consensus seems to be that a gradual ramp rate of 5-8 TSS points per week (20-35 points per month) is sustainable long term up to an athletes as-yet-unknown optimal training volume. Of course the duration of this 'gradual build' is set by ones current CTL and, therefore, may not be the best tracking method for those alread close to an optimal training load (then again do YOU know YOUR optimal training load?). One thing is certain, by approaching your training load in a more longitudinal fashion you will likely build fitness at a rate you can maintain, and still see improvements throughout.
Let's say you have 10 hours a week to train. Theorhetically you have a maximum training load of 1000 TSS points (1 Hour at FTP = 100 points) per week. It is much more realistic to expect between 500 and 800 points in a given week for the same 10 hours (really, how many hours per week can you do at FTP!). You can then make an educated guess as to your individual capacity and set your training load accordingly. You may find it quite liberating to know that you only have to hit 550 TSS points this week and 555 TSS points next week to meet your long term training goals (hint - have long term training goals!). This awareness provides a great starting point for another element of consistency - the individual ride.
While variations in weekly training volume are easy for most athletes to see in the real world, they have a much harder time with the idea of moving training specificity from theory to application. By this I mean simply that they waste valuable training time goofing off. You know exactly what I mean...you start out on a two hour training ride and spend the first 30 minutes just riding along "warming up" then you knock off your 2x20minute intervals and roll back home at 'cool down' pace and call it a good day. While that is a 'specific' workout, it is not an efficient one. Consider that if you only have 10 hours to train in a week, you've just wasted 10% of your training time in an endurance or recovery zone that wasn't necessarily needed. Instead maximize the time you have by remaining cognizant of the goals for that workout and adjusting your efforts accordingly. Often I'll advocate starting a ride at the top end of Endurance, or even Tempo, to try and kickstart the workout while maintaining a higher average power. This is especially true on longer aerobic and tempo interval rides where the variability index would be lower than a higher intensity VO2 or Anaerobic intervals workout.