A well-developed training plan can improve your cycling performance by clarifying the steps you must take to enhance key physiological abilities such as aerobic endurance, lactate threshold and anaerobic capacity. Unfortunately, there are 5 mistakes athletes often make when it comes to developing their training plans:
Fail to evaluate past performance honestly.
Before you develop a training plan, you need to honestly evaluate your past performance. That's the only way you can accurately identify your strengths and weaknesses as a cyclist. To evaluate your performance, simply ask yourself 5 questions about your most recent season:
What goals did I achieve during the season? How (be specific)?
What goals did I fail to achieve during the season? Why (be specific)?
What were my greatest strengths during the season?
What were my most significant weaknesses during the season?
Overall, how do I feel about my performance?
Fail to set SMART goals.
SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. They allow you to set training and racing goals that are easy to track. A well-written SMART goal describes the outcome you are seeking and a specific timeframe for achieving that outcome. For example, "I will complete a 40K time trial in less than 1-hour by the end of the racing season" and "I will finish in the top-10 in my class at the state criterium championships" are examples of effective SMART goals. Include 3-5 goals in your training plan.
Fail to use both outcome and process goals.
Using both outcome and process goals increases your chances for success. Outcome goals are more common because they focus on bottom-line results such as "finishing on the podium at the state road race championships." Process goals focus on the implementation of your training program and include objectives such as "riding 7,500 miles during the calendar year" and "climbing Big Mountain 3 times during a single hill climb workout." Make sure you include both outcome and process goals in your training plan.
Set goals too high or too low.
This pertains to the "A" in the SMART goal process. Your goals should be challenging and realistic. If you set your goals too high, you will fall short and feel disappointed with your performance. Conversely, if you set your goals too low, you may achieve them but feel dissatisfied because the goals were not very challenging. Try to find a midpoint where goal attainment is difficult but possible.
Not modify goals when necessary.
It is perfectly acceptable to change your goals once the season has started if it becomes clear a goal no longer fits the SMART criteria. For example, if one of your goals is tied to a particular event and that event is cancelled, you have no choice but to change that goal. Conversely, you may hear about a new event that you want to add to your existing goals. If your work schedule changes, you may need to modify your goals as well. Remember, life happens and your goals are not set in stone. It's okay to change them.
Fail to consistently assess plan effectiveness.
The only way to determine if your plan is working is to evaluate its effectiveness. The simplest way to do this is through ongoing field testing such as the 30-minute time trial. To do this field test, ride as hard as you can for 30 minutes (after a good warm-up). Your heart rate for the last 20 minutes of this effort is a close estimate of your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR). If you have a power meter, your average power for 30 minutes is a close estimate of your functional threshold power (FTP). Perform the field test once a month and look for improvement in the distance you can cover in 30 minutes, as well as increases in LTHR and average power.
Fail to build adequate recovery into the plan.
A lack of proper recovery will have a negative impact on your performance and may lead to overtraining. There are two steps you can take to avoid this problem. First, consider the length of the training plan mesocycle (a specific block of training designed to achieve a particular goal). The standard length is 28 days, which includes 23 days of relatively hard training followed by 5 days of recovery. However, a 21-day mesocycle with 16 days of hard training followed by 5 days of recovery offers more rest. Second, make sure you get sufficient rest during your recovery period. I recommend the following approach for the 5 days: day off, 30-minute easy spin, day off, 30-minute easy spin, day off.
Be a slave to your training regimen.
Your training plan is an important tool that can help you develop the physiological abilities needed to achieve your cycling goals. However, it is not set in stone. You can make changes. If you are scheduled to do a hard interval workout but feel tired, skip it. Spin easy and see how you feel the next day. Doing hard workouts on tired legs can lead to overtraining. Always listen to your body and act accordingly.
Fail to connect the training plan to the key physiological abilities.
These abilities include aerobic endurance, muscular endurance, lactate threshold, aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity and neuromuscular power. Simply stated, your training plan should be designed to improve one or more of these abilities. For example, if you are a century rider, your plan will focus on improving aerobic endurance. If you specialize in time trials, you'll emphasize power at lactate threshold. Your plan should highlight the key abilities needed to perform in your chosen events.
Fail to periodize the training plan.
While any well-developed training plan is better than none at all, you will get the most out of your training regimen if it is periodized. Periodization is the process of dividing an annual training plan into specific time blocks, where each block has a particular goal and provides your body with different types of stress. Some periods of training are harder and some are easier to allow for recovery. As a practical matter, this simply means that you should develop training plans that have different priorities at different times of the year. For example, the endurance phase is designed to improve aerobic and muscular endurance, and therefore incorporates many long rides. Conversely, the intensity phase focuses on shorter, harder workouts that improve lactate threshold and aerobic capacity. Once the season is over, the recovery phase focuses on rest. Make sure you are clear about what you are trying to accomplish with each phase of your plan.