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Coach's Column: Achieving Early Season Fitness

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |May 14, 2014 2:16 AM

Coach's Column with Andy Applegate: Achieving Early Season Fitness

Question: The first couple of races of the season always seem harder to recover from than later in the season, how can I help make sure I bounce back quicker early season and be able to keep training and building form for the rest of the season?

Answer: I believe we can form the basis of the answer to this question with two words: train harder.

While there would be many questions as to what your current training habits are leading up to your first event of the season, it sounds like your body is not prepared for the very intense effort of racing. It also sounds like as the season progresses your body adapts to this race stress and you are able to recover more easily. These realities are what lead me to believe that if you train at higher, more race-like intensities before your first race of the season, your body will be more prepared for the stress and it will not require as much recovery.

What kind of workouts might be beneficial? First, look at the actual demands of your racing. If you are doing XC type races that are super high intensity threshold and above threshold efforts for approximately 2 hours, you will want to do some threshold and anaerobic work before the race season starts. If you are doing more endurance oriented races you will want to not only make sure that you have completed some very long rides, but that you have a nice big base of tempo, some climbing at threshold and maybe even a little anaerobic work in your legs.

Remember, you still want to follow the general guidelines of periodized training to allow you to achieve your best form for the most important events of the year, not the first race. However, adding some race specific intensity to the plan before you put on a number plate for the first time of the season is a really good idea and will do wonders to alleviate that difficulty with recovery after these races.

Below are a few workouts you might consider adding to your training arsenal leading up to your first race:

For the XC racer:

Power intervals (VO2max efforts) - start with 3x3 min near all out efforts. Add an effort each successive hard workout up to 5 or 6 x 3 min (3 min recovery intervals)

15-15s - complete sets of 15 seconds near all out followed by 15 seconds of recovery for various times. Start with 5 mins of 15-15s and work up to 2 or 3 x 10 mins of these 15 on/15 off intervals.

Race Simulation Efforts: preferably on trail, but could be on a road. Do 2 or 3 x 10 to 15 minutes of race intensity efforts with 10 min recoveries. Really go hard at the start of each to simulate an xc race start. remember to yield to all other users if out on the trail. If you have a training partner for these you can really push each other.

For the endurance racer, power intervals and 15-15s are good as well, but also consider adding:

Hard Start Endurance Efforts: At the beginning of a longer endurance ride do a decreasing effort interval - Start    with 3 minutes of climbing repeat type intensity ( about 105% of threshold) , then reduce the intensity to just below threshold for about 10-12 minutes. Next reduce intensity again into the Tempo zone (about 90% of threshold) for 20 to 30 minutes.  After this continue on your endurance ride.  

Andy Applegate is a Pro level coach with Carmichael Training Systems. He has over 20 years of racing experience and has been coaching cyclists full time since 2001. His passion is endurance mountain bike racing. You can find out more about Andy and his training programs at

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