The Five Pillars of Off-Season Training

The Off-Season is the best time for cyclists to make significant improvements for the following season. This Fall, for those of you with big goals and aspirations, NOW is the time to get on a plan and start training. Right now you have a huge opportunity to begin your off-season training to take your performance to the next level in 2023. How? Read on - or listen to our recent podcast on the Five Pillars Off-Season Training.

Here is what ON-season training looks like... because there is no off season for better results next year.

As coaches, we look forward to the off season because it is a time when we can work on athletes' weaknesses without having to worry about their performance in upcoming races. As a result, we can start with the basics and methodically take athletes through a 4- to 6-month off-season training program that elevates their performance. There's a saying "the off season is where you can make the greatest gains," and we couldn't agree more.

The goal of our off-season training program is to increase the athlete's power at threshold and race-specific power outputs. Our off-season training program is divided into 5 phases that as a whole are much greater than the sum of the parts. To measure improvement we test at the end of the weight training phase, end of the sweet spot build and right before the first race with expectations of a 3-20% increase in power at threshold. Thereafter we monitor race data to track improvements in FTP and power.

The 5 Annual Training Plan Phases are:

  1. Annual Training Program (ATP planning)
  2. Fall Foundation, Aerobic Endurance & Muscle Tension Intervals
  3. Weight Lifting: 10 Week, 4 Phase, Cycling Specific
  4. Sweet Spot Part 1, 2, and 3: building a "Hemi-Powered Aerobic Engine"
  5. Race Specific Intervals

1. Annual Training Program (ATP)

The Annual Training Plan in TrainingPeaks that we develop for our athletes is the 10,000-foot view that outlines goals and when the 4 training phases will occur. We use this overview to identify timeframes for performance testing, and to work backwards from "A" races. A common coach question is 'when do you want to be your fastest?" When is your "A race"? These answers help determine when to begin the on season training, when to build base, and when to switch from base to race. We call this a worksheet because it is a work in progress, its fluid and may be changed. Goal setting is a process, often times an athlete's race program is ironed out by late February here in Colorado. Earlier for warmer weather states such as California, Texas, & Arizona. We use the ATP to stay focused as the coach & athlete designing training programs in 4-week blocks.

2. Fall Foundation, Aerobic Endurance

The Fall time frame is an opportunity to work on one's weaknesses and carry a level of fitness into the winter months. It may be a time to start losing weight, ride a fixed gear or get in some big rides before the winter forces many of us indoors. For some athletes cyclocross racing may be used for training. We also use this time for muscle endurance work in the form of Muscle Tension Intervals aka MTi's. It is VERY IMPORTANT to note that this is a time where our coaches are creative with training and flexibility is key. Compared to the Spring, training is relaxed and low key. Our coaches tend to stay away from intervals and instead encourage fun group rides, riding from the bottom to top of various climbs, "Strava Hunting", and so forth. If the athlete is a 'roadie' he or she may be encouraged to mountain bike or to dabble in cyclocross racing. If an athlete's climate dictates short rides over the winter, we will use the Fall as a time to 'get fit' so as to carry a significant amount of adaptations into the winter months. We will raise the athlete's Chronic Training Load (CTL), prescribe a regeneration block and test at the end of the block to set an off season power at threshold (FTP) benchmark.

(Purchase the 3-week $29 Foundations Training Plan HERE)

For our athletes that are severely affected by daylight savings we will often schedule the Fall Foundation to end just prior to daylight savings so that the next block of training (weight lifting) occurs in the gym where daylight is not a factor.

3. Weight Lifting, 10 weeks & 4 Phases: Cycling Specific

Adaptation > Hypertrophy > Strength > Power with the last two phases coupled to on the bike neuromuscular work. Anyone can lift weights but remember that our 10-week cycling specific weight lifting program is speed specific and therefore effective for improving power output on the bike. We also use this time to work on muscle imbalances, core strength and flexibility.

(Buy our 10-week Weight Lifting Plan HERE)

We work with our athletes to time the weight lifting plan to overlap with the worst weather riding months. It's important to remember that weight lifting is not for everyone and we interview our athletes carefully before recommending the training.

If you want fight age related decline in performance (the O.L.D.s) lift weights. You'll also improve your sprint, climbing, ability to attack & counterattack - to be explosive, then our Weight Lifting Plan is the place to start.

4. Advanced Aerobic Endurance: "Base": building a "Hemi-Powered Aerobic Engine"

We take the traditional 'piles of miles' and use power based training & metrics to help you make the most out of your time to train. After all, who's got 12 hours or more a week to train like the pro's? Our training plan design follows a fatigue dependent model starting with Sweet Spot methodologies to raise CTL (Chronic Training Load). Ramp rates are specific to how much time the athletes has to dedicate to training each week. We spend a significant amount of time determining the athlete's work & family schedules to create a balanced and productive training plan.

(View our 6-week Sweet Spot Part 1 Training Plan HERE)

(After Sweet Spot Part 1, move on to Sweet Spot Part 2: Training Plan HERE)

(When you complete Sweet Spot Part 2, buy the Sweet Spot Part 3 Training Plan HERE)

During the work week, Monday through Fridays (for those of us with traditional 9 to 5 careers) we focus on shorter, highly focused advanced aerobic endurance workouts: sweet spot and tempo steady state and variable power all suitable to be completed outdoors or indoors or Zwift. On the weekends, athletes do their longer rides whether those are in small groups or solo by TSS or AmEX rides. During the "Base" Phase we use every creative trick in the book to plan out the best custom training program for each athlete we work with. We track the size of the athlete's base with the performance manager chart in TrainingPeaks - one's Chronic Training Load or CTL.

The bigger the base an athlete can build the faster and more powerful they will be. Building a big base takes time and that's why we are talking about it in August. How much time? Approximately 16 to 18 weeks or 4 to 4 1/2 months. Athlete's could build less base but they will be less fast. Those that carve out the time including the time to lift beforehand are the ones that reach their potential. The athletes that shortcut their 'base' are the ones that miss the opportunity to perform with a hemi-powered aerobic engine.

5. Pre-Season Interval Work to Increase Race Specific Power Output

This is the final phase of the off season where we dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s. By this time frame we have identified what kind of races and events the athlete will compete in and we prescribe intervals to increase their ability to make power for the durations specific to performing well in those events. Aka race winning power output. We employ a race specific interval training program to take athletes to their next level. For those with powermeters, these are the workouts we'll monitor closely to measure improvement and stay on top of fatigue.

(During the pre-season, you'll be ready to move on to our 6-week $49 Interval Plan HERE)

As an example, for athletes whose goals involve criteriums we'll work heavily on their anaerobic power outputs. For time trialists, we'll concentrate on threshold intervals down in the athlete's aerodynamic position on the time trial bike. Lastly, this is the phase where we'll prescribe a field test or have athletes come into the lab to determine their maximal lactate steady state (MLSS). In our experience we are used to seeing improvements in power at threshold anywhere between 3 and 20%.

When the off season is all said and done, athletes begin the cycling season with an increased FTP (Functional Threshold Power) and an increased ability to produce power specific to their goals. Additionally, athlete's are more confident and optimistic about the season and are likely to enjoy the sport more.

Join our *FREE* Athlete Forum to nerd out with FasCat coaches and athletes about your FTP, race data, power based training, or anything related to going fast on the bike!

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About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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