A pre-season training camp is a spring staple among endurance athletes. Done correctly, a pre-season training camp can give you a great boost of fitness ahead of the spring races and can set you up for a successful season. But if you’re not careful, a training camp can actually hurt your fitness, or even lead to mid-season burn out or injury. Here are a few pointers to help you get the most out of your pre-season training camp.
Be Careful with Intensity
In order to complete a successful training camp, you want to make sure that each day has a specific objective. If you’re riding on great roads with friends and you’re motivated, it can be tempting to treat every day like a 5+ hour smash-fest, but there are a few problems with this training approach.
Firstly, if you’ve been riding the trainer a lot, you likely have had a reduced amount of training volume. Your body is not ready to complete this level of training intensity. Secondly, it’s important to target specific energy systems on your training camp that will help you improve your weaknesses or prepare you for the demands of a specific event. Simply “going hard” day after day is likely not the best way to prepare for the season and can lead to sickness or burn-out.
Think about the demands of your events and what could perhaps be limiting your performance. If you are training for longer events and have not been putting in a lot of volume, your limiter is most likely endurance. Your primary objective, therefore, should be to accumulate time in your lower zones (i.e. 1 and 2).
Riding in these lower zones will allow you to improve your aerobic capacity and endurance while allowing you to string together several days of long rides without accumulating too much fatigue.
High-intensity intervals should not be the primary focus of your training camp. If you ride yourself into the ground during the first few days of your training camp, your training will suffer for the rest of the week. There will be plenty of time for race-specific sharpening when you return from your training camp.
If you expect to get the most out of your body, you’ve got to put the right stuff in. A training camp often means a large increase in volume over your usual training regimen. Of course, this means that you will be expending far more energy than normal. Proper fueling is paramount to maximize your training quality.
Don’t just focus on fueling for one ride, but also for the whole week. It is important to maintain optimal levels of muscle glycogen to maintain training quality. If you become depleted early in your training camp, it may be hard to rebound.
The best way to make sure that you are getting in enough calories is by fueling on the bike. If you’re out all day, it can be hard to replace what you’ve expended in the short amount of time that you have in between riding and sleeping. Aim to consume between 50-80 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Consume plenty of easy to digest carbohydrates, like rice, within 45 minutes of finishing your ride as this is the optimal time to restock your body’s glycogen stores.
You only have a limited number of rides at your training camp, and it can be tempting to try and maximize each day. But if your camp is longer than 5 days, it’s a good idea to plan some recovery days as well. This will allow you to maintain training quality for the hard days. Most riders find that after about 2 or 3 days of hard training, that a recovery day is needed.
Also remember that your fitness isn’t what it might be mid-season, and listen to your body. If you have planned a training day but find early on in the ride that your legs feel blocked and that you are unable to hit the right numbers, it’s probably best to turn it into a recovery spin and head home.
Take advantage of the recovery day to do things that you may have not had time to do. Make sure your equipment is in good shape and go to the grocery store. Spend some time doing therapeutic recovery techniques. Make the day’s training objective to recover as well as possible so that you can hit it hard again the next day.
A training camp will cause a lot of damage to your body. It is by resting that your body will repair this damage and super-compensate—which will help you to reach a new level of fitness. Following a training camp, many riders make the mistake of not taking enough recovery. If you don’t recover after your training camp, you will continue to accumulate fatigue without fully adapting from your training camp overload. This can lead to you turning up on race-day feeling stale and can even cause burn-out later in the year.
The performance management chart in TrainingPeaks is a great tool to help you gauge your recovery. You should take enough recovery days to allow your TSB to reach between 0 and +15. Pay attention to how you feel. If you’re TSB has returned to above 0 but you still feel tired, a day or two more of active recovery may be required.
Once you feel like you’re ready to return, perform a “systems check.” This could be as simple as a short 5-second sprint. If you’re able to hit close to your peak power output for this effort, this indicates that you have achieved system readiness and that you are ready to return to training!