A cruel truth of fitness is that if you don’t continue to progress your training, you will ultimately reach a plateau. Most cyclists are simply not prepared for when their performance stops improving. The point of training is to adapt — that one-hour ride that made us noticeably faster as beginners is only the first half of a recovery spin for an elite rider.
While some things (like race weight) might reach a level and then be maintained, there are many elements of fitness that we want to keep improving, and that become harder to improve as you become more fit.
CAUSES OF THE PLATEAU
There are two basic reasons cyclists will plateau: 1. not sticking to a plan, and 2. not adapting to a new level of fitness.
If you are having trouble following a plan or you are not planning your training in advance, then you are likely reaching the limits of what you can achieve without more focus and consistent training. If you only train when it is convenient, when you feel good or when a local group ride happens, your training is not providing consistent stimulus for your body to adapt.
If, on the other hand, you’ve been following a plan that was working but you haven’t adapted it to your new level of fitness, it is time to change up your training. Often, riders will improve their threshold but not update their power zones, or they will ride the same group ride on the same route each week and adapt only as far as that routine demands.
FIXES FOR THE PLATEAU
How to boost your training consistency:
- Pick a goal. This can simply be to ride a 20-minute test faster or complete a big ride.
- Plan your month of training. Use a calendar or app to lay out a month’s plan. Put a short note and checkmark if you do the training. Put an X if not completed. This planning and review process helps you isolate where you can keep tweaking your training to get the most out of your limited training time.
- Mix it up. Ensure your plan has solo rides and rides with other people. This ensures you are able to control your training on solo days and also be pushed out of your comfort zone on group rides.
How to adapt your plan to higher fitness:
- Assess your limiter(s). Where are you getting dropped? What types of rides/efforts are you avoiding? What types of races/events do you excel in? Which types cause you to struggle? Spend two days a week on these areas specifically. Climbing and log-hopping are common limiters for road riders and mountain bikers, respectively.
- Practice climbing. Add a day focused on climbing to your week. Ensure you are well-rested by taking at least one complete off day each week, and give yourself a very light week each month.
- Fit in a long ride. The pace should be easy enough to talk to a friend (even if you’re riding solo). If possible, push toward three hours or longer a couple of times a month.
It’s normal to have results slow down as you gain fitness and your body adapts to your training. Embrace this as a good thing: You have adapted to the training you were doing. To move to the next level, plan training ahead of time, and plan to work on your limitations. Follow your plan consistently and make sure you are pushing your limits a couple of times each week, with appropriate rest.