Beating the Plateau

In this issue Dr Mike Posthumus answers a reader’s question on how to improve without following a specific training programme.

Dear Dr Mike,

I seem to have hit a plateau with my riding. I’m riding as much as I realistically can, about 6 to 8 hours a week. I don’t really like to follow training plans, so I tend to just go out, ride and have fun on my bike – though I do try to vary the intensity of my rides. Though I’m not overly competitive I’d like to move up from C Batch seeding to B Batch so I can ride the singletracks with faster riders. Can you suggest any tips to help me improve without spending more time on the bike or getting bored doing a very structured training programme?



Dear François

It is extremely common for riders to get stuck in the rut of simply riding. Riding consistently will make significant strides towards making you fitter, healthier, and losing some excess weight. Once you have achieved the initial benefits of reaching a reasonable level of fitness, simply maintaining the same pattern of riding that got you to where you are, will not result in any further progress.

A training plan is designed to slowly increase the training load so that your body adjusts, adapts and thereby improves its performance. If the training load of a training plan is not continually increased and your body is not adequately stressed, your performance will stop improving. Training load is a product of both training volume and training intensity. Your training load can therefore be increased through increasing any of these two variables; i.e. riding either harder or for longer.

Why am I explaining this? Well simple, if you don’t like to follow a structured training plan, ensure that you are continually increasing your training load. In other words, ensure that every week you either ride for a little bit longer, or a little bit harder to ensure that you are making the gains you would like. If you are not improving you are more than likely not training enough.

That being said, recovery is also very important. You can’t simply ride hard each time you ride, you have to select certain days of the week in which you ride as hard as you can. Most riders respond best to two hard days a week. These hard rides should ideally not be hard start to finish, but should rather include bursts or intervals along the ride. The remaining rides should be really easy and allow you to recover from the hard days. The goal of these rides should be enjoyment and socialising.

The easiest way to ensure that your rides remain within this framework is to clearly indicate your intentions to your riding group before you start. So to avoid your friend attacking you on every climb while you are trying to recover, let him know that you are on a recovery ride. Conversely, instead of attacking your friend on every climb, let him know that your intention is to do each climb as hard as you can and make sure he is game for the competition. This competition is extremely useful and will help you push yourself.

Ideas to structure your unstructured training:

  • Choose 2 days a week to be your “Hard” ride days.
  • Announce your intention to do a hard ride to your riding buddies before the time so that they are prepared and well rested.
  • Choose to do either short effort or longer efforts, but don’t simply go hard for the whole ride. Going hard for the whole ride will just result in you riding a constant hard tempo and you will not get the full benefit of high intensity training.
  • For short efforts (less than 2 minutes) you may choose to sprint on a shorter hill or sprint from lamp post to lamp post. Or even better, back up to the start of the singletrack. Include anywhere from 8 to 20 shorter sprint efforts during the course of the ride.
  • For longer efforts you may race each other up a climb/hill or piece of uphill singletrack that will take approximately 10 minutes. Complete 3 of these longer efforts for a tough session.
  • Keep the warm-up, cool-down and between interval/effort rests fun by including as much singletrack or trail riding as possible.
  • Riding singletrack when fatigued from a hard effort is also a great way to improve your technical riding ability in a race.

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