Any racer or rider training for a big event can tell you the sad truth of hard training: Sometimes it makes you faster, but sometimes it merely makes you tired. The more you want to do well in your race or event, the more you train. That’s fine if your body is adapting, and your performance is improving.
But many hard-charging competitors train hard right up to the event that they’ve pointed to all season. Then they’re shocked and depressed when they find themselves with legs so tired they can barely ride at training speeds. It’s not unusual to have dead legs and declining performances after a period of hard training. Racing or a packed schedule of organized rides can add to the fatigue if you’ve continued to train hard between events.
But there’s good news: If you plan ahead, you can reverse the fatigue from too much training and convert it to superior performance on any given day. It takes time and self-control. Here’s a 3-week tapering protocol that will have you surprising yourself with your big-event strength.
Do a week of extremely light workouts. Ride 3 or 4 times but limit each outing to an hour and go very slowly — no pressure on the pedals. If you don’t feel like riding, don’t. This easy week will help you recover from the hard training (or overtraining!) you’ve been doing. It’s a necessary foundation for increased fitness.
Increase the tempo on 2 training days but don’t do hard intervals or get into fast group rides that put you into race mode and intensity. You want to keep your fitness but not try to develop it further. It won’t happen at this point. If you overdo it, you’ll only dig yourself into a deeper hole.
I recommend the tapering procedure found in my RBR eBook Basic Training for Roadies. The idea is to ride about an hour each day at an easy pace but include a series of short intervals to sharpen your fitness. As you get closer to the event, reduce the number of intervals by 1 each day. A typical third week would look like this:
6 days before the event: 5×2 minutes at a “hard” pace
5 days before: 4×2 minutes
4 days before: 3×2 minutes
3 days before: 2×2 minutes
2 days before: rest day
1 day before: easy spin with 2 short sprints
Try this protocol. For most riders, it leads to much improved performance because it’s a combination of rest and race-like intensity.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.