John Marsh fractured his left collarbone on April 16, had surgery on April 27 and was back on the trainer May 6. He’ll be stuck on the trainer until June 4 when he leaves on his family’s vacation – family always comes first! When he gets home on June 18 he’ll have just four weeks to finish training for the Tour of Wyoming July 17 – 22, 355 miles with 32,620 feet of climbing.
John had very little exercise for 18 days between the crash and surgery, except for walking. Further, his body had the trauma of an accident and surgery with general anesthesia. With the big event just 11-1/2 weeks away, what should he do? What should you do if you’re ever off the bike for an extended period?
After any significant amount of time off the bike due to an injury or anything else, a comeback should be step by step.
One December day finishing a personal century ride, I crashed on icy railroad tracks and broke my pelvis. My recovery was literally step-by-step. I was hospitalized until I could get out of bed and using a walker get to the bathroom and back on my own. Once home, my next goal was to use the walker to get to the front door and back. And then to the front sidewalk and back. And then the mailbox at the corner, and so on, incrementally.
John trained well the first half of March: 15 hours and 257 miles of riding. Then he was off the bike for 17 days owing to travel and a nasty bout with bronchitis. The first half of April he bounced back well from his illness, with 122 miles, 7:11 hours, the week of the crash, and 134 miles, 8:08 hours, the week before that.
If I’d started his comeback at 7 – 8 hours a week on the trainer, he probably would have either gotten injured or sick again (or both!) Instead, we have proceeded step by step.
When training, we all can manipulate five variables:
- Kind of workout (riding, walking, strength training, etc.)
- Duration of a workout by time
- Frequency of workouts
- Intensity of workouts
- Amount ofrecovery
The key to effective training is balancing the training of #1 – 4 with #5 (recovery) to achieve the optimal training stimulus that produces progress rather than another setback.
See John Marsh’s additional comments in his accompanying piece, Personal Comeback Reflections, Trainer Tips
The first step for John in his recovery program on the trainer was to do a 20-minute time trial estimate of his Functional Threshold Power (FTP). I then based his training zones on his FTP. For most riders, perceived exertion is a fine way to gauge intensity. For riders with big goals, such as racing, I recommend power as the most effective way to train. Although John doesn’t race, his training must be as effective as possible over the next two months.
For more on how to gauge and train by intensity, see my new eArticle Intensity 2016.
Last week was John’s first week back training. I programmed 5:00 – 6:15 of workouts. I gave him a range of times for different workouts so that he could decide how long to do a workout depending on how was feeling as well as his schedule that day.
This week I programmed 14 different workouts to be spread over morning, noon and evening times. Here’s how I balanced the 5 training variables above:
- Endurance: 2 workouts totaling 2:45 – 3:00 in Training Zone 2 and Zone 3
For his endurance workout of at least 2:00 on Saturday he’ll:
- Ride 0:45 – 0:60
- Take a 5 minute break
- Walk 0:15 – 0:45
- Take a 5 minute break
- Ride 0:30 – 0:45
Riding that long on the trainer is tough mentally. For variety each ride includes a warm-up, main set and cool-down.
- Intensity: 2 rides totaling 1:30 – 2:05 including warm-ups, main sets of mixed intensity and cool-downs:
- One set of Sweet Spot intervals: 3 to 6 reps [4 min SS / 2 min EZ].
- One set of 2 – 3 30-second sprints.
- Active Recovery: 3 walks total of 1:20 – 2:30
- Training Zones 1 and 2
- Leg Strength: 3 sessions of one-leg pedaling totaling 0:20 – 0:40
- Core Strength: 3 sessions totaling 0:30
- Because John can only rest one hand on the handlebar this is a great opportunity to build core strength so that his upper body is supported primarily by his core. The basic core exercises are illustrated on my website.
- Total: 5:45– 9:15
The workouts are scheduled so that John has:
- 2 days of endurance workouts mixing riding and walking
- 2 days with intensity rides
- 2 days with active recovery walks, leg and strength workouts
- 1 day off
Principles for Safe and Effective Recovery
Any time that you are coming back from two or more weeks off the bike due to other obligations or an injury, or after just one week of illness, follow these principles for a safe and effective recovery — you don’t want a relapse!
- Start slow – don’t jump right back in to your level of activity preceding the downtime. John rode 7:11 the week before the accident, and 8 hours the week before that. He’s starting back up at 4:40 – 6:40.
- Mix types of workouts – like John, you can exercise for more hours if you do different types of activities.
- Vary the intensity – for optimum improvement, carefully vary the intensity from very easy to moderately challenging.
- Adequate recovery – consider splitting the workouts into several sessions a day with no more than two hard days.
- Pay attention to fatigue and pain – training through either significant fatigue or pain won’t get you fitter faster, it will just delay your recovery and risk a setback.
When in doubt, do less!
For more information on recovery, see my eArticle Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance.
My latest Over the Top podcast recorded with George Thomas is now posted for listening. Just click Endurance Training Podcast.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.