The Importance of Having a Training Plan—Even If You’re Not Racing
I know the idea of having a training plan when you don’t have a race on the calendar might seem a little weird—but as a cyclist (or any endurance athlete!) there are so many benefits to having structured training, and a specific-to-cycling training plan. Trust me, as someone who has been known to completely ignore training advice and do dumb $hit like sign up for a trail marathon day-of, having a training plan and a bit of structure makes you a whole lot less likely to hurt yourself or get overtraining (or be undertrained, for that matter). I wanted to put together a couple of key reasons having a plan just makes a ton of sense, even if you don’t follow it 100 percent.
A Training Plan Points You in the Right Direction
We operate under the general training principle of high-low-off these days: go hard one day, long the next, recover after that. Having some structure in the form of a training plan helps me to keep progressing in all three of those (yep, including recovery—weirdly, that’s where I really needed to improve!). I love having a general blueprint of where I’m heading, even if I don’t have a specific race on the horizon. It’s nice to be working towards just being the fittest version of myself as an endurance athlete, and I like knowing that if I do pick up a specific race goal, I’ll just need to tweak my training to adjust for it, rather than starting from scratch.
It Keeps You Honest
It is WAAAAAY easier to not skip a workout when it’s actually already in your calendar. I know when I don’t have a training plan in place, I will generally sneak in some type of workout or movement in the day, but it’s not a guarantee, and if other work comes up, I will rarely prioritize the workout unless it’s been noted in the schedule. So having a daily schedule makes me feel more ‘pro’ about being an athlete, and make the time for it. Those empty (or red, in Training Peaks case!) slots that show where I skipped a workout keep me highly motivated to actually get mine done.
You Don’t Need to Be Perfect
What I love about my husband/podcast co-host/amazing coach Peter is that he is constantly reminding me that 80 percent is a passing grade. You don’t need to freak out if your workout didn’t happen one day, or try to cram 7 days of scheduling into one day. You just need to aim for doing what you can, when you can. That might mean cutting a ride short, it may mean not nailing that last interval. But as long as you’re trying to stay consistent, you’ll see progress.
A Training Plan Holds You Back
Huh? I know, it’s a weird one. But seriously—having a training plan is great because it will almost always help keep you out of overtraining territory—and often, it helps avoid burnout. I know for me, I used to train in waves: hardcore for a few weeks, totally crushed and burned out for a month. Lather, rinse, repeat. Having a plan I actually can follow let me feel OK about lower hours, periodization and the importance of rest weeks.
OK, so you want a training plan. There are a ton of great ones out there, and you can find simple ones in pretty much any issue of Triathlete, Runner’s World or Bicycling. But I’m personally a big fan of using Training Peaks-based plans because then, I get daily emails about my workout for that day/the next day, and I have a place to upload the actual files, versus just checking days off a ripped out page from a magazine. (I also love Training Peaks because it syncs with most of the apps that I rely on for recording HRV, workouts and food—that’s HRV4Training, MapMyRun, Wahoo, Strava, and MyFitnessPal.)
With all of that said, if you’re looking for something really simple that will get you into training in a gentle, no-BS way—and not take up a ton of your time—SmartAthlete and I developed a 12-week cycling training plan for any level of rider. (The nice part about this plan is that workouts are as hard as you make them, rather than giving you crazy distances and times and numbers to hit.) It’s also only $30, so what do you have to lose by trying it?
If you already have a training plan, or want to start this one but still have some questions about endurance training, cross-training, nutrition or some lingering saddle sore issues, I’m also doing consults where we can chat about all of your questions, and I’ll follow up with a targeted plan of attack!