another rain filled day here in crankland has your friendly neighborhood crankpunk feeling a little stuck in a bubble, for it’s been four days straight now with this moiny little drizzle dampening the streets. it has though provided the inspiration for today’s training article, which is about being stuck on a plateau – not literally of course, cos that might actually be quite pleasant, hunkered down on flat, elevated land with vistas of wooded lower valleys and glistening, snow-capped peaks with a good cup o’ joe and a can-can girl you’ve rescued from the infidels.
no, i’m talking about ‘form plateaus.’ these nasty little slabs of stagnation are particularly common in bodybuilding, whereby, despite continued devotion to the task, the bulging hulk sees little or no improvement in muscularity nor in the weights he can lift. in cycling it’s much more difficult to recognize (unless you are a committed user of power meters), as, unlike in weightlifting, we don’t do exactly the same routine each week and we cannot really ‘see’ our improvements as easily.
having said that however, there is little doubt that the vast majority of cyclists who train to compete will hit plateaus in their time. you know the feeling. despite eating, sleeping and training as you usually do, you feel like you’ve hit a wall in terms of performance. the hills still hurt like a soft knee to the testes and your speed on the flats just refuses to increase. body fat clings on for dear life like snot on a 3 year old’s upper lip, and ‘the flow’ – that magical feeling of Herculean-like strength and Coppi-like ease – just refuses to envelop your wannabe-a-Belgian butt.
why does this happen? there are several reasons. the first and most common is overtraining. as mentioned in a previous training post, as cyclists we have been programmed to believe that training more will bring benefits to our form, but there is, as with everything in life, a tipping point. once you reach this point – or, ideally, just before – it is best to take a break.
how to recognise overtraining? one is a sore throat. when i get a sore throat i immediately take 2 to 3 days off the bike, load up on vitamin C and get high on opium. ok, maybe not the opium, but definitely on the C. bright shiny citrus fruits are your friend – eat the sh*t out of the defenseless things – they can’t fight back. another is an enduring ache in the muscles from regular training. lack of motivation is another as is a drop or stagnation in times on climbs you do often.
another reason for plateaus is monotony in your training schedule. bodybuilders well know that a slavish devotion to the same routine breeds complacency not only in the lifter but also in the muscles. they talk of ‘shocking’ the muscles into growth by changing their exercises, and cyclists should do the same. switch up your routes regularly, and always be open to new training methods.
the final two factors that cause a cyclist to get stuck on a plateau are rest and nutrition, or lack thereof. you may feel you’re getting enough sleep and recuperation but you’re probably not. it’s interesting to see novice stage racers when we go to do a tour. after the stage the older hands get straight to their room and hit the bed, but you’ll often see the new guys taking a stroll around town, eager to see the sights and drink in the local culture. there’s nothing wrong with that but there’s a time and a place, and it isn’t after a tough stage.
protein after a hard day’s training is highly recommended, as is a good massage. as far as food goes, the hamburger probably looks great after 150km (trust me, i know, i love those colon busters) but a chicken salad with some good carbs is probably the better option. veg and fruit high in anti-oxidants and foods that will help relax your muscles are a good idea, such as almonds, berries, seaweed, oatmeal and quinoa.
and, as i always encourage, never get too serious about things. it is, after all, just a bike.
train smarter, train less but in greater intensity, and take care of yourself and you’ll get faster. plateaus needn’t be too depressing – they function as your body’s way of letting you know that it’s a little tired and kinda bored. switch things up, get a little jiggy with it, and plateaus can become a thing of the past.