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Performance plateau?

Hi,
I took cycling as a commute + exercise way about 4 years ago, and then got somewhat serious: I rarely take the short distance, I've joined a club, and try to do 50-milers family/work abiding. I nowadays do about 5500 km/year. Sadly, it seems I've hit some sort of performance plateau and, for the last two years, I really don't think I'm cycling any faster (I'm in my late 30's, so age isn't that big of a concern just yet). Even more annoyingly, that performance plateau seems to be at a truly mediocre ~3 W/kg. I'm 71 kg, and given my fat %, going below 68 isn't realistic.

As an asthmatic, and as ex-obese, and knowing what I did in school in PE, I've always accepted my physique isn't exceptional. However, I'd truly love to get faster, at least at 3.5 W/kg (4 would make me proud), as I feel that at my current level I can't truly enjoy the pyrenees (I often visit the basque country, so these are close). At 3 W/kg, trust me, anything over 6% sustained turns my bike into a 36x28 fixie. At 8, 9% cadence is slow enough that muscle fatigue buildup is significant for me, and requires very serious pacing in 100km solo rides.

I assume that proper, focused training, which I have never done, would help me improve. But what sort of improvement would be realistic? I rode very differently during lockdown, expecting some gains in the summer, but these are nowhere to be seen. How hard would I really have to train for meainingful gains? I really can't afford to put 10-12h a week, or 5h on top of commuting. Should I just resign myself to the fact I suck badly? Or are £100 invested into a 50/34 chainset and an 11-32 cassette a faster way to enjoyment?
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Posts

  • pblakeneypblakeney Posts: 16,394
    In my experience admit to sucking, get the gears, and enjoy.
    When I did the Pyrenees I was on a 50/34 & 12/29 and weighed in at 80kgs.
    According to Strava I did the final day over the Tourmalet, Luz Ardiden and Hautacam at an average of 156W (1.95w/kg), an average heart rate of 126, and an average speed of 11.5mph. Brilliant day! Enjoy, it is not a race.
    The above may be fact, or fiction, I may be serious, I may be jesting.
    I am not sure. You have no chance.
    Veronese68 wrote:
    PB is the most sensible person on here.
  • First.AspectFirst.Aspect Posts: 7,214
    How long would you expect to be able to hold 3.5 w/kg? Are you talking abotu what you can just about manage going for a Strava segment, or what is a comfortable average over a whole ride?

    PB's 2ish over a huge day is pretty strong, I'd say. If that were me I'd have need a lot of jelly babies.
  • pblakeneypblakeney Posts: 16,394
    edited July 2020


    PB's 2ish over a huge day is pretty strong, I'd say. If that were me I'd have need a lot of jelly babies.

    3 "pitstops". 😉
    And I really pushed it up the Hautacam as it was the last climb of the trip.
    The above may be fact, or fiction, I may be serious, I may be jesting.
    I am not sure. You have no chance.
    Veronese68 wrote:
    PB is the most sensible person on here.
  • N0bodyOfTheGoatN0bodyOfTheGoat Posts: 4,643
    edited July 2020
    Not enough detail regarding W/Kg efforts, over what duration etc.?

    I've done just under 3.9W/Kg for 20mins in recent weeks, which given I'm carrying ~4Kg+ of excess spare tyre since pre-Covid in Feb, I can't complain at all... I was quite chuffed to climb https://www.strava.com/segments/24974938 a few days ago without putting a foot down while borrowing my sister's ~16Kg hybrid, after my road bike's freeehub failed on Saturday morning while heading to Denbigh to climb the cat2 Road To Hell.
    But my big weakness this year is longer rides, I've only done something like three 50+ milers all year so far. My 60mins W/Kg in recent weeks is just under 2.9, but then normally I try to go z4+ up sub-15min hills and then recover after the summit.

    And then it gets very confusing/illogical for me, because you seem miffed at your power stats, but have a 36/52 chainset and 11-28 cassette for climbing hills! Are you an honary Catholic or something? ;)

    Get yourself a proper compact 34/50 chainset and if you have 11-speed Shimano on the bike, an 11-34 cassette and possibly a R7000+ GS rear mech.

    For a quick FTP boost, start doing 3/4 sub 60min sessions (including a warmup), mixing up 30sec to 5min intervals at z5+ with recovery periods between each effort.
    ================
    2020 Voodoo Marasa
    2017 Cube Attain GTC Pro Disc 2016
    2016 Voodoo Wazoo
  • singletonsingleton Posts: 2,011
    edited July 2020
    The following is based on my experience, trying to learn, reading some books etc. but I'm not an expert. I did a half ironman a few years ago and needed to get some structure into my training to prepare for that.

    I think your experience will be like most people - you ride your bike and you get fitter, but then your fitness plateaus. The level at which you plateau depends on stuff like your age, your physiology etc which you can't do much about - but it is also dependant on your current training load.

    Your body has adapted to the training load that you are subjecting it to. In order for your body to get fitter you need to subject it to a higher training load so it can adapt. Be clear in your goals - do you really want to increase you w/kg by 15-30% or do you want to ride up hills faster or do you want to increase your average speed on a particular loop by 1mph?

    Your training should include some easier, longer rides to keep endurance but also some shorter, higher intensity elements to stress your bodies systems and then you need to plan sufficient rest to allow your body to adapt - remember that training doesn't make you fitter, recovering and letting your body adapt to the training load is what makes you fitter.

    Big generalisation - but for many (most) of us, our easy rides are too hard and our hard rides are too easy. You will likely need some more structured training to improve further,

    Or just enjoy riding your bike.

    Either way, a 36/28 isn't a particularly low gear for big climbs.
  • ugo.santaluciaugo.santalucia Posts: 26,427
    Start with short training sessions, like 20 miles or even just 10 and try to hit the highest numbers you can. You talk about power, so you might have a meter to measure it? Failing that, use average speed as an indicator of progress.
    A couple a week are plenty, if it's quality work. Don't overdo it, trying to fit a hard ride every day, recovering is actually more important than training. Don't kill yourself with impossible interval sessions or pyramids that leave you dizzy for hours.
    Use your commutes as recovery rides, slow, steady, easy spinning.
    Eat well and give up alcohol
  • joe2019joe2019 Posts: 1,199

    Start with short training sessions, like 20 miles or even just 10 and try to hit the highest numbers you can. You talk about power, so you might have a meter to measure it? Failing that, use average speed as an indicator of progress.

    Nonsense from a newbie with a power meter.
  • drhaggisdrhaggis Posts: 804
    edited July 2020
    Thanks for the answers!

    I don't have access to a power meter, so all my numbers are all estimates, based on somewhat inaccurate weights on Strava climb segments (reasonably constant, 10 to 35 minutes). The times in these haven't really changed appreciably, and are roughly twice as much as pros on race day. See e.g. Arano. This takes me 26 minutes at a hard, but not single effort, pace. My solo ride today had with three sustained efforts (other than the last 50m at 15% in the last climb). I believe those power estimates don't have the weight of kit + bottles + pedals into account, but that'd change at most 4% on climbs.

    My goal would be to be able to link more/longer climbs in up to 150 km rides, and with the ability to modulate the speed. I've done 2 cat 2's in succession, and it is quite a tiring experience. Again, I don't feel I could do what PB said, linking Tourmalet & Hautacam. And definitely not at 11 mph! I would expect that a 3.5 W/kg FTP would allow me to climb at my current limit for much longer. I wouldn't aim to race.

    BTW, how easy is an easy ride? If my max HR is 183, would it be in the 130's? 120's? Are tempo rides at around 150 sustained entirely useless?

    EDIT: My basque bike's got 52-36 and 11-28 105 as that's what Decathlon built by default. I don't think it makes a lot of sense for the area, but hey.
  • pblakeneypblakeney Posts: 16,394
    drhaggis said:


    BTW, how easy is an easy ride? If my max HR is 183, would it be in the 130's? 120's? Are tempo rides at around 150 sustained entirely useless?

    EDIT: My basque bike's got 52-36 and 11-28 105 as that's what Decathlon built by default. I don't think it makes a lot of sense for the area, but hey.

    Glad to be of assistance.
    My strategy for the Pyrenees was quite simple, if it helps.
    My max. HR is 185 so comparable. I aimed to keep my HR below 130 during transitions and below 140 on the climbs. Until I hit bottom gear that is. 😉
    I was riding to feel after that.
    My training prior would be 20-100 mile rides depending on available time at roughly the 150bpm you say. My average would be 100 miles /week prior to commuting. This was supplemented by using Sufferfest on the turbo when the weather was bad.
    Strangely enough, the one thing I think that helped the most was changing jobs to one where I commuted 14 hilly miles each way. Easy in (no showers), hard home.

    I'd prefer not to be limited to a 36/28 bottom gear as my 34/29 got quite a lot of use. 😉
    The above may be fact, or fiction, I may be serious, I may be jesting.
    I am not sure. You have no chance.
    Veronese68 wrote:
    PB is the most sensible person on here.
  • ugo.santaluciaugo.santalucia Posts: 26,427
    drhaggis said:



    I don't have access to a power meter, so all my numbers are all estimates, based on somewhat inaccurate weights on Strava climb segments (reasonably constant, 10 to 35 minutes). The times in these haven't really changed appreciably, and are roughly twice as much as pros on race day. See e.g. Arano. This takes me 26 minutes at a hard, but not single effort, pace. My solo ride today had with three sustained efforts (other than the last 50m at 15% in the last climb). I believe those power estimates don't have the weight of kit + bottles + pedals into account, but that'd change at most 4% on climbs.

    My goal would be to be able to link more/longer climbs in up to 150 km rides, and with the ability to modulate the speed. I've done 2 cat 2's in succession, and it is quite a tiring experience. Again, I don't feel I could do what PB said, linking Tourmalet & Hautacam. And definitely not at 11 mph! I would expect that a 3.5 W/kg FTP would allow me to climb at my current limit for much longer. I wouldn't aim to race.

    OK, then best not to quote power/weight figures... estimates are meaningless.

    If you want to improve your climbing speed, then you need to do some sort of structured training. There is a tendency to over complicate it with magic intervals that are supposed to do miracles, but the essence of training is fairly simple:

    1) Ride hard, so that your body needs to adapt to the "new hard"
    2) rest a lot
    3) repeat.

    So, initially short sessions are best, there is no point in trying to go fast AND far at the same time, it just won't work. Improvements should come fairly quickly if you allow your body time to rest between sessions. If you need extra motivation, then join a club and maybe enter some short time trials, always a good way to put a real number to your progress



  • pblakeneypblakeney Posts: 16,394
    I agree that structured training is more beneficial.
    I just don't enjoy it. 🥴
    The above may be fact, or fiction, I may be serious, I may be jesting.
    I am not sure. You have no chance.
    Veronese68 wrote:
    PB is the most sensible person on here.
  • singletonsingleton Posts: 2,011
    drhaggis said:


    BTW, how easy is an easy ride? If my max HR is 183, would it be in the 130's? 120's? Are tempo rides at around 150 sustained entirely useless?

    Personally, I don't really believe there are such a thing as "junk miles".
    As PB said above, structured training works, but isn't the most fun.

    Easy rides - aerobic, zone 2
    Hard rides - hard
    If you want to do tempo rides then do them, but do other things as well.
  • ugo.santaluciaugo.santalucia Posts: 26,427
    Structured training doesn't have to be boring mashing pedals in front of a screen obsessing about the numbers or going up and down the same bump 10 times... you can do a very nice ride, targeting some sections to hit hard and other sections to rest in between...

    This is one of my "less hard training rides" for the hill climb season... beautiful countryside, have targeted 3 bumps to ride at 80-85% and tried to ride at a reasonable pace the rest of the time, without looking too much at the numbers.
    As a matter of fact, it should have been a "recovery ride" after yesterday's longer ride, but I felt surprisingly good, so it did seem a waste to just potter around looking st flowers

    https://www.strava.com/activities/3807234683
  • drhaggisdrhaggis Posts: 804
    Thanks Ugo! I'm actually member of a club, but circumstances mean I can't ride with them as much as I'd like...

    Anyway, what does "ride hard" mean? Is this 2 hours at 80% of max HR? 1 hour at 90%/lactate? Harder than that, but in 5 minute intervals? Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh is really well suited to that.
  • ugo.santaluciaugo.santalucia Posts: 26,427
    drhaggis said:

    Thanks Ugo! I'm actually member of a club, but circumstances mean I can't ride with them as much as I'd like...

    Anyway, what does "ride hard" mean? Is this 2 hours at 80% of max HR? 1 hour at 90%/lactate? Harder than that, but in 5 minute intervals? Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh is really well suited to that.

    The problem is that none of that means much if you can't measure it. You can train by heart rate, but it's just as reliable as training by feel, in fact the latter is probably better if you are good at assessing how you feel. Heart rate is not a very reliable number and the devices that measure it are not very reliable either.

    How and what depends what you want to achieve, I do very short intense bursts, because that's what I want to improve, you might be more interested in what is commonly referred to as FTP, so roughly the "one hour effort", which is a good indicator of how well you will do on a "proper" climb.

    Ride hard as in hard enough to feel it has been a hard 30 minutes, or hour or whatever. Your legs should feel it, you should be looking forward to seeing your front door. I wouldn't fall into the trap of going too technical at this stage, without having the tools to properly assess where you are and what you are doing.
    Don't ride TOO hard, as in trying to fit another hard hour on top of the first hard hour, because that's likely to result in fatigue and inability to recover... more damage than good.
    During lockdown I did lot 60-90 minute hard rides, roughly one every other day... I was starting from a stronger base than yours, but I improved roughly 20% on most power indicators (1 minute, 3 minute, 5 minute, 8 minute), not so much on the FTP (maybe 10%), as I never really tried to improve on that. It wasn't very scientific training, as that tends to be very boring stuff, but it proved incredibly effective.
  • N0bodyOfTheGoatN0bodyOfTheGoat Posts: 4,643
    edited July 2020
    drhaggis said:


    Anyway, what does "ride hard" mean? Is this 2 hours at 80% of max HR? 1 hour at 90%/lactate? Harder than that, but in 5 minute intervals? Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh is really well suited to that.

    "Training" by hrm means you could do with having a reasonable idea of what your Lactate Threshold Heart Rate is, which can be crudely estimated by seeing what average heart rate you can maintain for 20mins+.

    https://cricklesorg.wordpress.com/ (a free Strava data using site) gives an LTHR estimate as part of the analysis it offers.

    Using your max heart rate to give zones, which Strava does by default, can easily place your zones one zone too high compared to using LTHR.

    As an example, https://www.strava.com/activities/3753397977/analysis was the best ~30mins sustained effort I've done since a prolonged mild Covid-19 back in late March, including a basic warmup and cool down either side, plus one or two less than ideal brief stops due to red traffic lights.
    Before the ride, my estimated LTHR from the previous six weeks was 167bpm, but I know from my data that on a good day (albeit some months ago), I can sustain up to ~175bpm.
    This ride gave me LTHR and FTP (based on 95% of best 20mins) improvements to work with until late August, of 170bpm and 291W respectively.

    I didn't have power data after my road bike freehub tempremental failure last Saturday, but https://www.strava.com/activities/3792520983/analysis/1583/5402 on my sister's ~16Kg hybrid on Monday evening rates up there with probably the most brutal ~60mins I've done on a bike, with two cat3s and a cat4.
    I rarely went above my LTHR, but even with a triple crankset and 11-34 cassette, my legs' eforts over an hour were tested to the max... But if you look at the ride's overview data, the heart rate average and max suggest it wasn't that hard a ride.

    ================
    2020 Voodoo Marasa
    2017 Cube Attain GTC Pro Disc 2016
    2016 Voodoo Wazoo
  • ugo.santaluciaugo.santalucia Posts: 26,427


    "Training" by hrm means you could do with having a reasonable idea of what your Lactate Threshold Heart Rate is, which can be crudely estimated by seeing what average heart rate you can maintain for 20mins+.

    https://cricklesorg.wordpress.com/ (a free Strava data using site) gives an LTHR estimate as part of the analysis it offers.

    Using your max heart rate to give zones, which Strava does by default, can easily place your zones one zone too high compared to using LTHR.



    Training by HR or training by power is all well and good, but when you are out on the road, you are probably better off trying to watch out for potential danger rather than keeping your eyes nailed on the Garmin to see if the HR is the right one for the supposed effort.
    That's why "feel" is a handy skill... I normally can tell how much power I am putting out without the need to look on the screen... it's only when it's too easy (< 100 Watt) or too hard (> 500 Watt) which is a bit harder to tell, but both are efforts of not much use.
    I think numbers are good to analyse afterwards, but not very good as a guideline once you are training outdoors... best to aim at a given level of effort by developing a sense of how it feels like to ride at 4 W/Kg or 140 bpm or whatever

  • bobmcstuffbobmcstuff Posts: 10,176
    Regards structured training: as Ugo says it doesn't have to be that obsessive.

    What a lot of people get wrong is they don't take the easy stuff easy enough and then can't make the hard stuff hard enough. You end up spending a lot of time in Zone 3 (tempo) and once you have absorbed that stress and your body has adapted to it, you reach this plateau.

    So if you pick a route where you can do a few really hard efforts and then take it really easy in between, and do this at reasonably frequent intervals, and see how you get on. In this case, average HR is not all that important, you're looking for time in target zones. Below is an example of a workout like this I did recently (its more distinctive in power zones but since you don't have power, I thought HR would be more useful).




    You can see I am generally either recovering or working hard throughout. This was indoors - below is a similar one which I did outdoors, but with much longer intervals:



    The workout basically had 4x 15 minutes at around threshold, I made a nice route with some long flat roads (with only left hand turns on it so less waiting at junctions) and rode it like that.

    A typical/normal outdoor unstructured ride would have a more normal HR distribution graph, obviously centered around the average HR.

    The effect of this is to try and get more time in at or above threshold with the intention of ultimately raising your threshold. It's much easier to do this in a structured way. In terms of what zones to target, 3-5 minutes intervals will be more like VO2 max and then longer intervals would be more like FTP (10 or 15 minutes for example). All time at or above FTP will help improve your FTP but it sounds like you may be thinking about longer climbs so the longer intervals might be a better place to start.

    I personally prefer the longer/steadier intervals to do outside compared to doing ones with lots of 3-5 minute shorter intervals or trying to do over/unders on the road, can be a bit fiddly, as Ugo says you don't want to be staring at your Garmin so I prefer to set something I can easily do by feel. Also, bashing around for 15 minutes at 30-40km/h is kind of fun!

    The other really important thing is consistency. If you just do this type of thing once a month you probably won't see much gain, you need to have consistency. If you're just dipping your toe into it, you could try replacing one of your rides with a more structured ride each week and see how you get on (obviously, 2 or 3 a week will be better but you need to think about what you will actually be able to stick to). If you move to any sort of (sensible) regular structured training you will normally see some kind of benefits if you are coming from a position of no structure at all.

    Also re: the gearing - get the smaller gears as well :wink:
  • drhaggisdrhaggis Posts: 804
    Oh, wow, I only just saw Bobmcstuff's post, and it was super-detailed and helpful, thank you!

    I'll try to put 2 interval sessions a week after August, until about Xmas, and see how it goes! 4-5 laps around Arthur's seat might work (1.5 km @ 6%, taking me 5m, ~1.2 km flat, ~150m @ 5% and back downhill to the beginning).
  • ugo.santaluciaugo.santalucia Posts: 26,427
    drhaggis said:

    Oh, wow, I only just saw Bobmcstuff's post, and it was super-detailed and helpful, thank you!

    I'll try to put 2 interval sessions a week after August, until about Xmas, and see how it goes! 4-5 laps around Arthur's seat might work (1.5 km @ 6%, taking me 5m, ~1.2 km flat, ~150m @ 5% and back downhill to the beginning).

    Part of the problem might be that you have already decided that climb is going to be 5 minutes, which means you are comfortable doing it in 5 minutes. You should aim for better, even if that means you can't do 4-5 laps. Aim for 4:30 and then do as many reps as you can do... if it's only 1 rep then so be it... no point in pacing it, so that you can do many reps... that is probably why you have reached a plateau. Once you can do 4:30, then aim for 4:15 and so on. The route to improvement is not by doing what you are comfortable with, your body needs to discover " a new hard" it didn't know existed
  • If you find yourself plateauing, spend more time in the pain cave. No pain no gain.
  • webboowebboo Posts: 3,767
    How would you know.
  • N0bodyOfTheGoatN0bodyOfTheGoat Posts: 4,643
    edited August 2020
    One of my local short but steep cat4 climbs, which I've somehow yet to do this year (there seems to a running theme on this discovery for many of my local categorized hills this year, my outdoor season has been descemated by a prolonged Covid recovery and in the last two weeks by a back abscess that needed urgent draining), is quite similar in stats to that steeper climb at Arthur's Seat.

    https://www.strava.com/segments/21233555 (~1.05 miles, ~269 feet)

    In a cross-tailwind, my best effort up there from two years ago tomorrow was ~4.5W/Kg for 4min20secs.

    Sometimes when you have a realistic idea of how long a climb segment will take, your first effort may turn out to be one of your best times, but usually a recce will give you a better idea of how to pace it.

    Knowing what power numbers and what sort of heartrate you can sustain for ~5mins will really help. Seeing 170-180bpm during an all-out effort for me is not something that will worry me on an interval of that duration, even though I'm 46 going on 47, experience from the last ~3.5 years has shown me that is completely normal and safe for me.
    ================
    2020 Voodoo Marasa
    2017 Cube Attain GTC Pro Disc 2016
    2016 Voodoo Wazoo
  • imposter2.0imposter2.0 Posts: 11,368

    If you find yourself plateauing, spend more time in the pain cave. No pain no gain.


    Can you not just keep your ignorant rambling to yourself?
  • yellowv2yellowv2 Posts: 241
    Unfortunately Imposter I think it feeds off the comments people make. Maybe if we can all ignore the posts/comments it will slowly shrivel up and disappear?
  • imposter2.0imposter2.0 Posts: 11,368
    yellowv2 said:

    Unfortunately Imposter I think it feeds off the comments people make. Maybe if we can all ignore the posts/comments it will slowly shrivel up and disappear?

    We can hope - but his previous 10 incarnations suggest that might not happen unfortunately...
  • webboowebboo Posts: 3,767
    I’m happy enough giving him time and opportunity to hang himself.
  • itboffinitboffin Posts: 19,959
    late to the game but 5500km a year is not enough km/miles you need way more base training forget about speed until you're knocking out good base, at your age why not target 10k miles not km and bust a gut trying to get there, if you do or dont you will have worked hard. do it again and again and again then worry about your speed.

    it works
    Rule #5 // Harden The censored Up.
    Rule #9 // If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.
    Rule #12 // The correct number of bikes to own is n+1.
    Rule #42 // A bike race shall never be preceded with a swim and/or followed by a run.
  • ugo.santaluciaugo.santalucia Posts: 26,427
    itboffin said:

    late to the game but 5500km a year is not enough km/miles you need way more base training forget about speed until you're knocking out good base, at your age why not target 10k miles not km and bust a gut trying to get there, if you do or dont you will have worked hard. do it again and again and again then worry about your speed.

    it works

    Bit old skool... you don't need to do mammooth mileage to improve speed... quality over quantity
  • itboffin said:

    late to the game but 5500km a year is not enough km/miles you need way more base training forget about speed until you're knocking out good base, at your age why not target 10k miles not km and bust a gut trying to get there, if you do or dont you will have worked hard. do it again and again and again then worry about your speed.

    it works

    Bit old skool... you don't need to do mammooth mileage to improve speed... quality over quantity
    Yep, I agree with that.

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