2015 Off-Season Training Phase Summary—Looking for Better Results

12 09 2014

So I had some success and some not-so-success for race season 2014. Looking ahead, I hope that I can learn from the past and plan correctly for the future.

The season highlight was getting my teammate Steve T. on the top of the podium after the Tour de’ Bloom road race. (Yeah I know, I need to work on my victory V):

Picture of Steve and I on the podium in 1st and 2nd place.

Steve and I in the 1st and 2nd spots

The other part of this was that I placed 2nd in the GC, and that was cool.

In thinking about the off-season’s training, which is just around the corner, I wanted to dump the training stuff that I felt didn’t help and incorporate the lessons-learned. The off-season for `14 started like this:

Bar graph for the 2014 off-season training period

Accrued hours per week in various intensity zones

I want to keep the time identified as the yellow bars and move this portion of training into Phase II. The dark blue/power zone 4 will move to the power period in Phase I and the pink/power zone 5 time will move to the Phase III portion. See that light blue/tempo stuff? That’s going to go away. My original idea was to use the intensity levels in a “current level builds the foundation for the next level” sort of way, but I think I should have invested the time spent in tempo to time spent in and above power zone 4.

Let’s get to the kind-of-exciting, sort-of-motivating training plan. The plan lasts about 20 weeks in itself and should include one or two weeks for Murphy’s Law. We are all busy with work and family and it’s beneficial to have a bit of flexibility on our side. Here’s Morris’ plan (rest time added):

Four-Phase Plan Summary

Phase

Number of Weeks

Purpose

Major Components

1.Resistance Training Hypertrophy Period, Two to Four Stimulate Muscle Growth High lifting volume, moderately high resistance
Strength Period, Two Build muscular strength Reduced lifting volume, increased resistance
Power Period, Two Train muscle to produce great force at fast speeds Increased lifting speed, reduced resistance; sprint workouts
2.Aerobic Endurance Approx. three + one for rest Build aerobic and endurance capacities of cardiopulmonary and muscular systems, maintain power built during resistance training Long, low-intensity rides; sprint, lead-out, and muscle endurance intervals
3.Supermaximal sustainable power intervals Approx. three + one for rest Build cycling specific power output Short, very high intensity intervals
4.Maximum sustainable power intervals Approx. three + one for rest Increase high-intensity work capacity Longer, high intensity intervals

The reason I’m starting mid-October is because I want to do well at the start of our season; typically the Tour de Dung I & II races in the first two weeks of March. (Race date and time TBD.) Furthermore, like 2014, I’d like to focus on the four separate stage races that occur in the first half of our season.

A long time ago I read a research article (reference coming soon) that concluded that weight training had no significant correlation to cycling-specific strength in highly-trained racers. Since that time, I have never seriously integrated resistance training in my off-season program. (Note: for a short time, I did lift some weights during the 2010 season—maybe that partly explains how many of my all-time power peaks were achieved then.)

However, during the latter portion of the 2013 and the full season of 2014, while competing in the Category 3 level, I painfully realized that I was missing something in training. It was the quality of muscle fiber needed to produce and sustain the higher levels of power beyond what I experienced as a Cat 4. Hence, I was intrigued once I read that Morris had developed a method of enhancing type IIa and IIb muscle fibers with endurance qualities.

Phase I

According to Morris, “Because strength gains are speed specific, a resistance training program should include periods of high-speed lifting to allow strength gains to transfer into increased power output on the bicycle.” This tenet allows the segue from the Olympic bar to the bike; while giving a nod to the principle of specificity. Particularly,

…the methods used by researchers to elicit muscle growth appear somewhat non-traditional by the usual strength and conditioning community. However, these methods produce significant increases in muscle size in a very short time, and appear to be superior to the traditional method of lift-rest, lift-rest

and so on. This plan is more like lift-lift-lift-rest.

The second idea of this phase is to increase the intensity of the nerve impulses that reach the muscle groups. Basically, improving the nervous system’s ability to create more-intense impulses allow the muscles to produce a more-forceful contraction. So, improving muscle fiber mass is just as important as improving the firing impulse. Fortunately, both subjects respond to training input.

I’ll begin this phase with what I call “preparation.” The Olympic bar weighs 44 pounds, and I’ll start without weights because form will be important. This means quality over quantity. Additionally, poor form can lead to injury and I’m not about to do that. Here’s the preparation schedule:

1st Week—Two sets of eight repetitions, 7 lbs. x 2 + bar. Three times this week

2nd Week—Three sets of eight repetitions, 19 lbs. x 2 + bar. Three times this week

3rd Week—Four sets of eight repetitions, 19 lbs. x 2 + bar. Three times this week.

4th Week—(as needed for plan flexibility or readjustment.)

I visited a local gym just blocks away from my house (this would have been convenient.) However, they wanted ~$50 month and maybe an initiation fee. That’s when I decided to build my own squat rack. With a total acquisition cost of ~$101, my break-even point is after the second month of use:

Picture of DIY Squat rack made of dimensional lumber and concrete-cast bar weights.

DIY Squat rack. Features taken from various designs online.

Early picture: this design’s easily constructed, made of available material, and easy to disassemble. (Note: I purchased the Olympic bar from a private seller on Craigslist.) The concrete weights in the foreground are about 45 lbs. each. The weights behind are about 59 lbs. each.  I’ve since molded 19 lb. pairs. I’ve also lowered the safety bars to allow my hip crease to be lower than the top of my knees—based on my understanding of proper form. I’ll be able to perform the high/low back squat and dead lift. As a compromise for having my own stuff versus the gym membership, I will not be able to perform the inclined leg press, which is a different machine.

That’s it for now. It was cool to have a couple of high-points during the season, but I think I could have performed better. Having a vetted plan with specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals should speed me along to doing well at the various stage races this season.

Next post, during the hypertrophy period, I’ll discuss how the plan’s proceeding and what I’ve learned.

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4 responses

12 09 2014
Kevin

I have found some correlation between Cross racing and early season performance in that the more cross racing and I do in the fall (for me this means both the races and training which consists of Morning hill-sprint runs, afternoon trail rides 3 days/week, and resistance training + cross skills practice a few more days per week.) the better I do in the following spring.

12 09 2014
Eric Abbott

Hey Kevin,
Thanks for your comment! Yes, I agree, but I think there’s a good correlation between the impulse you get when doing cross racing and training, and the response/adaptation that occurs afterward. I understand the cross energy expenditure pattern as a high-count of intense intervals repeated every few days. Kind of makes sense to me.
Hope the `15 season goes well for you,
-Eric

14 11 2014
Ike

Good luck on the Morris plan! It’s what I use. Nice to see his methodology in use elsewhere. I really like his block method. The gains feel more like a pendulum with 10 day microcycles and blocks compared to the typical weekly stuff everywhere else and really keeps you interested. You an also adjust workouts or volume more quickly since you’re not waiting around for a rest week at the end of the entire month where you finally feel your legs responding.

I’d find something to substitute the leg press rather than abandoning it. Maybe belt squats, or Bulgarians. Morris is really squeezing everything possible out of your legs during hypertrophy. He’s doing the squats first because it’s the most complex movement and the gains will be the best when your entire body is fresh so you can execute good form. Then he’s like, ok, oh you’re tired now from squats? OK, have a seat and relax! We’ll give your upper body and core a rest. Now we’re going to empty the tank on the leg press Give me 72 reps!!

Ike

14 11 2014
Eric Abbott

Thanks Ike,
It’s kind of interesting monitoring what I learned on HRV in conjunction with the Morris plan; hope to see it quantitatively reflect the same at “then end of the month.” Next post should be revealing.

Thanks for reading,
-Eric

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