Scientists can tend to over think things. Analysing results and being as objective as possible is part of the culture, as to differentiate white from black in a world of grey. Scientific processes [hopefully] use techniques to answer yes / no questions regarding uncertain hypotheses and concepts which may never be understood properly. Using a statistical approach to quantitate how much evidence there is towards a positive or negative result is common throughout the community, as regulations and marketing teams need boundaries and tangeable benefits to leverage commercial margins and new products. I was once told I wasn’t very analytically minded as part of feedback from an interview…although I believe that was just an excuse for not liking the way I dressed, ha! I have since learnt the difference between being analytical, and being productively critical….and also bought a better suit.
However, a balance is needed….a qualititative appreciation of the overall scenario, not just numbers. This is regarded as biological plausibility, is there a logical reason for cause and effect for everything you do or don’t do to get you from A to B efficiently? Sometimes when the numbers bog us down we can miss the bigger picture to our detriment. In cycling there are many aspects which can help achieve success…well designed interval sessions, adequate recovery and sleep, varied ride length and intensity, nutrition, hydration and all the banalities of cycling economy etc…. although individually they are meaningless, together they serve to improve fitness on a dependent pathway towards that goal event, race or holiday in Dolomites with your cycling buddies.
Compliance and psychology are what makes an athlete good, or a good athlete better…sticking to a plan is thought to be the single most important reason for improvement, regardless of the efficiency of the programme. A good programme however will not only take into account an athletes unique physiology and response to training, but also compensate for expendable training time to fit in with the athletes busy schedule and remain flexible enough for unforeseen circumstances, such as illness and injury which constantly plague many athletes. To avoid disappointment, a programme should be adaptive if too many holes are formed throughout each phase or period. Non-compliance may be so severe that objectives should be changed accordingly, to maximise the likelihood of a peak performance and not jeopardise an event or productivity of a training programme. Psychology is a key component of compliance, where attitude, confidence, motivation, and personality are its descriptors.
Recreational cyclists who work full time can (not knowingly) can become short sighted when instead long term vision is needed. Non-compliance can mainly appear from stress accumulation stemming from various sources. This should be factored into training as acute or chronic stress (indicated by hormonal levels cortisol/ACTH) build up will dictate how long it takes you to recover from a session in time for the next. If you always train in a incomplete recovered state (as opposed to over-reaching and timing for super-compensation) then you will be heading towards over-training in the future weeks, months or years. Such that a reduced performance status will become the norm for you until drastic action or prolonged recuperation is re-instated. Working backwards from a key event serves to provide the structure which can be put in place to make the objectives possible as well as factor in stressful periods, adequately reduced volume recovery weeks or even short breaks in your training schedule depending how you manage and respond to your lifestyle stimuli. So long as the athlete is mostly compliant, hitting quantifiable milestones along the way should allow them to reach even the most challenging performance objective, relative to their historical performance from the previous season.
This time of year is a sensitive period when performances throughout the season should be honestly appraised, and when next seasons objectives should be considered, realistically. Those who have been training or racing lots will soon be looking forward to a break, others may be training to compete in cyclo-cross or track and so should be looking to build volume before the Winter starts. Those who are under-trained could take advantage of their status and start their ‘base miles’ to control de-conditioning early before periodisation starts again (natural loss of conditioning* with reduced training loads and intensity (detraining/deconditioning) necessary for the body to recover and prepare for stimulation to achieve a better fitness level or conditioning for successive seasons), and enter a period of rehabilitation resistance training or more intensive programme for lesser experienced cyclists. Older athletes will experience a faster decline in anaerobic capacity, and atrophy of lean mass (sarcopenia) and so will benefit from resistance work greatly. As cycling is a catabolic activity (breakdowns down tissues) this process will have started sooner depending on the volume and intensity of training undertaken during the summer months. In contrast, we shouldn’t forget that after the end of the season there may also be a delayed period following the last training rides or races and prolonged rest where a final ‘super-compensation’ in muscular adaptations may be experienced. If a cyclist is able to time this phenomenon with the very last of the races, hill climbs etc, they would be expected to do very well, if not pb.
To limit the decline in fitness at this time of year, training at a reduced frequency is acceptable to maintain aerobic conditioning until the ‘alarm phase’ is reached when further general conditioning is required to provoke training adaptations and repeat the journey to peak performance again. Those athletes who are compliant to their own personalised training programme for the long term, as opposed to those who train sporadically for the longest time or hardest pace, are the ones who are most likely to succeed with their objectives!
*VO2max deteriorates significantly in the first 2 -4 weeks of detraining, however as much as 75% of this capacity has been sustained for up to 90 days following training cessation in some athlete populations. ‘This initial rapid decline in VO2max is likely related to a corresponding fall in maximal cardiac output which, in turn, appears to be mediated by a reduced stroke volume with little or no change in maximal heart rate. A loss in blood volume appears to, at least partially, account for the decline in stroke volume and VO2max during the initial weeks of detraining, although changes in cardiac hypertrophy, total haemoglobin content, skeletal muscle capillarisation and temperature regulation have been suggested as possible mediating factors. Changes in maximal oxygen delivery may result from decreases in total haemoglobin content and/or maximal muscle blood flow and vascular conductance. The declines in skeletal muscle oxidative enzyme activity observed with detraining are not causally linked to changes in VO2max but appear to be functionally related to the accelerated carbohydrate oxidation and lactate production observed during exercise at a given intensity. Importantly, reductions of one- to two-thirds in training frequency and/or duration do not significantly alter VO2max or submaximal endurance time provided the intensity of each exercise session is maintained.’
Sports Med. 1989 Nov;8(5):302-20. The effect of detraining and reduced training on the physiological adaptations to aerobic exercise training. Neufer PD.
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