Training periodisation relies principally on the progressive overload produced by specifically prescribed sessions at the right frequency. Training load and therefore volume (intensity x frequency x duration) is associated with the magnitude of gain in performance, although the optimal frequency of the training is often a variable parameter depending on the individual. Manipulating the components listed below, as well as factoring adequate recovery is instrumental to the success of a programme.

  • General Conditioning- aerobic endurance.
  • Specific Conditioning – intensity and overloading.
  • Tapering, Super-compensation and peak performance.
  • Recovery and de-training.

Mathematical models are able to fit optimal training volumes and intensities for individual cyclists based on the framework structure of the Impulse-Response model (performance as a function of negative and positive training effects). Cutting edge tools available to all cyclists, such as PhysFarmTraining Peaks, Race Day Apollo and Golden Cheetah exploit the use of these periodisation algorithms which can help predict peak performance. However, the algorithms are based on a ‘typical’ rider and so can be inaccurate at best. Properly conducted physiological and functional testing can serve to ‘fit’ these models to an individuals data to gain the most precise predictions of peak competitive performance and the ‘nonlinear’ maintenance required for a series of events.

The three common training periodisation formats which are in popular use for cycling are:

Traditional periodisation is a structured approach to training effect using a mixture of training intensities which complement the target level of training with the fatigue of the cyclist to ultimately increase the training load and create adaption. This format assumes that training sessions elicit a similar response to that of a ‘typical’ rider although the volumes and intensities are customised accordingly to fit with the individuals progression to change the plan to suit the cyclist as suggested by the performance results during each phase. This method relies on a logical combination of low (active recovery, endurance), moderate (tempo, sub-threshold) and high intensity (threshold VO2max and anaerobic) efforts for devoted systems; intervals, endurance rides, threshold intervals, sprints etc, to optimise the training time available over a period of weeks and months. Peak performance may be achieved for a single short period of competition before a recovery period is entered (including rest and cross-training), after which the cycle can then be repeated.

Block periodisation shortens the phases of a traditional periodisation so that peak performances can occur more often. A layered approach to create a physiological response at each level of intensity before the next level can be achieved before entering the competition phase. This hierachical approach is implemented from the bottom up, until very specific conditioning is reached after a base endurance foundation has been laid. Concentrating on the specific exercise intensities allows maximisation of each level before moving to the next. The downside is that this format for training is time intensive, and requiring faster preparation in time for targeted events. The benefit of this periodisation format is that a cyclists training can be more easily tailored with training progression to achieve peak performance in multiple events.

Polarised periodisation is a new training paradigm which gives a cyclist the most time-efficient adaption to training load. The assumption that a polarised approach is highly effective, relies on the physiological observation that biochemical adaptations in the muscle caused by high intensity efforts also increase the power capacity at lower levels of the system. These conclusions stem from research results seen after multiple (6-8) 3-5 minute efforts at 80% Maximal Aerobic Power twice per week. Following just 4 weeks of this programme resulted in an average 4% increase in peak aerobic power output and 40km time trial performance. Although intervals at 90-100% VO2max are now recommended to reap the most benefits.

Physiological zones


Although endurance intensity is still a large proportion of the training, avoiding substantial training at upper tempo and lactate threshold ranges, allows for a ‘true’ recovery to be able to perform these higher intensity efforts more frequently and avoid training stagnation. An optimal ratio of around 80:20 for low:high intensity training periods has been proposed. This maximises the available training time to the time-restricted cyclist, while considering the impact of ‘Total Stress’ from lifestyle factors. This method is now thought to be implemented even by professional cyclists, where concerted ‘interval’ sessions are key to specific conditioning and peak performance.

High-intensity interval training is known to result in the ability to produce more aerobic energy (increasing critical power and cycling efficiency), the ability to buffer increasing acidosis (low blood pH resulting in fatigue), increased clearance of lactate (improving Lactate Threshold MLSS) and increasing the highest level of sustainable power for the longest duration), all of which are key performance indicators. High intensity interval training also increases the ability to burn more fat as opposed to carbohydrate, (saving energy for anaerobic efforts and preserving AWC/W’ under competition). Power output is well correlated with percentage of body fat. Higher power output athletes having lower percentage total body fat, as lean muscle mass replaces fat mass during simultaneous strength and endurance training with no overall change in body weight. Cyclists should not be too worried about gaining bodyweight when employing heavy strength training in combination with an endurance training phase, an important training tool for improving power and endurance for the following competitive season.

Desire a periodised training plan that is fully personalised?

CPS IN-MOTION can provide dynamic personalised plans based on a cyclists training history, expendable time and key objectives. Using supportive training platforms and critical data from applied testing, training  plans can be fully personalised to achieve optimum results. This takes the stress away from a life of “Can I meet my training goals with my busy work and family schedule?”

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DETRAINING– After the completion of a competitive period or adaptation programme, stopping training as many high performing cyclists do, will result in a gradual loss of the adaptions and fitness gained over the season, this is defined as the recovery period and is a normal part of the yearly periodisation to reach peak performance.

Physiological changes gained during the season generally revert back to baseline levels of fitness. Increased heart rates are observed for the same power out-put, a reduction in peak powers, lower VO2peak and Lactate Threshold levels are seen just after a few days. Even muscle glycogen levels and haematocrit (red blood cell component) drop substantially after a short period of training cessation.

Limiting off-season fitness loss can be offset by following a cross-training programme. More pertinently however, once training has stopped, more and more competitive cyclists realise that important long-term performance gains come from a ‘strength’ training or resistance programme.

STRENGTH TRAINING PERIODISATION  is usually performed in the gym during the off-season. Although distinct from the above formats, this training intervention is usually favoured by competitive cyclists in the off-season and part of a maintenance programme when training volume is low. Each training cycle within this period focuses on the specific components of physiology and prepares the cyclist for even better performances in the coming season. To get the most from resistance training, the programme needs to be periodised, just like training on the bike. Periodisation will allow you to monitor and change the level of intensity throughout the phases of a programme to ensure proper stimulus and provide enough recovery.

Adding 8-14 weeks of strength training to the ongoing endurance training in endurance athletes results in no change in total bodyweight (as lean muscle usually replaces fat) despite increased maximal strength. Each and every phase addresses the three key factors known to be responsible for high performance cycling; cycling efficiency, Maximum oxygen consumption and lactate threshold. Maximal oxygen consumption has historically been suggested to differentiate well-trained cyclists from Elite cyclists, and thus is a good predictor of cycling performance. However there seems to be no major difference between well-trained and elite cyclists in terms of VO2peak. In this context it is important to note that heavy strength training seems to positively influence maximal aerobic power in well-trained cyclists. The positive effect of heavy strength training may be explained by the influence that anaerobic capacity, neuromuscular characteristics and cycling efficiency have on maximum power output.

  • ADAPTATION Preparing the tendons and joints of the cyclist, especially important in individuals who have never undertaken resistance training, ~4 – 8  weeks.
  • HYPERTROPHY Although increasing muscle size is strongly recommended, this phase is not always required. Develops muscle mass in cyclists with an imbalanced musculature, ~ up to 6 – 8 weeks.
  • MAXIMAL STRENGTH  Maximising isotonic force of the relevant muscles allows for progression at the highest level of strength into the next power phase (also has a hypertrophic component), usually 6 – 8 weeks.
  • POWER Converting strength to power is critical for achieving sustainable biomechanical force production, depending on the competitive objective, and the peak power desired. Sustainable power over time requires endurance, ~6  –  8 weeks.
  • ENDURANCE The ability to maintain power over a short (anaerobic) or prolonged (aerobic) period, is a consequence of a smaller proportion of muscle fiber conditioning to be able to perform the work required. This is the basis for cycling efficiency leading to better long distance performance. ~ 8 – 10 weeks.
  • MAINTENANCE Losing adaptations in strength due to cessation of resistance training can in turn affect power and endurance on the bike. Supplementing a competitive period with a strength maintenance phase can avoid the drastic reductions in strength (muscular atrophy) with minimal extra effort. Duration depends on competitive period.

Every pedal stroke involves a combination of strength, power and endurance. Isolating and optimising each of these components using single and multiple joint exercises of the main cycling muscles, prior to, or overlapping with one of the endurance periodisation formats given above is the ideal strategy for rapid physiological adaptation, performance progression and achieving personal goals, no matter how distant they might feel.

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  • Injury and illness rehabilitation

    Recovering from an accident or rehabilitation for a medical condition can take its time. Motivated athletes are always keen to jump back on the bike quite quickly…..although this is sometimes detrimental to both the healing process and development of a baseline fitness to advance rapidly from, with more certainty.

  • Muscle Imbalance

    Many athletes who have not previously performed resistance training in the off-season are unknowingly placing themselves at a performance disadvantage. Rigourous endurance training without appropriate neuromuscular stimulation and recovery is ultimately a catabolic process, meaning that wasting (atrophy) of crucial muscle groups may be advanced.

  • Over Training Syndrome

    Over-training syndrome is not easily diagnosed. The condition can manifest itself over a period of months and years, particularly in highly committed racing cyclists who put too much pressure on themselves to perform well over a prolonged period. Even more recreational type cyclists can miss the mark with their training schedule, and experience large declines and erratic performance over time. The ability to recover from what would be classed as a normal training stimulus is seen in changes of heart rate, power, lactate and hormonal markers such as ACTH, DHEA and cortisol for adrenal insufficiency. Suppressed power and lactate values may also be seen at higher heart rates and perceived exertion as demonstrated by Lamberts sub-maximal cycle test.

  • Weight loss

    Being more agile on the bike is just simply more fun, and riding big hills easily is on most peoples agenda. Although power-to-weight ratio is a helpful number for those focused on high performance and racing, aerobic endurance through cycling is an ideal tool to drop a few kilos when carried out with a controlled diet. Establishing your Fat(max) intensity through a full lactate threshold profile provides the perfect tool for achieving rapid fat loss, while enjoying ride sessions on precious free time.