What to do following missed workouts

It’s nice to have the world’s most perfectly planned training schedule—or at least some plan at all—but what happens when life throws you a curve and you can’t follow the plan as written? I don’t know a single person who is able to follow a pre-written plan without missing a workout due to work, weather, unexpected travel, or some other reason. But when you get back to the bike, do you pick up where you left off, only 5 days later? Do you skip those 5 days and stick with what’s already on the plan for today? Will you be “ready” for the workouts that follow?

What do you do? The unfortunate answer is, “It depends.”

Of course you can always ask for advice. A coach can give you direction and not leave you assuming where to pick up your training. Some coaches even give specific directions on what to do when you miss a workout. If you don’t have a coach, you can ask a fellow cyclist you trust to give you some insight, but you can probably make a decision on your own.

If you have identified some key goals for the season, those dates are set and it is probably more important to continue with the plan mostly as written (do the workout written on the calendar for today) so the general progression of your training stays on schedule for those big events. Chances are the missed workouts were just more intervals—maybe there were a few more or they were a little longer than previous workouts but nothing that different.

Sometimes, however, there can be a few key skills or efforts that are important to “go back” and do. If you had planned a time trial, fitness assessment, drill, or something else specific to prepare you for an upcoming goal or determine your upcoming training, then you will want to work in that specific workout. If none of those were on the schedule, it’s just water under the bridge.

If the break was longer than a few days, then you can assume that you’re pretty well rested (at least from a training perspective). But if it’s been a few weeks, it may take some time to feel good on the bike again and get some endurance back. That doesn’t mean going back to old workouts, necessarily, but it does mean looking forward from this point to your next goal(s) on the calendar to see if some other adjustments are necessary to your overall plan. If you’re working with a coach, this would be a good time to talk. If you’ve developed your own plan, it’s now time to revisit your planning process and come up with a new training progression to lead up to your key goals.

Missing a workout or two rarely affects if you’re “ready” for a future workout, so don’t worry about that. If you miss a longer block of time, just revisit your goals and adjust your overall schedule accordingly. But regardless of what training plan you follow, missed workouts simply mean missed time and repetitions of intensity and recovery. You can’t get that back, so the best thing to do is move forward and let the missed workouts go. And for those compulsive types of us out there, that may be the hardest part of all.

Strength training during race season

The following is in response to a recent question about strength training (off the bike) during the race season.

My first question is: what’s the goal of your strength training?

Any training you do takes energy and time, and any training you do that’s not on the bike takes away energy and time that could be spent cycling. While a rider can benefit from off-the-bike training, these cross training activities need to address a specific goal, especially if they are being done during the peak part of the season. Specificity is key to top cycling performance, and during the middle of the summer that means time on the bike. Cross training can provide a fitness base but does not provide the specificity needed for peak cycling performance since it does not exactly replicate the motion and position of cycling.

As a result, strength training off the bike during the middle of the season needs to address a particular deficiency that cannot be easily addressed through on the bike training because greater strength does not necessarily translate to higher power on the bike (see Dr. Andy Coggan’s Stength vs. power article for more detail on how more strength doesn’t necessarily lead to more power).

Generally, weight training is part of a cyclist’s training program in the following scenarios:
  1. off-season cross training for full body development and maintenance
  2. bone health (weight bearing exercise)
  3. rehabilitation from injury or physiological imbalance
  4. address a specific muscular weakness
  5. increase short-duration (sprint) power [this is somewhat debatable—see above article link]
  6. comprehensive physical development for young riders
As a general practice, for every weight/strength workout you plan, subtract that time and energy from what you will have available to spend on the bike. If you ride less during the core racing season as a result of strength training, reconsider how much weight training you do (if at all).

A few exceptions apply. If you have issues with your lower back like I do, then time and energy spent on core strengthening and flexibility in the short term can be well worth the time saved from injury in the long term (see 3 & 4 above). Also, if the strength workouts take place during time you would not have been able to ride, then it may be a great addition to your training.

If you have chosen to do strength training during your cycling season, I recommend always giving priority to the cycling workouts. That means strength workouts should follow cycling workouts on high-intensity days so that you have your full energy available to commit to the cycling workout. Next, make sure to balance your overall training plan so your body regularly has time to recover. Strength training also needs to be counted in your overall training hours to reflect the additional energy required to complete these additional workouts.

Obviously there is a great deal more to understanding how strength training can be a part of your annual training.

For more information, check out Cycling Anatomy by Shannon Sovndal or Weight Training for Cyclists by Ken Doyle, ask a cycling coach, and continue to learn more about the numerous factors and techniques for improving cycling performance.