With a global pandemic sweeping much of the World, a lot of athletes are looking at different ways to train and stay motivated at the same time. In many countries, there are full lockdowns in place where athletes can only train indoors; others are told to limit time outside and to stay close to home. For the endurance athlete, this poses obvious hurdles.
If any racing is going to take place in 2020, it looks more than likely to be happening in September onwards with current race dates being pushed back all the time. Summer athletes are now looking at another 4 months of training before the first competition, which should mean that now is a typical ‘December’ for them, which is deep in the depths of the first training cycle and the base training phase. Traditionally, this is the time for long steady training sessions where you build up the aerobic energy system by completing plenty of hours in zone 1 and 2. You would then move onto tempo work, adding in some strength training on the bike, before introducing threshold work and eventually anaerobic or v02 max, race-pace efforts as the icing on the cake before the first race.
With limited time outside or working to the constraints of indoor training, you can clearly see the problem if you were to try and carry out a traditional phase plan on an indoor trainer. There are going to be a lot of athletes who are mentally tough enough and motivated enough to carry this out… but it certainly won’t be for the majority of people. If you fall into this category, you might want to think about something called ‘reverse periodisation’.
Reverse periodisation is exactly what it says on the tin: flip that traditional build on its head and complete the phases in reverse order. This means starting with the very hard high intensity work, which is perfect for close-to-home sessions or training on the turbo. These can be incorporated into double-session days for higher category riders or singular hard sessions for everyone else.
There are some really good examples of reverse periodisation working. Most famously, Team Sky boasted about using it a few years ago with Chris Froome with very good results. The science is pretty good as well: by carrying out the high-end power work when you are fresh, you can hit some really good numbers and up your maximal figures without months of residual fatigue in the body from the early training phases. High intensity work has been shown to not only increase those very short high-end numbers but actually increase an athlete’s FTP, and improve their efficiency at much lower intensities too. Win–win I hear you cry!
Obviously, there has to be a flaw… otherwise everybody would be doing it! Depending on the length and duration of your goal event, there could be a problem with this style of phase-planning if not followed and tweaked accordingly. If you completely flip the phases on their head, you’ll hit your first race without having done a hard effort for 6+ weeks! This would pose a clear problem as you would not be race ready for that fast start or those high-end explosive climbs. If your event is under 4hours in length, you would really want to continue with some race pace efforts in that final phase of training.
Having a coach who has used Reverse Periodisation before and has experience in finding the correct balance between the phases is the key to this plan working. I used this phase plan a couple of times through my career to good effect, seeing great results and my highest ever FTP at the end of a season where this was implemented.
However, I wouldn’t recommend doing it every year. If you don’t switch your training up and keep your energy systems on their toes, you won’t see the adaptations from your body. As the age-old saying goes: if you keep doing the same thing, you’ll keep getting the same result.
So, with that in mind, if you have never tried anything but a traditional build, now is the time to try something new. It fits with the social constraints at the moment and is a proven winner. I will be doing this phase plan myself. I’ve only been back on the bike for 4 weeks (after taking 8 weeks off) and I am in good shape.
If you have any further questions about phase planning in general, or specifically reverse periodisation, please do not hesitate to get in touch via social media platforms, at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the contact form on www.veldcoaching.com.