Coaching: Why your form can dip in April and how to avoid it

Posted on: April 9th, 2018

Winter training ended and now you’ve started racing or riding sportives. But despite riding those events – and riding hard in them – detraining very often sets in around now (Photo: The Belgian Project)


Why your cycling form can dip in months after winter training


By Stephen Gallagher

We’ve entered that part of the year when our focus has turned to racing or sportives. But you may not have thought about how you will fit progressive training around your events.

You need to do this in a way that will help you get the most out of your racing or sportives while still developing specific strengths as you build towards a significant target ‘A’ event.

There’s a real juggling act to be done in this regard.


So what are the variables you need to take into account?

  • Current levels of fitness.
  • Ability to recover and how you’ve trained to improve this over winter.
  • What your ‘A’ event and ultimate goal’s are for the coming season.
  • How much you have improved your weaknesses prior to the racing season.
  • Illness/injury that might inhibit your racing once started.
  • Racing program leading up to your ‘A’ event.

So often we see many riders head into the season with good legs and improved fitness from the previous year only to see that form disappear by April.

The normal excuses we hear circulating in the cycling community are that the rider is ‘burnt out’ or ‘over trained’ from the winter period and simply unable to sustain the form.

But very often this is not the case, and this loss of form is often down to less obvious factors.

That common dip in form can actually be part of a cycle of de-training once the racing season gets underway.

‘Strange’, I hear you say. Well, not really.

When we hit the racing season, we often place all our physical and mental energy into the weekend; our focus is on results in races.

Of course this is not a bad thing. But we’ve also got to keep our focus on our mid week training.

We’ve got to stay focused on continuing to work on aspects of our condition that we need to develop for those target races in the weeks and months ahead.

The de-training slump often comes from getting too much rest pre and post race, which involves greatly reduced physical training stimulus than our bodies have experienced over the winter months.

An example of this is a typical Sunday race; the lead up and subsequent recovery from those race dates.

Traditionally, Friday is an easy day or rest. Saturday is an easy pre race spin of a couple of hours. Sunday is a race (2-3hrs) and Monday is another rest day.

So you can see from that example that only one day is proper physical training stress – the race on Sunday.

Out of that four day period in the week, one day is not a lot.

Take into account a puncture, crash or abandoning a race and you’re lowering the level of physical training stimulus or progression needed to maintain or grow your form.

Of course, there are many individual factors to be taken into account, but routine around racing is something we should all take on board.

On the flip side of this ‘juggling act’ are those riders on the opposite end of the fitness spectrum; those who are under trained or lack ‘race form’ going into the start of the season.

We often hear these riders want to race themselves fit and into form. But they need to consider a number of variables if they are going to progress and get stronger in the manner they envisage.

Your ability to recover from the weekend’s racing has a big influence on how you can train mid week and get on top of consistent structured training.

We often feel an onset of muscle fatigue 24-48hrs after a race. And this muscle fatigue is what leads us to take that extra rest day or sub standard training day. So what’s the reason for this?

Well, your body needs to repair those damaged muscles from the previous strenuous race effort. The nervous system is working to repair muscles and your cells are working overtime to rebuild damaged tissue.

The good news is that this leads to increased muscle strength and fitness. But with a lower level of fitness, your body’s ability to recover from that race effort takes longer.

This in turn leads you into a position in which you are unable to train constructively as your muscles ‘heal’ from the race.

Along with the cellular and nervous system’s reaction in the days after a race effort, this strenuous weekend effort can also lead to a lowering of the immune system which can in turn result in illness or injury which will inhibit your training.

This arises not only because you are putting your body under a level of stress you have not trained for, but also because of possible poor post-race care and nutrition.

So be aware of the need to continue focusing on training now the racing is underway.

You need to keep those long-held and long-term race goals clear and make sure you’re progressing towards them rather than simply switching your focus from race day to race day.