Designing the Perfect Training Plan – Part 1

The Perfect Training Plan

In a week or two at most, we are launching open source training plans.  We refer to the individual periods of a plan as a block.  Each block has a goal.  So how do you pick or design the perfect next block?  You don’t 🙂  It’s always a compromise.  Identifying a blocks primary goal will help you create or find the right block.  The fundamentals behind base and build blocks fit into most riders seasons or annual training plans.  Almost all pro-cyclist have both a base and build periods every season. Most enthusiast/traveller cyclists will benefit from them as well.

I talk with many top cycling coaches including Tour de France coaches.  There seems to be a common agreement, there are a lot of terrible plans and workouts floating around these days that make little sense for any cyclist.  I am not saying that open source training plans or TrainerDay will solve this problem or improve this soon. Just stating that’s our goal.

A Passion for helping others
I believe we need training plans created by people and coaches passionate about helping others stay safe, healthy and improve their cycling abilities.  This might not be the most visually appealing plans and workouts or the most profitable but simple, targeted workouts are a great place to start .  Here is a classic sweet spot workout with a single focus.

Consistency is the most important step in personal performance.  A plan that keeps you consistent is a good plan.  Being under-trained (within reason) is significantly better than becoming physically over-stressed.  Error on the side of safety.  Too much training stress will reduce your progress and it makes you vulnerable to illness and injury.  It’s Stress + Recovery.  Beginners frequently underestimate the important of recovery.

So how about exciting training blocks?
The best training blocks may not be the most exciting.  The primary goal of most cyclists should be consistency. Variety can help with that goal.  Picking the right plan or block frequently requires a coach.  Many or most cyclists can’t or are unwilling to pay for coaches’ expertise. Most of us need to educate ourselves the best we can.  Good self-coaching can get you far but until you are an expert you should be more conservative.   Plans need continued evaluation and adjustments.  

Learn from the experts
CTS is one of the top coaching organizations in the world.   Study this video below and listen to Dylan’s complaints about many of the Zwift plans and workouts.  Take notes.  He gives a lot of clues as to how to design good plans and workouts.  As Dylan points out Zwift is great,  it’s just that some or many plans and workouts are of poor design.  This video can take you a long way into designing or choosing a good winter plan.  I really believe many of the ideas presented in this video represents the view of many of the top coaches.  To repeat Zwift is great for group rides and racing, it can also create winter consistency for many cyclists.  In addition, there are some quality workouts and plans in Zwift but you need to do a careful evaluation to pick something that makes sense for your goals.

Dylan might sound negative about Zwift workouts and plans.  I believe he is primarily stating how many of these plans and workouts don’t follow well established best practices.  He is also selling his coaching; we understand this.  I believe most and possibly all of his points are true regardless of his motive.  I will say not every fact is clear for example Dylan states putting the high intensity at the beginning of a workout.  I am 100% sure what he means is putting high-intensity shortly after a proper warm-up.  

Warmup, warmup, warmup
A warmup is so important, it will significantly reduce the chances of musculoskeletal damage. Your warmup should build to prepare you for the effort to come. 

A proper warm-up typically means 20-minutes. The industry seems to have a trend of reducing the warm-up and cool down times.  I have heard many time-crunched cyclists justify this.  I can assure you it makes about as much sense as going to a fast-food restaurant so you can spend more time on your bike. 

Dylan Johnson - CTS - The Problem with Zwift Workouts and Training Plans
Recovery, recovery, recovery

Did I say recovery?  Build recovery into everything you do.  Recovery is where your gains are made, not in training. You can’t forget this.  Really hard training requires really hard recovery.  Follow hard days with easy ones.  Easy means Z1 power or lower Z2 heart-rate days.  Always build in recovery weeks any time you are doing regular hard-workouts.  Pros become pros through recovery.

Below is  a classic 2-1 monthly pattern.  Two hard weeks followed by 1 easy week.  The bars represent hours per week, or even better is stress per week.

The 2-1 pattern makes sense during race season or other times when you need more event flexibility. Aging riders might benefit from 2-1 as well.

And this is a classic 3-1 pattern

3-1 is the primary bread and butter pattern.

Best of luck.  As race car drivers say “keep the shiny side up.” ~Alex and the TrainerDay team.

13 thoughts on “Designing the Perfect Training Plan – Part 1”

  1. in my opinion….while recovery is the fundamental fase of the training, also it’s difficult to choise from the hard side, I mean choise the right intesity and kind of attribute a work out have to have, it’s another difficult part.

    1. Andrea, now I will respond with something a little more controversial than above but I do believe (am 90%+ sure) it represents the opinion of most top coaches (all the ones I know and have read). If you are trying to win the race, perfect intensities matter but if you are just trying to get faster it is less relevant (it can make a ~10% difference the last month or so before race season).

      The more you look at it personal performance is primarily an aerobic function. You are basically just a glorified air pump 🙂 Sure there is strategy, bike skills and W’ (w-prime = above FTP) elements but the biggest factor is aerobic performance. Aerobic performance comes primarily from spending more time on the bike primarily but other sports can have a major contribution. Why do pros ride 25+ hours a week towards the end of their build period? Because that is what makes the difference. It’s not to practice more skills or spend more time in Z5, it’s mostly Z1 and Z2. Most people are time-crunched and trying to take shortcuts and look for the perfect workouts/plan, this comes with risk. Also, the problem is many/most people train medium-hard all the time instead of training hard and getting proper recovery. The other point that Dylan makes in that video is that generally in one season or one period you can only get to a certain level (FTP…) and then everything flattens off or even decreases. You need periodization. He suggests winter base of primarily low intensity so that when Feb comes around you are mentally and physically ready for the next big gains taking you higher than the previous season. He hints and these things but this is the standard. Now recently the companies producing indoor software are suggesting to skip the base and train super hard in the winter. This gets people excited and using their platforms. I am not saying there are not guys that train hard all year long that are fast, I am saying this is a higher-risk strategy for most people and will not produce optimum results. 90% or more of the pros are not doing this. Sure they might do some Zwift racing in the winter but generally, they are recovering and preparing for next season. Not sure I said anything here you don’t know. And I obviously did not prescribe a plan to making you faster. Start with the big picture Base, Build, and then goal-specific work. I will try to write another article soon about these different phases but reading Joe Friel’s book outlines it better than I ever can 🙂

      1. I should also say that I do believe shortcuts exist, they are probably not huge improvements and come with additional risk. Risk can make you less consistent and lower progress more than the safer routes. Regarding shortcuts, it seems a lot of people agree spending more time in Zone 1 and Sweet Spot range (84%-97%) training is likely better for a lot of athletes than spending a significant amount of time in mid to higher Zone II. So working easy and hard not tons of medium-hard. Again this stuff gets more controversial. I strong focus on recovery both active and non-active recovery can reduce risks. I will post a few more posts soon, once I get my expert coaches to review my opinions 🙂

  2. Pleasantly surprised to see Dylan’s video here. I’ve discovered him recently, and he’s my new favorite cycling channel. He cuts through the 🐂💩 and backs up everything with scientific evidence. I’m looking forward to getting faster this race season and hopefully getting some podiums while using TRAINERDAY!

    1. Hello HowWheels, yes I am a new Dylan fan too, I have not watched his other stuff yet I need to. Good luck with your top finishes. We are rooting for you. Let us/me know how it goes.

  3. Woodcock Johnson IV


    I am SO excited to see this update. I’m really looking forward to seeing this in operation. Can you talk about what the plans will look like? Will it be pre-loaded plans based on the progressive overload using the 2-1 ratio you mention above after designating a target training stimulus? Can we anticipate a builder tool that applies the 2-1 principle above – something that perhaps allows users to set parameters such as weekly/hourly training volume, target adaptations, workout durations – through a search function of all the open-source workouts? Such a builder would be so amazing, and I think it would shrink the gap between this platform and things like TR tremendously.

    So appreciative of this platform – keep up the amazing work!

    Thank you!

    1. Hello Woodcock, This will be open source training plans. This means just like workouts people will build stuff that I and many coaches would cringe at. It does not mean it is always wrong. For example just because a workout does not have a warm-up does not mean that the author does not warm-up before starting the workout. There seems to be a trend it significantly reducing warmups because it sells. Athletes frequently think they are getting more if the workout has more training stress in less time. Talk to almost any top coach and he will explain how important a good warm-up is. Just ask the coaches at CTS. Most likely Dylan’s videos will clearly articulate this.

      There will not be a lot of plans when it launches but I have created a few plans (reviewed by a top pro-coach) and do have others creating some plans for launch. I even have one other pro-coach that said he will contribute for launch.

      It will be a V1 launch so it will be focused on speed and simplicity of building plans and will still rely on plan authors to build 2-1 or 3-1 plans. Generally, most people would choose 3-1. 2-1 is typically for people that need more recovery (aging athletes or just people that need more recovery), or racers using during the race season to get them more pre-race tapering opportunities. But yes the search will allow searching by hours and days per week, training focus. It will have some unique features that you can quickly customize plans to your needs. Pick your training days for example.

      We will continue evolving it trying to help authors create good safe and effective plans with stuff like real-time weekly stress graph but that won’t be there at launch. I will create some more videos on how I am creating my plans. As I am building plans I am seeing features I feel are critical for launch so it is going a little slower than I would like. But it is coming.

      1. Алекс! Огромно спасибо за Вашу работу! Ждем планов тренировок.

  4. I have just come across your site as have been desperately looking for a training plan, I have no idea where to start, I plan to use this on Roiuvy for my winter training.

    All I want is to say I have this in mind what do I need to do to achieve this, I have no experience in creating plans and suspect I would do more damage than good just randomly picking sessions.

    So with this in mind is this what is planned where I can say I have this event coming up and looking to train for this or look for climbing or an endurance plan?

    My exact goal for next year is to lose weight, complete a few Grand Fondos and complete a 5 day tour round the North Cost 500 in Scotland which will be 75 miles a day over 6 days with 6,000ft of climbing.

    I just want to be fit for this and enjoy it rather than feeling every stroke of the pedals.

    Loving the site so far though looks like what i need .

    1. Timsellis, sorry for the slow response. yes, I agree with you the whole industry is very confusing on finding a plan. I don’t know your training history but generally, you should just start easy and stay easy until you have at least 6-months of consistent riding under your belt. Consistency and safety are #1 goals. Focus on just gradually increasing your hours each week. Basically about 10% per week and every 4-weeks or so have a week that is about 1/2 as much as previous. With your goals really you never need to do anything other than Z1 / Z2 rides but as you approach the 6-month mark you could start throwing in occasional Z3/4 intervals. Hope this helps. I know it is not a clear plan. I will launch training plans this week but until people start creating a lot of plans it wont be super valuable. Best of luck. ~alex

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