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How to get over a fitness plateau

Liam in his National Masters Road Race Champion Jersey.

Liam Holohan is a former professional cyclist, turned high-level performance coach and founder of Holohan Coaching. He currently serves as a coach for pro-team, Israel - Premier Tech.

Many athletes that take up coaching come to me with the issue of how to get over a fitness plateau. They’ve done a season or two of training and made nice progress, however, their initial gains have begun to stagnate, and they are no longer seeing increases in things like their ‘FTP’. In this, the first of my features in the run up to the NOMAN Haute Route events, I am going to address the issue of pushing through a fitness plateau.

Each rider is unique, so in order to write this piece I am going to have to make a few generalisations, but there are some coaching principles that are universal. One of these is that of progression. By this I mean that training needs to progress in some manner for the athlete to continue to see improvements in performance. Progression could come in the form of volume, or intensity.

An example could be as follows; Dave has been training for 3 years using the popular platform, Zwift. During the week, Dave, is limited to 60-90 minutes of indoor riding in the evening. A typical session would be a ‘2 x 20 minutes sweet-spot’. Initially this worked well during the first couple of seasons, however, now that Dave has reached his previous season’s ‘FTP’ value, he can’t seem to push beyond this.

The above is very common and may sound all too familiar to some readers. The reason that Dave is no longer seeing progression in his ‘FTP’ is that his body has adapted to the stimulus from the session. This means that it no longer causes enough strain to force the body to adapt, which is sometimes referred to as supercompensation (see the below image).

Training effect and supercompensation.

One of the key principles of training is that progression should be built into your training program. An example of how Dave could progress the session throughout a cycle is listed below.





2 x 15 mins @270w

5 minutes


2 x 20 mins @270w

5 minutes


3 x 15 mins @270w

2.5 minutes