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 the Performance Manager for pro-team, Saint Piran.


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.

Week

Work

Recovery

1

2 x 15 mins @270w

5 minutes

2

2 x 20 mins @270w

5 minutes

3

3 x 15 mins @270w

2.5 minutes

4

3 x 20 mins @270w

5 minutes

5

3 x 20 mins @270w

2.5 minutes

Example of weekly sweet spot progression


Another suggestion I often give to athletes is to introduce more variety into their training as some individuals will simply repeat the same sessions they do throughout the season. Let’s again use the hypothetical example of Dave. Below is his typical training week that he performs throughout the season.


Day

Duration

Session

Monday

N/A

Rest Day

Tuesday

60 mins

Indoor Zwift Race

Wednesday

90 mins

Endurance Ride

Thursday

60 mins

Indoor Sweet-Spot

Friday

45 mins

Strength Training

Saturday

2 hours

Fast group Ride

Sunday

4 hours

Endurance Ride

While there’s nothing particularly wrong with this training week, it’s the fact that similar sessions are performed throughout the year. Just like in the previous example, the body has adapted to this type of stimulus, and it now needs a novel training approach in order to further progress.


This is where periodisation comes in. Periodisation is a system whereby the training volume and intensity are manipulated throughout the year, bringing the athlete to peak form for their event or goal. There are many different theories on how best to do this, but diving into this is beyond the scope of this article. An example of one method (linear periodisation) is given below.


Linear periodisation example – Credit: The Sport Journal


As you can see from the above image, both the volume and intensity are manipulated throughout the training year. This way, the body is presented with a novel training stimulus so further adaptation and thus performance gains can be made. Not only that, but the athlete aims to come to a peak in time for their most important competition.


Hopefully you have learnt something from this article which you can implement into your own training and push through any fitness plateau. The key is to recognise when the body has adapted to the stimulus from your current training methods and adjust accordingly. By using periodisation, you can plan this in advance and come to your fitness peak in time for your big event.


Seeking to put those performance gains into action? Join Team NOMAN at the Haute Route events.

Find out more about how you can join the team and race to End HPV.