As a coach, there is one particular challenge I have experienced quite a lot and one that I enjoy immensely : the art of the comeback. Primarily I think it’s because I like the backs-to-the-wall siege mentality it creates. It seems to push the coaching relationship further into the team dressing-room, where banging a table before kick-off screaming “Let‘s show this lot what we’re made of lads!” is more regular than checking echelon affecting direction changes on a map.
Broken pelvises, heart defects, viral infections, physical crashes, mental crashes... in the past few years I believe I’ve seen many unforeseen challenges. What has been consistent and humbling is that as long as one word still exists there is always a way out... WILL.
Where there is a WILL, there is always a way. Will is a word that more often than not leads to positive action. It creates an unconscious contract with both yourself and those around you.
Along the way, I made some notes that will help any of you who are stood at the door of the comeback with a real WILL to reach up again.
FORGET WHERE YOU WERE
Just as an addict has to accept their problem before embracing the cure, a comeback-rider has to mentally forget previously high levels of performance: even if only temporarily.
Doing so removes the burden of expectation and will lean down the process of what it is we want to achieve. The comeback artists who succeed best are the ones who are most able to break down the process and become stealthily selfish. What I mean is...
- make the excuse not to go on that ultra-tough group ride: don't give those guys the satisfaction of knocking your confidence... it's gold dust right now.
- place more importance on breathing, the rhythm of pedalling and how you are managing energy on the bike over the watts in the cockpit.
Worrying is completely wasted energy. Stick to the task and take it week by week, day by day if you have to.
Some good news : just as improvements are harder to come by when you are close to peak fitness they materialise swiftly for previously trained athletes.
DON'T EXPECT MIRACLES BUT BY ALL MEANS, TEST THE WATER!
Nobody is expecting you to turn water into wine overnight, but there is no harm in trying! Push yourself. There is a lot that can be gained from setting out a 40-60km loop and just riding it full gas to find the chinks in your physiological armour.
You may find you were able to sustain great power for over half distance and then just folded. Conversely, it might be you only lacked that zip to keep both leg speed and power where you were previously.
Whatever the outcome it will help you and your coach have more understanding of what your training focus could benefit from.
Textbooks often lean towards starting at a really low intensity and volume and increasing slowly. It’s a good idea for everyone, especially cyclists with less experience, to include an aerobic volume week early in a comeback so as to increase blood plasma levels to the point that training can be readily sustained. More blood means more ammunition for the hurt gun.
For those who have been riding for many years, your mitochondria and overall aerobic fitness will bounce back very quickly. So these athletes can use a more varied programme but more than ever it needs to be tailored to current conditioning by your coach – copying previous workouts from the better days is a dangerous tactic.
EXPECT TO BE TIRED, NOT JUST FATIGUED
Moving the body from an untrained state back into training alters the homeostasis it adapted to in the time away from riding. Put simply, you are asking your numerous systems to ramp up at the steepest rate you would at any point in your training calendar.
This asks a lot of your body as it processes more glycogen, balances electrolyte movement and reacts to the other acute physiological responses to exercise. To combat this ensure you are getting enough of the big 4 electrolytes: Sodium, Magnesium, Potassium and Calcium.
All of this extra stimulus will bring back the chronic adaptations such as muscular hypertrophy, muscle fibre and power over time but in the short term, you can expect your body to want more recovery. Make a plan to sleep 30-60 minutes more per night to ensure your immune function is as best as it can be. A resumption to training is often when we are most susceptible to coughs and colds latching on to us.
LISTEN TO YOUR HEART
Now more than ever, this is the time to have this metric on your cycling computer. We would encourage you to use your heart rate zones in the early phase of any comeback.
Moving straight to time and power-based intervals could be difficult before some of the aforementioned chronic adaptations have returned and general consistency of training.
You can become creative in your intervals and move away from time-based recovery intervals to using recovery rate and a base heart rate prior to carrying out the next interval of a set.
Power-based training set - 4 x 5 minutes @ Z4 watts, with a recovery interval of 1 minute @ Z1 watts.
Recovery rate based training set - 4 x 5 minutes @ 85-92% max heart rate, with a recovery interval set as a return to 60% max heart rate OR 1 minute.
One specific advantage of monitoring heart rate in this way is that you will begin to notice the adaptations kicking in as your recovery rate from higher intensity improves.
That said, we encourage you to keep power transmitting and recording it will be a valuable metric to chart and monitor improvements.
Obviously, it's much simpler not to have any setbacks or breaks in training but this isn't always possible. We, therefore, hope, armed with our tips you'll rise like a phoenix from the flames, empowered and proud of your achievements!
Elevation Coaching design and deliver training plans bespoke to your needs. Whether you are riding inside or outside our plans will HIT YOUR GOALS FASTER!
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