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  1. #1
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    First time getting serious - What can I expect?

    I've been a recreational rider for several years, but this is the first year I'm trying to train in a meaningful way. In the last two years I tried a few enduro races (without any particular training) and felt like my fitness was really holding back my performance, to the detriment of even enjoying the weekend.

    So, here I am. My goals are to generally be a faster, fitter rider, perform more consistently, and be well conditioned enough to enjoy race weekends, maintain a more consistent pace on 4hr rides, and better keep up with the XC racer weeknight group rides. That's really vague, so I'm looking for input on what sort of goals would be realistic. I do not have a particular deadline or event in mind.

    I'm a 28 yo male, 6'0. I recently dropped from ~180 lbs and ~17% body fat to 162 lbs and 14%. I think I could easily trim a few lbs down to ~12% BF, but (I assume?) lower than that would take a bit more of a lifestyle change.

    Over the last six weeks, I've done a 20min FTP test every two weeks, successively increasing from 175w (unconditioned), 195w, 220w, to now 250w. Over that time, I was averaging about 7 hours per week, trying to rotate the type of workouts - intervals, threshold, steady Z3, long Z2, etc. - without any specific plan. Just trying to alternate easy and hard days, avoiding more than three days in a row and more than two rest days in a row.

    About 70% of the volume is on the spin bike. I can fit in about 10 hours per week, including one long (3hr+) ride.

    For indoor rides, I wear a HRM and have real power from my gym's stationary bike. For outdoor rides, I wear the HRM and use it for zones. This is my first experience training with either heart rate or power. My LTHR is ~162 BPM and max is >185 BPM (haven't bothered to get a good measurement).

    So, my questions:

    I think everything so far is right. Am I doing anything obviously wrong? Am I not doing something I should?

    Is 7-10 hr/wk "enough"? I know that's a loaded question, just looking for some context.

    Given a consistent volume of 7-10 hr/wk, where can I reasonably expect to top out (assuming average genetics)? Over what sort of time period will I continue to see progress?

    Similarly, what's a good goal to focus on? A FTP of 4 W/kg sounds nice (I'm at 3.4 W/kg now), is that reasonable?

    Given the tools I have (smartphone, HRM, gym spin bike with power display but not able to export), are there any good programs/services that will make it easier to track volume, training impulse, etc? Even if it's manual entry (x watts for y mins, etc).

    Thanks, any context is appreciated.

  2. #2
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    Given that you're just 6 weeks in, it sounds like you're doing great. For cat2 I think your current volume is plenty, too 'light' for cat1 open, but you're too new for that anyway. Remember to have fun, short hard hills at least once a week too (not always fun). If 4 hour power is a goal, you should be doing one 3-4-5 hour ride once every 2 weeks. Work on getting fast & fun friends to ride with, that's really important.

  3. #3
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    it sounds like you are well on your way, learning your available resources and training schedule. thats a great first step!

    i like training peaks to capture all of my activity. the graphs showing stress and form/freshness provide one piece of information informing my training decisions, especially leading up to events. what can i say, i like visual graphs and data. the data is just data. though i think it can be useful for me as i loosely correlate trends with my body.

    you have to get data in TP - by either typing it in from the summary screen of the gym bike or synching another app to it - which leads me to the next point.

    i subscribe to and follow plans on trainerroad - incredible value here considering the money (also check out the podcast if you can). i mention that because you said you cannot export the power data from the gym bike. instead you could sync the trainer road app to TP. not sure if the gym bike is even capable of broadcasting the signal to a device, but that is not required for trainer road.

    i would be curious what type of bike this is, and whether or not there are multiple bikes available or just one? if multiple, do they ever move them around? i ask because in my experience the power measurements among gym bikes, even from the same manufacturer and model can vary significantly. so i would try to train on the same gym bike to eliminate a variable.

    i assume garmin or some other device that record your outdoor rides (HR stress) could also sync to your training peaks account.

    all that said, i use data as a piece of the puzzle. if you go down this rabbit hole as i did, i hope it doesnt remove the fun from riding your bike, especially with others. i try to get as much as the structured intervals in on the trainer (2-3x/wk) and ride outside for fun the other days, sometimes loosely following the plan. depends on your friends, but i will not be that guy that shows up to a group ride saying i need to do this or that on this ride. i try to get ride details in advance hilly, casual, fast, etc and plan accordingly.

  4. #4
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    As long as you ALWAYS plan on using a spin bike (and the same one at that) at the gym, you can use that power. But if you get a power meter on your bike, it may give different results. Spin bikes are notoriously generous on their power and speed calculations. I have a Peloton spin bike and it's power and speed always gives 10-15% higher power than my SRM power meters and speed sensors on my bikes, which are among the most accurate available. So you may or may not be at 3.4 watts/kg. But if you are never planning to get your own power meter and are gonna use the same one, it's fine for measuring progress. It MAY be accurate, but there's a better chance that it's not.
    You can't buy happiness. But you can buy a bike. And that's pretty close.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by BmanInTheD View Post
    But if you get a power meter on your bike, it may give different results....I have a Peloton spin bike and it's power and speed always gives 10-15% higher power than my SRM power meters and speed sensors on my bikes, which are among the most accurate available. So you may or may not be at 3.4 watts/kg.
    ive noticed the same thing with the kickr...about 10% higher than my powertap p1's, hub, and stages crank arm meters, all of which are very close to one another.

    not so important if its just a 'reference' number for training. but is if an accurate w/kg number is desired.

  6. #6
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    - I'm probably about the least structured of anybody here, I haven't even used the HR monitor in a couple of years. But I do like strava and I find certain segments of the right length can be really good intervals. You can do reasonably well without paying much attention to numbers, there's a pretty broad spectrum of what can work for you, the trick is to find what fits for you. The higher structure is probably more important the longer you've been at it, when the improvements are harder to find. The first couple of years consistency is the most important thing, but you're really young, so you may improve pretty rapidly depending upon your potential.
    The worst thing about strava is seeing how much the other guys are riding, where do they find all that time!?

    One thing about group rides, even with fairly slow riders; you can hit those 1 minute hills or 5 minute segments super hard, and rest at the end while the others catch up. I do a lot of rides like that, getting those short hard efforts with 5-10 minutes easy in between.

  7. #7
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    Thanks for the feedback everyone.

    The spin bike I'm using is an Expresso contraption. It has games and virtual routes, but I've alwayshit "Just Ride" and do my own workout. It has its own account and tracking system, which I haven't used - I'm not familiar with what it can export, but I'll check it out. Power is supposedly pretty accurate, but I don't have anything to compare it to. I use the same bike every single time.

    I think I want to jump down the analytics rabbit hole, but I'm struggling to figure out how to get all my tracking info in one place.

    For outdoor rides, I have been using Strava with a HRM. I can download the .TCX and manually upload the file to TP, easy enough. So that uses the HRM data to calculate a hrTSS.

    For indoor rides, I can use the TP workout planner to manually set up power and duration, let TP predict TSS and IF, and then try to hold those steady power numbers on the trainer for the various planned times. I can ride with my HRM, and record that with something an app like Wahoo. And then do I just upload the HR data and let TP calculate hrTSS from that and ignore the (planned) power?

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by lazarus2405 View Post
    Thanks for the feedback everyone.


    I think I want to jump down the analytics rabbit hole....
    Are you sure about that? You'd better make DARN sure cuz it can take over your life if you're not careful. lol
    You can't buy happiness. But you can buy a bike. And that's pretty close.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by lazarus2405 View Post
    Thanks for the feedback everyone.

    The spin bike I'm using is an Expresso contraption. It has games and virtual routes, but I've alwayshit "Just Ride" and do my own workout. It has its own account and tracking system, which I haven't used - I'm not familiar with what it can export, but I'll check it out. Power is supposedly pretty accurate, but I don't have anything to compare it to. I use the same bike every single time.

    I think I want to jump down the analytics rabbit hole, but I'm struggling to figure out how to get all my tracking info in one place.

    For outdoor rides, I have been using Strava with a HRM. I can download the .TCX and manually upload the file to TP, easy enough. So that uses the HRM data to calculate a hrTSS.

    For indoor rides, I can use the TP workout planner to manually set up power and duration, let TP predict TSS and IF, and then try to hold those steady power numbers on the trainer for the various planned times. I can ride with my HRM, and record that with something an app like Wahoo. And then do I just upload the HR data and let TP calculate hrTSS from that and ignore the (planned) power?
    So... this is cool, and I work in high tech so I can appreciate the appeal, however let's get back to fat tires on dirt:

    There is no reason to do structured training for Cat 3 racing. You should be going out and riding hard by yourself or with your friends. This is pretty much all I did up through Cat 2. Cat 1, and eventually Pro, I had to step back and get serious.

    The more experience you get, the more you'll appreciate the wisdom of picking up bike handling skills as fundamentally important early on. It's hard to unlearn those bad habits once you pick them up instead of good ones.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by lazarus2405 View Post
    I think I want to jump down the analytics rabbit hole, but I'm struggling to figure out how to get all my tracking info in one place.
    I was in the same spot about a year ago and finally settled on TrainingPeaks. I use the paid version because I like the extra analytics and planning especially in Performance Manager. This alone has helped me build fitness. Plus I can communicate with my coach about how workouts went and what my training schedule looks like in the coming weeks. This might not be something you're into right now but it sounds like you're interested in turning yourself into a lab rat eventually so you might as well start off on a platform that allows for that depth eventually. You can also just auto-upload all your workouts to TrainingPeaks through Garmin Connect, Trainer Road, or whatever. I find it is the best master database for my needs.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by chomxxo View Post
    There is no reason to do structured training for Cat 3 racing. You should be going out and riding hard by yourself or with your friends. This is pretty much all I did up through Cat 2. Cat 1, and eventually Pro, I had to step back and get serious.
    I agree with this completely... ride hard, get hot, have fun, increase the volume and intensity slowly over time. If you want to track your fitness, use hrTSS on TP and that will be more than enough for now. Try as many different types of events as possible to figure out which disciplines/formats you enjoy or excel at. Eventually through this process you will also see what your particular strengths and weaknesses are. Let your goals evolve as a result of those experiences.

  12. #12
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    Maybe this

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  13. #13
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    Thanks again for the responses.

    Quote Originally Posted by chomxxo View Post
    There is no reason to do structured training for Cat 3 racing. You should be going out and riding hard by yourself or with your friends...

    The more experience you get, the more you'll appreciate the wisdom of picking up bike handling skills as fundamentally important early on.
    Respectfully, the bike handling skills aren't where I'm weak - I'm a pretty strong descender, corner competently, and am probably at my best in techy rocks. What I've found is, I have trouble consistently applying those skills at a race pace, probably due to a lack of underlying fitness.

    My past "training" has really amounted to "try to ride more" and has been pretty inconsistent, both in time and intensity. My hope is by adding structure and tracking things I can keep volume visible and get better results. But you're really right - I need to be careful not to strangle the joy out of riding.

    Quote Originally Posted by ohmygato View Post
    I agree with this completely... ride hard, get hot, have fun, increase the volume and intensity slowly over time. If you want to track your fitness, use hrTSS on TP and that will be more than enough for now.
    I think that's about where I'm at now.

    I've got about three morning indoor workouts during the work week that I'll use for structured SST base for a 4-6wk block, then decide what to do after that. Weekends are fun, hard rides with some good travel and a race to look forward to.

    Putting all my historical data since March into TP, it looks like I'm at about a CTL of 50ish, a ramp of 5/wk, and handling a TSB of about -20 with 500ish TSS/wk. I think that's exactly where I need to be.

    I'm starting to understand that my big initial increase in FTP was a combination of starting from a nearly-completely untrained point (~1hr/wk since mid winter), and getting more familiar with how to do a good FTP test. And that I shouldn't expect that kind of fast change going forward. Maybe I'll see a 10% improvement over the season, depending on how I respond to training?

    And yeah, there's pain. Plenty. That's a lot more useful than I'd expected. Just having fun on trails, I'd never spend a full 20 minutes at threshold. Learning what that feels like, that I don't need to back off because it burns, is new.

  14. #14
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    Skip digging into the data. Here is what you need to do, and it's MOSTLY easy:

    Step 1. Ride your bike
    Step 2. Ride your bike more
    Step 3. Ride your bike over increasingly difficult terrain, step up your game.

    Where it gets harder.

    Step 4. Ride longer. When you start feeling tired and it stops being fun, keep riding. Suck it up.
    Step 5. Push your ass up that hill faster. No, not like that, faster. Seriously, you didn't even try, go faster!

    If that isn't fun enough to continue doing, then the data doesn't matter. If you're wiling to do it, you will see massive gains. When the gains start to taper off in a year or three, then you can look at the data.

    Personal opinion, based on the improvements I've seen from a friend of mine.

  15. #15
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    In the end, you're going to do what you want anyway - whether it's riding/training structured or unstructured

    While I do agree with the above "ride more / ride faster", faster is relative and depending how motivated you are (or not), it's very easy to get stuck into a pace where you don't improve. How do you measure gains? Well... IMO, data. Doesn't matter if it's Strava or TP, TrainerRoad, etc... you're still going to look at the data.

    I've found these work for me personally, either:
    1. Ride hard, and get out and RACE before you're "ready". The only way to get better at race pace is to ride at race pace, so either do it on your own or in races and ride hard.
    2. Structured training with power. Follow a proper plan, you'll get "faster", as in FTP increases... but spend all your time on the trainer and you'll still have a hard time translating that to the trails.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by lazarus2405 View Post
    Thanks again for the responses.



    Respectfully, the bike handling skills aren't where I'm weak - I'm a pretty strong descender, corner competently, and am probably at my best in techy rocks. What I've found is, I have trouble consistently applying those skills at a race pace, probably due to a lack of underlying fitness.

    My past "training" has really amounted to "try to ride more" and has been pretty inconsistent, both in time and intensity. My hope is by adding structure and tracking things I can keep volume visible and get better results. But you're really right - I need to be careful not to strangle the joy out of riding.



    I think that's about where I'm at now.

    I've got about three morning indoor workouts during the work week that I'll use for structured SST base for a 4-6wk block, then decide what to do after that. Weekends are fun, hard rides with some good travel and a race to look forward to.

    Putting all my historical data since March into TP, it looks like I'm at about a CTL of 50ish, a ramp of 5/wk, and handling a TSB of about -20 with 500ish TSS/wk. I think that's exactly where I need to be.

    I'm starting to understand that my big initial increase in FTP was a combination of starting from a nearly-completely untrained point (~1hr/wk since mid winter), and getting more familiar with how to do a good FTP test. And that I shouldn't expect that kind of fast change going forward. Maybe I'll see a 10% improvement over the season, depending on how I respond to training?

    And yeah, there's pain. Plenty. That's a lot more useful than I'd expected. Just having fun on trails, I'd never spend a full 20 minutes at threshold. Learning what that feels like, that I don't need to back off because it burns, is new.
    Sounds like you're in the same boat I'm in.

    I'd fancy myself a tech junkie with ok fitness. I don't think where I'm at with my family life I have any ambition of doing anything other than cat3 and I really on care about 1 race (because it's tech as f@ck)

    That being said here's a couple things that have really helped me a lot:

    I spent the Winter on a spin bike and really tied to engage in focused training. I'm planning on getting a HR monitor so I can really hone it down (From running though I have a pretty good gauge of where it is anyways, but still) I want to either get a smart trainer or some rollers for this winter.

    I bought a road bike. With my family life it's a lot easier to get 1hr-1.5 blitz then a 3 hour MTB adventure. I ride it everywhere, to work, to the store, early mornings. Good cheap exercise without all the time suck. Oddly enough I've found the road bike to help with core stability quite a bit. Maybe it's just saddle time or the more aggressive position but I've felt more balanced and have cleared stuff that would be a nuisance to me a lot easier and I can tell it's just better balance and power transfer through my core.
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  17. #17
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    this is coming from a techy dude that loves data....as someone mentioned above re:translating structured indoor training to the trails. this is my 3rd season on the road, 1st on mtb. i followed a very structured and high volume base/build phases over winter/spring. my road riding is MUCH improved. i am very pleased with a few of the long road rides i did this season.

    my mtb, not so much. fitness is the only reason i even survived my 1st 3 mtb races. i am getting smoked by way too many people that probably do not have the fitness, but much more efficient riders than i am. i gave up trying to 'race' the rest of my events this yr. i am even letting go of the 'structure' part of my training.

    bottom line, i need to really get trail time on that bike by riding hard, technical sections where i am slow, inefficient, and get beat up - then repeat, repeat again, and increase durations. i came to the realization that fitness isnt everything on the trail and that it cannot overcome lack of efficient riding techniques. every single time i eventually burn out after 4, 5, or 6hrs.

    i think its good to pay attention to data. particularly tsb, ctl, and atl - loosely try to correlate them to how you and your legs feel. that would not be my primary focus. there are likely more low hanging fruits to focus on that will reap greater benefits, at least thats what ive found on my new mtb experiences.

  18. #18
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    Jayzoll, I'm sure there's a lot of people here that may scoff at the idea of social rides and session work, but that's where all your tech skills get built.

    It's great to ride with a group of people that will stop and session a tough tech section or skilled climb. The heckle lanes that form are incentive to not keep whiffing it. Everyone will stop and take pictures of you nailing or failing that drop or roller.

    Just make sure you keep all the shots of your bro's failing in rock gardens.

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  19. #19
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    This video has been inspiring lately: "use your muscles...you gotta beat them all, gotta beat them all..."

    https://youtu.be/WxLqzZE2l2g


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  20. #20
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    Most of my training is on the road. I road commute and do a long ride Tuesday night meeting with a group out of my not so LBS.

    Thursday nights I do a group MTB ride. I start early, do all my high speed stuff, then meet the group for a more social ride. I'm typically the most fit and one of the more technically advanced riders in the group so I take the opportunity to take alternate lines and experiment, and answer questions and try to help others if they want it (working on developing a free skills clinic at the LBS).

    I was doing some structured stuff on Zwift and got a smart trainer. But I think I have to agree with one of my friends that the Zwift races are the best training, followed by pushing yourself to Zwift mountains. But we are close to our peaks, we are only looking for those last percent or two.

    I do like Zwift for a simple, easy to get to method of training.

    One thing I noticed when moving through Cat 2 was the technical skills. They clearly worked hard, but lacked descending skills. Cat 1 had both.

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