Hello. I’m Ross, and I’m a serial overtrainer.

The first step to fixing a problem is always admitting that there’s a problem in the first place. Overtraining is a somewhat destructive mindset that can undo a lot of hard work because the body is not getting the recovery needed to adapt and progress physically.

This morning I sat down for a (virtual) chat with my coach where we took a fairly in-depth look at my daily routine. Not just on the bike either; because everything in life has an impact on your training and general well being.

Here’s an excerpt of the email that landed in my Inbox:

I want honest answers!

– how many hours do you work a day?
– Is every day the same or are some longer/shorter?
– how many hours do you work in a typical week?
– how much do you work in a really hectic week and how often do they happen?
– when you aren’t working or riding your bike how do you relax, do you sit down and do nothing?

can you describe to me a typical day (not including cycling)?

And also, can you rate how tired/fresh you felt on the bike on each day last week, again I want honest answers!

1-10 9(1 = absolutely fresh and ready to go, 100% recovered from previous efforts, 3 = noticeable residual tiredness but doesnt really hold you back, 5 = stamina still ok, less power in harder efforts, 7 = need at least 1 or 2 days off the bike to feel 100% again, 10 = need an easy week as absolutely mullared)

So please give me 1-10 for each day last week for before your ride and after. ta

Time to do some homework.

Luckily I’m a creature of habit so on paper my days are set almost to the hour and easily comparable over the weeks. For me routine is important and it’s something I naturally slip into when left to my own devices.

This ended up being quite an easy (but interesting) exercise.

A very typical weekday would look like this:

06:00 Get up
06:10 1.5 mile walk
06:40 Stables (3mi on single speed bike)
07:30 Breakfast
08:00 Start working
10:00 Cup of coffee
11:00 Snack (usually an apple)
12:00 Workout
13:00 Lunch
15:00 Snack
15:30 2 mile walk
20:00 Relax – Tv, browse internet while Mrs watching shite on tv (most nights), read.

And a weekend is usually:


06:00 Get up
06:10 1.5 mile walk
06:40 Stables (3mi on single speed bike)
07:30 Breakfast
08:30 Endurance Ride
13:30 Lunch
15:00 Snack
15:30 2 mile walk
20:00 Relax – Tv, browse internet while Mrs watching shite on tv (most nights), read.


07:00 Get up
07:15 Stables (3mi on single speed bike)
08:30 Breakfast
09:30 Cafe Ride (recovery pace)
14:0 Lunch
15:30 2 mile walk
18:00 or 19:00 Dinner
20:00 Relax – Tv, browse internet while Mrs watching shite on tv (most nights), read.
21:00 / 22:00 Bed

Last week specifically (05/01/2015 – 12/01/2015)

The numbers reflect how I felt that morning.

Monday: 1

I did the Flamme Rouge x-train workouts for the first time in a while. Overall feeling fresh.

Tuesday: 2

Legs knew I’d done squats the day before but once I got on the bike I felt great. Rode slightly above numbers and had plenty left in the tank at the end.

Wednesday: 3

Legs a little tired. The OU’s seem to catch up with you the next day. I think I remember talking to you about this when we started doing the FR plans. The longer FTP efforts didn’t seem too bad in the early weeks but the next day you knew you’d done them!

Thursday: 1

Felt good after wednesday’s easy ride and had lots left towards the end of the workout.

Friday: 3

I’ve given myself a 3 but I’m struggling to remember. Did 20min SS

Saturday: 2.5

Legs felt good Saturday morning. Wish I’d done my usual zone 2 training ride that day but wanted to head out with my brother and father in laws as he was visiting from Scotland and they couldn’t do Sunday. Didn’t eat at the cafe (we went to Cobbled corner and I don’t really like the food there and had lots of nice healthy goodies waiting at home), thought I was going to be sat in Zone 1 but was forced to leg it home to let the Mrs in as she’d locked herself out.

Sunday: 5.5/6

Set off with tired legs. Felt okay doing tempo up to Jeffery but after that I never really recovered, whereas usually that’d be my warm up for the proper hill effort (second efforts always the good’n isn’t it!).

Monday: 7

Going to do a 20min recovery spin to get the legs going again but no desire to do any training.

Overall legs felt good until Sunday.

Am I Overtraining?

In a word, no. The training I do is very structured, following a plan of progressive overload which should see me gradually build to become stronger than ever at my peak. However, I am spending too much time on the bike.

When I started to analyse my time spent riding each week it was a shock to discover that at least half of my riding was – if not a complete waste – building up residual fatigue in my legs. From a training perspective there was too much volume to help with recovery, and not enough intensity to count towards training.

This excess in social and leisure riding, while not instantly having an effect on my performance is likely to manifest later in the year. One day I’m going to wake up and realise I’ve had increasingly tired legs all Summer, my numbers haven’t improved, and in the process I’ve destroyed any chances of achieving my goal of a top ten finish at the National Hill climb.

It’s exactly what I did in 2014 and not something I want to repeat.

So why do it?

It’s simple: There’s more to bicycles than training.

I’m an introvert who needs some ‘me’ time. Riding my bike is the perfect escape. It gets me out of the house, away from my computer, and every turn of the pedals distances me from my worries and responsibilities. I can shut off for an hour or two, soaking up the fresh air and freedom only a bicycle can bring. Saturday mornings especially are a little slice of heaven. A good 4-5 hours to myself to unwind mentally; and completely destroy myself physically.

During the week we have a lot of family commitments that involve big meals and lots of people. Even though everyone is lovely and the food is incredible, I sometimes find it all a bit overwhelming. A quick ride before I socialise means I arrive with plenty of mental stamina and avoid coming across as a miserable sod!

At the end of the day
“I just love being outside and pedalling”

It’s proven that an easy ride after a previous days hard session is good for you. It stops the legs seizing up by getting the blood flowing through the muscles in a non-destructive way. This “Active Recovery” ride should last no more than an hour and a half on the road (and be embarrassingly slow) or around twenty minutes on the turbo trainer.

That knowledge was the perfect excuse for these leisure rides.

“I’m just keeping the legs ticking over
– no harm done”

Except three and a half hours the day after doing anywhere between eighty and one hundred difficult, hilly miles isn’t exactly going to help. No matter how lightly I’m tickling the pedals. That’s still an extra 50 or so miles in the legs. Labelling it a ‘Recovery Cafe Spin’ on Strava does not make it so!

Finding The Perfect Balance

It’s obviously important for me to take some time out from the real world occasionally. This year though, my bicycle might not be the best way of doing that. I’m not going to completely disregard social or leisure rides, I’m just going to cut them down and find other means of escape.

I need to be fresh for my training and I need to focus on my recovery. It’s the only way I’m going to see the ambitious improvements I need come October. My coach lays out the facts very clearly in one of our conversations:

I think we need to find a balance between fun/virtuousness/optimal training/stress relief. There’s no point in lecturing you (despite the lecture below!) about doing too much, instead I can do a better job if I focus on finding a better balance between everything in your life so you can get the most of your training and everything else you do. I hope you can see where I’m coming from. At the moment I do think you are doing too much, question is how to change it. My first idea was to say “stop it! Because of x, y and z (see below) ;-)” but now I think we need to take an honest look at everything you do.

IMO the way you are going to get much fitter is more peaks and troughs, higher intensity and more actual rest. Whenever I do it I get fitter faster and feel fresher most of the time, and more importantly I’m faster.

I think that most gains come from the difference between the depth of the lows and the height of the highs. So if you rest more and train harder the difference between the two is more. I think may be the intervals could be harder but your resting needs to be easier.

So take an honest look at what you do each week and tell me whether you do think it is too much. I could describe what I think you should do but I’d like to hear what you think is right or wrong with what you are currently doing.

I think you need to examine your motivations for your training this year as I think what you should be doing is probably not what you actually want to be doing.

I’d say:-

– you like feeling tired, it makes you feel relaxed and contented
– just doing two turbo sessions a week is boring, you feel lazy and like you aren’t burning enough calories
– feeling fresh all the time is boring
– exercise is stress relief. You need to get away from your desk every day, you are more productive/creative/focussed when you do

The above is not compatible with *optimal* training.

Currently your goal is the Nat HC. In order to do well you need to increase your 5 minute power. Your current training plan (the one you are doing not the one you prescribed) will work for someone who wants to ride a long way reasonably fast. Lots of easy miles and recovery rides are useful for people who need to do a lot of miles. For someone who needs to increase their 5 minute power, you need to do a lot of high intensity stuff, some longer riding and most importantly lots of rest and recovery. The way you train is the former, it is not the latter.

What you should do:-

high intensity intervals followed by rest until fully recovered, and repeat ad nauseum

A Proposed New Approach

Reluctantly at first, I’ve agreed to complete my remaining training block almost exactly as prescribed. This means cutting out the easy rides to and from the stables every morning, and no ‘recovery’ riding on Wednesday or Friday. My Sunday ride will be reduced from three and a half hours to one and a half at the most.

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Increase The Intensity, Drop The Excess

This means that instead of sixteen hours a week on my bike, where only half of those hours are actually of benefit I will instead be riding around 8 and a half to 10 hours a week, but those will all benefit me in some way, shape, or form. I will be getting additional time for recovery, allowing me to dig even deeper during intense sessions.

In addition to trimming the fat, a number of my workouts will be done until failure. Usually a coach will prescribe a specific number of intervals with a power target to hit. For example: 2 x 20 @ 298w would mean two intervals twenty minutes in length with an average power output of 298w. Another workout might be: 4 x 5 @ 330w which would be four, five minute intervals each at 330w average.

However, from now on I will be doing these shorter intervals until I can no longer sustain the target power for the duration… Ouch!

I’m really looking forward to seeing the outcome of this approach. In the future we intend to increase the volume to two sessions per day but keep the amount of recovery time in between which will really stress my system and push my physiology to exciting new levels!