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How do I overcome a training plateau?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the yearQ: I’m a recreational cyclist and I ride about 200 km a week. My cycling has been improving over the season but now I feel like I’ve hit a plateau. What can I do to get beyond it?

A: This is a question I’m often asked. Hitting a plateau at some point during the cycling season is common. To get beyond it, you need to vary the intensity of some of your weekly rides. I suggest the following:

Rides 1 and 2. Steady State – Zone 2/3  (deep steady relaxed breathing to slightly laboured).
This will be roughly 60% of your current mileage. If you’re cycling 200 km then 120 km of that will be done in steady state. This mileage can be broken into 2 rides of 60 km, or perhaps a 50 km and a 70 km ride. How you decide to divide the mileage up, doesn’t really matter, it’s the intensity of the ride that is important. Keep these rides at a steady pace.

The remaining 80 km of mileage is where the variation of intensity can be introduced. The following are some ideas of how you can use the remaining mileage to bump up your fitness level.

Ride 3. Tempo style riding – 30km in total

Begin each ride with 10km of easy riding to warm up your body, then ride for 10km at a slightly harder pace than you have been riding at. If you aren’t using a heart rate monitor when riding, then I use the “perceived level of exertion” to determine the level of intensity. A simple scale of 1-10, where 1 is the easiest you can ride, and 10 is the hardest you can ride, this 10km should be ridden at about 7-8 intensity (zone 4). At the end of the 10 km, finish with 10 km of easy riding, to recover from the higher intensity and bring your heart rate down. If you’re riding with a heart rate monitor then this segment of riding should be about 3-5 beats higher than your “steady state” riding pace.

Ride 4. Hilly Terrain Fartlek Ride 50 km in total

Begin this each ride with 10km of easy riding to warm up your body. During this ride you mix up the intensity (Fartlek) within the ride. Fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish. For example, ride the hills hard, spin easy on the descents. Punctuate with bursts of high intensity by picking landmarks along the way and increasing your intensity. For example, alternate riding hard and easy between light posts. The key here is to mix up the intensity. Doing that challenges your body to work harder, which will improve your fitness level and allow you to ride stronger.

Try these different style of rides out over the next month, and see how you feel. Remember, it takes consistency and variety to improve your level of fitness.

Get out there, and have a great ride!
If you have a question you’d like Diane to answer please email it to [email protected] Diane Stibbard Ask a Pro

As a world-class duathlete, Diane Stibbard brings a rare combination of expertise, motivation and knowledge to her coaching. She knows that the driving force to reach any goal comes from a deep desire within. As a trainer, she has a unique ability to help individuals embrace this desire to achieve their athletic potential.

Diane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training.

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, contact Diane at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

Training for a two-day cycling event


Check out Diane’s new e-program, Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.



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