Reuben Smith

Rome was not built in a day

At times the temptation can be to go out and dramatically increase your training loads and intensity in the belief that you will suddenly make big improvements, but it’s tough mentally, and is really not good for your body and development; and all too often the physical and mental stress just blows the whole thing, so I really believe strongly in the steady and sure building and development process”

As an exercise physiologist and coach who works with World Tour riders and Masters riders alike the basic principles of training remain the same. Yes some of the interventions I might use with Avanti Racing Team might be a little different to the club D grade rider wanting to move up into B grade, but, fundamentally the process is the same. The basic principles of training are that we create continually increasing physiological load overtime, interspersed with recovery, to allow for optimal physiological adaptation.  This physiological load should be specific to the demands of the event or the activity performed.  Eg to get good at riding a bike – you ride your bike.  This means the basic principles are specificity of exercise, progressive overload and recovery.  Create a plan with these simple principles in place with the correct dosage and the athlete should get fitter, stronger and faster.  

Unfortunately , by its simple definition progressive overload is open to misinterpretation and what may be progressive overload for one person may constitute overreaching for another and when carried out over a number of months may lead to overtraining.  As Matt Lloyd alludes to in a quote from Bicycling Australia, it is fundamentally important to build slow and strong. Trying to dig too big a hole for oneself in terms of diving straight into 4-5 hour rides at the beginning of a training program, allows no head room and progression throughout the program. This often leads to burnout (both physical and mental), illness or injury and in worse cases glandular fever, shingles and immune problems suppression.

As a coach the biggest problem I face is educating riders on the benefits of the long haul and the simple analogy that “Rome was not built in a day”.  Magazine articles and pro riders’ diaries paint a picture of long and hard training days and massive power outputs. The fact is professional riders have been riding for many years and when they started they were not cranking out massive Km’s. Even those who have made it into the pro ranks are held back and looked after by the best managers/coaches, so as not to push the rider too hard too soon. The Tour is often the last of the major races for an aspiring pro to race; again this is just an example of progressive overload.

The use of heart rate monitors and power meters with the fantastic analysis tools such as Today’s Plan, Training Peaks and Golden Cheetah, have allowed us to quantify training load on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. This training load is based upon an individual’s current Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and correlating Heart Rate and a numeric score is attributed to each ride based upon the premise that a score of 100 T-Score points equates to the equivalent of a 60 minute efforts as hard as you can go. An individual’s T-Score load over 42 days of training (Last 42 days of riding load) gives us an athlete’s Chronic Training Load (CTL) which is really another term for their general fitness or condition. The higher the CTL the more load the athlete can handle and generally the fitter they are or better able to handle back to back days of riding. As well as quantifying a CTL we also look at what has been happening more recently and call this Acute Training Load (ATL) Now it’s quite obvious to most people that if you ride hard for 7 days straight then you will be fatigued, do this continually for months on end and you are likely to be overtrained. By using this method of quantifying load which is far better than just km’s alone as it relates not just to distance, but, also to the intensity of each ride we can observe the relationship between CTL and ATL and how if you have a massive ATL, but, you don’t have a large CTL you dig a huge hole of fatigue which we call your Training Stress Balance (TSB) When designing a training program I look to increase CTL by around 2 – 5 points/week, this sort of increase I have found to be manageable by most riders and doesn’t lead to burnout and illness. The upper limit I would prescribe would be about 15 points/week and I have found that this can only be sustained for short periods or blocks of up to about 2 weeks (Best loaded at training camps or retreats where full recovery can be completed after each session) This block would then be followed by a recover week to absorb the load.

The next thing to consider then is the different workouts to structure into a program to elicit a 2 – 5 point rise in CTL per week. It can be done with lots of volume or smaller amounts of intensity. It can be built with big weekend rides and maintenance through the week, or consistent workouts throughout the week one method digs bigger holes and needs more recovery built in and one method is more consistent and builds without the need for as much recovery built into the program.

The big question is how do we put at all together and what method is best for what riders? The answer to that question is that everyone is different and each rider will be able to handle more or less load, more or less intensity from week to week and month to month. The basic building principle will still be in place as over time the load you can handle will increase as the body adapts and responds to the stimulus placed upon it and becomes stronger, fitter and faster.

Next month we will investigate some classic mistakes of the self coached athlete and look at methods of overcoming problems and the inevitable issues that crop up when following a program.

If you have any questions regarding training please feel free to email your questions to Bicycling Australia ( and I will do my very best to answer them. In the mean time enjoy being out on your bike and I hope to catch you on the road or trails.


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Reuben Smith

Sidney Philip Patterson

Reuben Smith

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