Suddenly, after a few weeks going really well, I’ve just lost all my good cycling form!?
Exhausted, tight, depleted, sore and feeling slow with deep muscle fatigue. Just when i thought my cycling form was aligning for some top outputs, instead its actually time to rest and re-condition my motor. I’ve spent my best form in the weeks before my event goal!?
Where did I go wrong? Answer: I’ve had too many heavy training load days in a row in the last fortnight and created a high degree of (what I call) ‘accumulative loading fatigue’ (ALF), or over-training.
So how do the Tour de France riders avoid over-loading their engines despite 23-days in a row of accumulative muscle fatigue? Answer: many years of accumulative load training to teach the engine how to recover faster and more efficiently, thus avoiding build-up of fatigue to a point of over-training.
My condition today, or how my body is going right now, is not always a true representation of my current cycling ‘form’ (fitness level evident this month following recent months of training) because of the many possible interferences. In recent weeks, I accumulated too much training fatigue – or more tiredness than my body is currently trained to recover from within 48-72hrs.
The average Tour de France racer is an incredibly fit physiological specimen, with an engine that has been developed over years or even decades to manage excessively high levels of training stress, and an ability to recover more efficiently from the heavy accumulation of fatigue in the muscles that occurs with day-after-day 5hrs+ threshold level strains.
Training strains cause a rider to become fitter via typically effective progressive training-load plans which expose the rider to larger loads or more training stress: bigger gears, more climbing, greater distances, more intense efforts during rides. With cycling, it’s easier to increase all of these ‘loading’ dimensions of training without noticing the deeper body & muscle fatigue than some other sports because cycling is a ‘supported activity’ (the body has no impact with the ground). I believe that because cycling is so exciting and stimulating, the ‘euphoric high’ during threshold exertions is also a distraction from the pain pressure being applied to the body, so people spend more time in fatigued states than they realise.
The most common queries made to me in cycling consultations and from my own training peers are about how to alleviate lactic acid and fatigue from muscles already becoming over-worked.
So here’s some handy insights to help you become more aware of your body’s fitness, the actual cycling form that really lies beneath your daily condition, and how to fix ALF if it starts to become an issue in your cycling:
WHAT DO THE EFFECTS OF ALF FEEL LIKE ?
– muscles may feel heavy with lactic more often than normal
– body doesn’t feel like it’s recovering in the routine time (2-4 days) as normal, or adjusting to training tiredness during rides, even after an hour of exercise
– a sense of muscle-strength depletion, remaining day after day, prevalent throughout the whole ride
– suddenly going from experiencing good cycling form over a few weeks to having a persistent condition where limited power/energy at the higher exertion levels prevails
– feeling overly fatigued/depleted after short rides or already within the first 40mins of riding
‘Accumulation Loading Fatigue’ builds up over weeks, not hours, and is experienced by reasonably fit riders because it comes from being able to repeatedly complete hard exertions, so is distinctly different from 2 other kinds of commonly talked about ‘cycling engine failure’. These are Blowing Up which is less fatiguing for the body, and Chronic Fatigue which is more damaging for the body.
a.k.a. hitting the wall, getting the bonk, falling in a hole, meeting the purple lactic monster – blowing up is like suddenly experiencing an inability to exert solid power during a ride, it typically occurs during the hardest exertion of the day, while climbing, late in the ride, while training with higher level riders). Blowing up can be the result of dehydration, glycogen depletion (‘running out of gas’), being under-trained for the ride difficulty or the pace being set, and is more to do with a lack of required training fuel in the body or sustained muscle power in the person’s fitness. Blowing up commonly occurs when a rider over-exerts (‘red-lines the engine’) after it is already close to exhaustion late into a difficult ride. Blowing up is usually temporary and can be over-come by resting, ingesting training fuels, slowing down and breathing deeply for a while, and generally does not persevere beyond the ride day when it occurred. ALF is more permeating, affecting the cycling form over days or weeks when compared to ‘blowing up’ during a ride.
is an illness which persists as a more long-lasting, overly fatigued state, with very low levels of energy and power, and commonly experienced as a significant energy loss very soon after any physical exertion. Chronic fatigue states can result from a longer term period of tiredness coupled with repeating physical strain of the body without enough rest. It’s possible that there is a higher risk of developing a chronic fatigue state if a high intensity training routine prevails in the presence of an over-trained state or the ALF condition. It is highly recommended that you seek medical advice if experiencing the effects of ALF or over-training and the condition does not subside or lessen after consciously working to over-come the condition (see below). ALF is less permeating and damaging and short-lived than a chronic fatigue illness, especially if managed well and taken seriously as an overly fatigued state needing significant changes to be made in the rider’s training routine for at least a few weeks.
HOW DO I REDUCE THE EFFECTS OF ALF ?
– do not entirely rest from exercising for more than 2 days in a row
– do more short rides 40-60mins of easy spinning gears for 1 – 2 weeks
– do 2 weekly endurance training rides of 3hrs+ at 65-70% effort steady paced, a few days apart or on weekends
– add some high quality rest to your program (eg. go earlier to bed at 9pm, 2 full rest days off per week, relaxation masssge or meditation or other rejuvenative activities)
– rehydration focus for the body on a daily basis with natural high water-content foods like fruit and vegetables (celery!)
– plan your training over the next 3 months to check the amount of high-load training that may occur in series on the schedule
– monitor ‘training load’ on a weekly basis, push hard rides forward on the plan and give the body more time and more anti-ALF training in between tough days on the plan.
PLAN TO AVOID THE ONSET OF ALF
Tackling large distance, difficult, hilly road ride courses or time-trialing over Gran Fondo routes against the clock are substantially taxing cycling challenges.
To prepare properly for long-range 100km+ time trials, you need to expose the cycling engine to progressively harder, deeper muscle-demanding road-ride strains but also allow for recharging in between the big rides – maybe completing the harder mountain training rides every second Saturday for this reason with big distance endurance training on each other weekend. The importance of becoming fully recovered before the next mountain training ride is one reason why a solid training schedule runs across at least 12 weeks (i.e. 3 x 4-week phases where the 4th week is tapered off to recharge). Building strength is more effective if you regularly rejuvenate back to a ‘highly recovered physical condition’ between the weekly bouts of heavy strength-training sessions. This is all part of tackling a mountain challenge or road time-trial event successfully.
It’s critical not to escalate the weekly difficulty of a training plan too quickly (such as cramming for events), but work towards a maintenance-focused schedule including an adequate volume of low-level endurance / conditioning rides are always added between all high-load training days.
‘Accumulative Loading Fatigue’ is a Ridewiser term created to define a particular physical experience that can occur with excessive high-resistance training volume in cycling. It is recommended that you seek medical advice if any of the effects described as the ALF state persist.
written by Ridewiser Rob Crowe O.A.M.
Olympic Cyclist, Writer, Speaker
Stronger, Smarter, Safer, Faster