How much fitness have I lost, and how to get it back?

I’ve ended up taking about five weeks off my bike due to external issues (and a broken toe, as discussed in another thread). For the last ten days or so of that I’ve done a few short easy rides on the rollers (around 30 minutes) and a little intensity on an elliptical trainer (up to 15minutes). Last night I did about a 40 minute effort outside at around (my pre-break) SST pace to see where I was at. My HR was about 20 beats higher (about 170bpm versus 150) for that wattage (around 225 Watts), suggesting that it was more like a threshold effort. It didn’t feel terrible, which makes me think my threshold is now perhaps around 240 Watts? Prior to my enforced break it was about 260 Watts.

I’d done several months of good work since the winter, starting off with a lot of lsd and then moving on to two or three sessions of SST per week (building up to 1.5hrs of SST per session within a 3 hr ride), combined with one long steady ride (up to 4 - 5hrs). So a weekly load of about 14hrs per week (with a bit of strength work thrown in). I hit an all time high CTL of 82 at the end of May (I’m a master’s athlete at the ‘wrong’ end of my 40s), and was feeling pretty strong. Then I did a couple of weeks of ‘Seiler’ 4x8s to freshen up, and with the intention of starting doing some (road) racing.

After all that life got in the way, big time! My CTL is now in the mid 20’s :frowning: I’m aching a fair bit from yesterday’s ride, so thinking of doing a recovery ride today, but nothing to make me think such rides are out of the question. My question is how to get my fitness back (relatively) quickly. I’ve been a cyclist, off and on, for a long time though I’ve barely raced in recent years. Is there any chance I could race this year - say at the end of September? A race would be, say, an hour long crit on a relatively untechnical course so not much sprinting out of corners (at UK Cat 3 level).

I know there are no shortcuts, but I don’t appear to have lost quite as much fitness - at least in terms of my ftp - as I’d feared. Do I need to do all that base work again? Can I use a more aggressive CLT ramp rate than I would normally do? @trevor , @ryan (and others) - any thoughts greatly appreciated!

Hi @Mr.B, thanks for the question! Sorry to hear about the issues you’ve been having, but I get it. They happen to all of us.

To answer your question, yes, you can have good fitness for some events at the end of September. Can you be back to your peak fitness? Likely not. But this is where it’s important to adjust your goals to ensure you have some success. Going to the races to win is probably not a good goal for this year. Going to enjoy racing again, is a great one.

My first suggestion to you is to not look at CTL. Chris and I actually just recorded an episode on CTL that will go live next week. But the one sentence summary is that CTL is a guide, not a goal. And when you’re coming off of a forced period off the bike, it’s not even a good guide. CTL needs 42 days of data to give you an accurate sense of where you’re at and you don’t have that. As you pointed out, despite the five weeks off, your fitness is still pretty good. But CTL doesn’t see that - all it sees is a missing five weeks of data. You’re really not going to get good CTL numbers until the end of September.

My second suggestion is to re-evaluate your training ranges (zones.) Both your power and heart rate will need to be adjusted. Yes, you’re power has clearly gone down, but fortunately not a lot. However, heart rate also changes after an extended rest - it goes up. So, for the next few weeks your threshold heart and max heart rate will likely be a little higher than you’re used to. After a few good weeks of training, heart rate will return to what you’re used to.

My third and final suggestion is to build a good, very flexible ,training plan to get you back to regular training. The unfortunate thing about time off is that you lose fitness. The fortunate thing is that fitness comes back quickly. But it takes A LOT less stress initially. So, do not return to full training right away. What you need to start is just lots of time on the bike. Probably one reduced interval session per week is all you need. After you’ve done a block of that, getting back to more regular training is probably doable.

However, that’s a pretty quick and generic recommendation. When I’m bringing an athlete back from injury, I interact with them almost daily and adjust as we see how their body responds. The goal is to get back to a healthy place so that you can train normally. There’s no plan for that - it’s a day-to-day assessment.

But focusing on how your body is responding and not on trying to get your CTL back up is definitely going to lead you to better places.

Hope that helps!


Thanks @trevor for your helpful response. I’m really looking forward to that episode on CTL now! Yes my target will be to enjoy racing, finish in the bunch and perhaps work on my positioning.

Really interesting point about elevated heart rates, that makes me more confident that my guestimate of my ftp is a reasonable one. I’ve also struggled a bit to stay ‘in zone’ on my lsd rides and was concerned that I might have been slipping into more of a tempo range, but it sounds like that is probably not the case which is a relief.

I’ve definitely felt that initial training stress. Individual sessions themselves are ok, even when including some intensity. But stringing them together is proving more challenging. Doing mostly lsd definitely feels much more manageable, thanks for suggesting that, A block of training for me is usually around 3 weeks - is that roughly what you are suggesting here before starting harder training again?

Interestingly, the thing I have suffered most with is not my legs but everything else that supports me on the bike. I guess I simply don’t have the depth of strength work in my body. It does make me think if something like this happens again I might try and at least maintain some strength work to make getting back on the bike easier…

Thanks again and keep up the great work! As part of the same demographic really looking forward to seeing how you get on in your N1 challenge!

Hi @Mr.B, I’m really glad that helped! Just one more response based on what you wrote above. If you are feeling that your long rides are slipping into the tempo range, I’d trust that right now. Coming off of an extended period of time off the bike, it’s amazing how easy you can train and get significant adaptations. But if you go too hard too soon, you can set yourself back. So better right now to error on the side of caution.

On that note, your ranges (heart rate and power) are going to keep changing over the next few weeks as your fitness comes back. So, right now you really need to trust feel and not numbers.

Let us know how it goes!


Here is Fast Talk Episode 178: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugle of Chronic Training Load (CTL).

And Library Members can access this companion workshop that the episode mentions: Chronic Training Load (CTL) Isn’t Everything.

Thanks @trevor and @dave - listening to that, and my experience, sure does demonstrate how big the disconnect between fitness and CTL can be (even if I suspect Coggan et. al. never intended it to be used that way).