An enforced break is highly undesirable if you have a serious competitive objective in view. Just two weeks off is enough to create a significant reduction in your physical condition, and you must plan carefully to get back progressively to where you should be. Don’t assume you can just pick up where you left off.
If you have been training regularly, your body has been continuously adapting to the training load, thus allowing you to progress. Unfortunately, very soon after stopping training, these changes go into reverse and all your hard-won improvements start to disappear. This phenomenon is known as detraining.
The enforced break
There are three main reasons why you might be forced to stop training: business travel, family imperatives or medical (injury or illness).
In the case of business travel look for alternative sports: swimming, running, hiking, MTB, etc. If you can find a gym, take advantage of it: use the static bikes and the rowing machines; do multiple repetitions with light weights… If you go running, keep the sessions below 40 minutes, spaced out and at low intensity (unless you are a regular runner).
Obviously things are more difficult if you are sick or injured. Physical activity is impossible and you must focus on recovery before thinking about training. In this case electrostimulation is perhaps the only way to maintain your condition. It is important nevertheless to stick to the gentler “endurance” programmes: this is not the moment to experiment with muscle building.
As soon as you are ready to restart:
- Begin by rebuilding your base endurance (intensity level 1), exactly as you would in winter, using the small chain ring.
- Follow on rapidly with a focus on your technique, alternating sequences at low cadence/high force and at high cadence/low force in order to develop both components of cycling power.
- Next should be some work on sprinting, in order to reactivate the fast-twitch fibres and recover your neuromuscular coordination. Sprint at very high cadence seated for 10 seconds, and standing for 20 seconds.
- Increase the length of your rides from an initial 2h30 to 4h, and then to 5h after 4 weeks. The goal is to recover progressively your endurance and climbing ability (to the extent possible in your geographical area).
- Finally, after three weeks or so, begin intervals at VO2max (intensity level 5). The recovery intervals should be longer than the work intervals.
More generally, increase the training volume from week to week until you get back to where you were before the enforced break. The time this will take depends on the extent of your detraining.
Once you are through the restart, you can begin some serious work at VO2max. Working twice as hard is the only way to get back quickly to top physical condition. Nevertheless, two sessions per week at VO2max is probably the maximum – and only one if you can only train 2 to 4 times per week.