Q&A with Dig Deep Coaching on Our Training Plans

Suitable for any time of year, including winter, our 10 week training plans. have helped Sufferlandrians around the world improve their preformance by 8-10%.  We just sat down with our co-author Stephen Gallagher, Director at Dig Deep Coaching and former professional cyclist, to answer a few questions about the Plans.

 The 'fest: Who are you and what is Dig Deep Coaching? Stephen: I started racing bikes when I was seven years old, and turned pro in 2003 with Team Endura Sport. Over the years, I raced professionally for, Flanders, Giant Asia, Murphy & Gunn, An Post/Sean Kelly Racing Team right up to more recently Sigma Sport Specialized and Cycle Premier Metalek.

Formed in 2011 together with my partner Dan Fleeman, a former pro with Cervelo, Dig Deep Coaching is a cycling & triathlon coaching company based in the UK and Ireland. We've expanded into Europe and we also coach athletes in America, Asia and Australia. We provide coaching, lab testing, bike fit, nutrition together with our specialists in those areas. We also provide free webinars and articles on many areas of performance and health along with retailing & renting Powermeters. We work with people at all levels, from those competing in the biggest professional races in the world to beginners getting onto the bike for the first time. We have the same ethos with all our clients – Challenge, Hone, Achieve. Challenge your ability to improve and develop, Hone your training and preparation with our vast knowledge & experience via our coaching structure and finally help you Achieve your goal and enable you to raise your future ambitions to a new level.

Why does someone need a structured training plan? Structured brings around a focus that everyone needs when looking to get fitter and faster. It also gives you the confidence that what you are doing in training is all geared towards a bigger goal and each day you are on the bike is actually building fitness in a specific way. Having a plan to follow will bring around improvements gradually which is always the best way to enable performance gains to be a long lasting and part of your performance in the months following. Without structure, you're just sort of winging it and hoping it works - which, especially when you have limited time to train, really is a waste.

What's the benefit of integrating both indoor and outdoor riding? Indoor sessions have always been  an essential part of cycling training. That goes for professional riders racing the biggest races in the world to cyclists who want to take part in their first Sportive.  Indoor sessions allows you to make the most out of limited time: you have no traffic lights, stop signs, coasting, junctions, etc. so every single minute is used to gain fitness. As coaches, we recommend indoor riding, even in summer, because it allows the athlete to concentrate better on specific aspects needed to build fitness (such as cadence, consistent/specific heartrate and power, technique etc). This is all possible outdoors, of course, but the variables are easier to control when riding indoors. To mix outdoor sessions with the more intensive indoor sessions is the ultimate mix for performance increases. Competitions, sportives and group rides are not done in a controlled environment like an indoor session, so athletes have to expose themselves to these elements and build endurance, technique and bike handling.

Can you move the workouts around within the plan? Everyone will come up against different aspects that will interrupt the plan, be it illness, family or work. This is unavoidable and something that you shouldn't worry or stress about if it is not a regular occurrence.  You can move sessions around but be careful not to play catch up, i.e move missed sessions in one week to the following week which will reduce your rest periods. This normally brings around too much training stress that can cause overtraining (or "under resting" which is a better term). If you need to move a session around during a week, try and make the amount of total rest scheduled for that week the same. And be sure to avoid clumping too many session together. If you are only doing 2-day training blocks avoid adding up consecutive sessions which will make a 4 day block as this will normally bring around too much accumulated training stress. Your sessions will become less productive and can become extremely tired after the block is over - and that won't help you get back on track with the plan.

It's winter. What if I can't ride outside - can I do the workout inside? Yes you can switch to inside. As explained before there are many benefits to riding indoors so this is a perfect alternative. The biggest issue is the longer endurance rides (normally on a Sunday or Weekend) which can be up to 3hrs, this can be a long time on a turbo trainer and it can be pretty tough mentally to get through it. I recommend reducing the total volume by around 25% if you alternate the session to inside but be sure to maintain the intensity prescribed in that particular session.

Can I do the indoor workouts outside? This is a harder switch over compared to moving outdoor workouts indoors and we really recommend you do the indoor workouts as prescribed. First, of course, is that the workouts are based on the Sufferfest videos, which have very specific periods of intensity and recovery, as well as those 'surprise' attacks and accelerations that they're famous for. If you really can't resist the temptation of going outdoors, then the most important thing when completing certain specific efforts outside is having a clear, uninterrupted route that will not allow for long breakages in the effort you are performing. That can be difficult to find, especially if you live in a built-up area. If that's the case, then you can extend the warm up and cool down which might allow you to get onto quieter roads that will allow you to perform the efforts in the best possible conditions.

Can I ride more than the plans says? You can, but only as long as you can maintain the intensity we ask you to do. So, adding an extra 30-60minutes (or more) of endurance pace to any session is possible if you feel you can handle it. You can also add a 2-3 hour tempo ride (Zone 3/4 only!) on Satudrays if you feel recovered from the mid-week sessions and you can still do the Sunday ride as prescribed. If you start to feel fatigued, though, and can't hit the intensity that the interval workouts, then you should back off again. Do be careful of adding volume in the first three weeks of the plan - you can be feeling good and then, with accumulated fatigue, hit a wall in week 5 that may be difficult to recover from over the rest of the plan.  Don't add any additional volume during the rest weeks - they are rest weeks for a reason. If you are building towards an 'Etape'  or big Sportive type of event at the end of your plan you can also increase the Sunday endurance ride to 4hrs (perhaps 5hrs if with a group and if you're still able to hit the following week full gas). This will give you the confidence in doing longer, event-length sessions.  Please make sure you have the ability to do the other sessions as planned and avoid doing TOO MUCH, this is the key.

What if I don't have the videos - will this training plans still work for me? If you don't have the videos, then these probably aren't the plans for you as the videos guide you through the specific workouts we want you to do. If you don't have the videos but really want to do these plans for some reason, then you can check out the workout details on the Sufferfest website which will show you the intensities and durations requested of you in the video. Although it will be less enjoyable and motivating without the videos it is still possible to progress and build fitness.

What kind of improvement can I expect after ten weeks of flogging myself like this? As everyone will be starting from a different fitness levels it is impossible to be accurate on exactly how much improvement can be made by each individual.  People who are new to cycling we will see bigger gains in fitness compared to people who have already have been cycling for many years. This does not mean that experienced cyclist do not gain from plans but just that when people start a new activity they build fitness quickly.  With more experienced cyclists, or those used to previous structured training, I would expect an increase of 5-10% at FTP power (only those with a powermeter or power on turbo will be able to accurately measure their performance gains).  The biggest key to development is consistency and gradual lift in training stress which is done via total volume and intensity. As mentioned above there will be times when days and sessions need changed, but if you keep the general plan consistent you should start to see good improvements in many areas like recovery between sessions, getting up local climb quicker, taking more turns at the front with local chain gang, etc.

I'm a triathlete. Will this plan work for me? I think for Triathlon the beginner and intermediate plan is possible to follow along with your swim/run training sessions if you are careful to avoid under resting. The advanced plan is too top heavy with intensity and would not allow you to recover adequately to enable you to perform your other sessions to your best ability. I would recommend trying to keep the higher intensity sessions and change the medium intensity efforts for swim/run training. If after a few weeks you feel that the high intensity sessions are affecting your ability to perform the other swim/run training then reduce the high intensity sessions to a maximum of 2 a week and maintain the rides on the endurance-based weekend. Try to keep the rest days a priority, perhaps including an easier swim technique session on a rest day. This will not cause too much training stress but allow you to get an extra swim in.

I'm racing at the moment - how would that fit into these training plans? If you are racing, try and keep the overall structure of the plan the same and swap and endurance ride at the weekend with a race. Racing and endurance sessions work different areas, of course, but a 3hr training ride can bring around a similar training stress to that of a 2hr road race depending on the conditions. If you feel you have not recovered from a race at the weekend when performing the mid-week sessions then reduce one of the higher intensity sessions to a lower intensity or take an extra rest day to allow for a full recovery.

Do I really need a heart rate monitor or power meter to do these workouts? No, you do not need either a heart monitor or a powermeter to do the plans as we have an accurate RPE scale for each training day. I would, however, very much recommend you use at least a heart rate monitor to make it more specific and get the most out of each session. You can get one relatively cheaply and it can be used in all training rides indoor and out.

I have my FTP number already. Can I use that or do I have to do the fitness test as instructed? If it is a test that has been done in the recent past (i.e. previous 3 weeks) then yes this can be used to determine your ftp but I would still perform an ftp test regardless. I would use your previous FTP wattage/HR result as a bench mark to produce another test to gauge fitness, your FTP wattage can change a lot, by the way, while your FTP Heart tends to stay the same (while speed and distance covered increase), so be aware of this. The FTP test is a great workout out in itself also and something that you should get accustomed to as it is a great way to analyse fitness and development. Check out our 10-week cycling training plans here >> 

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