How to Use the New Building Block Training Plans
If you’re new to structured training, you probably like the simplicity of following one of the stock training plans that come with every subscription to The Sufferfest. The work is done for you; you just load it into your calendar and do the sessions. Too easy.
But sometimes you need a plan with more flexibility. Maybe:
- you’re not ready to commit to another full 12-week plan.
- your current plan finishes with an event, but you have another event in a few weeks and you don’t know what to do in between.
- your specific needs are met by one of our stock plans and you would like to try building something yourself.
Whatever the reason, we now have three-week and four-week Building Block plans that you can use to create your own plan, or to fill in the gaps between plans. They include Base, Tempo, FTP, MAP, and AC/NM blocks and can be found under the ‘Special Focus’ category in the Training Plans tab in The Sufferfest app.
In order to get the most out of these new Building Block plans, you’ll need to understand the purpose of each block and how best to use them. Let's dig in.
Traditional base training involves riding at low intensity effort with moderate to high volume with the goal of building an aerobic “foundation” on which you can then build intensity later. If you’ve read our article on why you don’t need to do base training, then you know you don’t need to spend a lot of time riding at low intensity. But that doesn’t mean there is no use for a “base phase” type of block. Even though an entire season of base isn’t necessary, you also can’t train at high intensity 12 months out of the year; sometimes you need to take a break and dial it back.
Choose the Base Block If:
- You’re transitioning from the end of a race season or the completion of a goal event—such as your “Mt. Sufferlandria”— that you’ve been working towards for several months.
- You’re lacking motivation or the desire to Suffer and are craving a break from the hard stuff. High-intensity training is both physically and mentally demanding and it’s important for life balance (and for your longevity as an athlete) to relax and recharge.
- You’re returning from an injury or you’re limited to training at low intensity for some other reason. You may be worried that riding at a low intensity for a few weeks will result in a decrease in your fitness, which is somewhat true, but any training is better than no training and you will undoubtedly experience an increase in your numbers when you return to high-intensity training.
Inside the Base Block Plans:
- Include 3-6 hours of riding per week.
- Most sessions feature 4DP metrics that have been reduced so they’re appropriate for a base phase of training.
- Typically, FTP will be below 78%, MAP 100% or less, and any AC or NM targets will be minimized if there are any.
Tempo intensity as defined by The Sufferfest / Wahoo Sports Science Team as efforts at 75-91% of FTP and 87-95% of LTHR (or an RPE of 5-6 on the SufferScale of 1-10).
Tempo is neither easy nor hard, but it does have a purpose when used properly.
Training at this intensity range helps improve:
- Aerobic fitness through an increase in cardiac output (that’s the amount of blood your heart can pump every minute)
- Lactate threshold (the intensity you can sustain
- Mitochondrial density of the muscles (mitochondria are the "power houses" of the cells that create energy).
All of these are important parts of aerobic metabolism and performing your best—especially if you like group rides. It’s likely that your local group ride fluctuates in this intensity range as people want to push the effort enough to feel like they’re working, but not to the point of true Suffering.
Choose the Tempo Block If:
- You’ve just completed a Base Block and want to gradually increase the intensity of your training before subjecting yourself to high-intensity efforts.
- You want to focus on improving your aerobic fitness rather than your power or anaerobic capacity. Aerobic fitness is more systemic, while power and anaerobic capacity are more localized to the muscles.
- You want to work on increasing your FTP without increasing your fatigue levels. At tempo effort you get a lot of the same benefits of working at FTP (like improving your ability to process oxygen and clear metabolites), but with less stress on your body. That means you need less recovery time.
Inside the Tempo Block Plans:
- Include 3-6 hours of riding per week.
- Contains a mix of moderately-intense training sessions.
- Some sessions have reduced 4DP metrics to keep you in the “sweet spot”. If you launch the workouts from your Calendar the adjustments will be made for you.
Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is usually defined as the highest effort you can maintain for approximately one hour, and is measured in watts. Increasing your FTP is especially important if you’re an athlete that focuses on events that require a relatively hard effort for a prolonged period of time. Increasing your FTP requires focused training, so it is important that you have completed either the Full Frontal FitnessTest or Half Monty Ramp Test in The Sufferfest app within the past 6-8 weeks so your workout targets are accurate.
Choose the FTP Block If:
- Your Full Frontal results revealed a Sustained Efforts weakness
- You want to improve your FTP and ability to use oxygen more efficiently so you can maintain a higher steady state power for longer periods.
- The effort required in your upcoming event will be close to FTP effort, or approximately 1 hour in duration.
- You race time trials, triathlons, road races
Inside the FTP Block Plans:
- Include 3-6 hours of riding per week.
- Contain a mix of moderately-intense sessions.
- Some sessions have reduced 4DP metrics to focus on improving your FTP. If you launch the workouts from your Calendar the adjustments will be made for you.
Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP) correlates to your power at VO2 max, determined by either the 5-minute effort in Full Frontal or by the ramp portion of the Half Monty advanced ramp test. This effort is above FTP so don’t expect to hold it steady for very long.
Choose the MAP Block If:
- Your primary weakness (as determined by Full Frontal) is VO2 efforts.
- Your FTP seems to be at a plateau. Your MAP actually acts as a ceiling for your FTP, so you may need to improve your MAP first before you can improve your FTP.
Inside the MAP Block Plans:
- Include 3-6 hours of riding per week.
- Contain a mix of MAP-focused sessions (think 9 Hammers, There Is No Try, Butter).
- Some sessions have reduced 4DP metrics. If you launch the workouts from your Calendar the adjustments will be made for you.
Anaerobic Capacity (AC) and Neuromuscular Power (NM) are most commonly associated with power or sprinting. Even if you’re not planning on contesting the city line sprint or gunning for the green jersey, you still need to train your neuromuscular system. The neuromuscular component is directly related to your pedaling efficiency and coordination. Neuromuscular firing patterns in the muscles are responsible for switching muscles on and off. If the right muscle fibers aren’t firing at the right times, you won’t be able to produce power efficiently, even at lower intensities.
Choose the AC / NM Block If:
- Your Full Frontal results identified a primary weakness in either Sprinting or Repeated Efforts.
- You find it difficult to pedal at a high cadence (100+)
- You want to improve your sprinting
- You want to get better at tackling successive short, punchy climbs
- You want to be able to deliver repeated attacks.
- You want to improve your pedaling efficiency at all cadences and intensities.
3 or 4-week Blocks: Which is Right for You?
Now that you have a better understanding of the different building block plans, the next step is deciding which duration to choose. The 3-week plans involve two weeks of progressively building training volume and intensity, followed by a week of reduced volume and intensity to consolidate your gains and recover. 4-week plans are structured with three weeks of progressively building training volume and intensity, followed by a week of reduced volume and intensity.
3-week Blocks are good for:
- Novice and intermediate riders
- Athletes over the age of 55
- Those who accumulate fatigue quickly and could benefit from more frequent recovery periods
4-week Blocks are good for:
- Younger athletes.
- Athletes who have at least 3 years of training experience under their belt
- Those who recover quickly
- Athletes who have been following a two-weeks on / one-week off plan and feel like they’ve reached a fitness plateau
Moving to a four-week block can help you break through plateaus by providing a longer period of training stimulus. Just be aware that the third week of building will be challenging. If you can’t maintain the targets, take an extra recovery day or start the recovery week early.
How to use the Building Block plans
Good training plans are built on the principle of periodization. In a nutshell, that means changing things like the volume and intensity of your training over time. We’ll spare you ALL of the gory details, but you should understand a few important points.
The body goes through three phases when experiencing a new stimulus:
- Alarm: The initial shock of a new stimulus, like the soreness you experience when beginning a new strength routine.
- Resistance: the adaptation to the stimulus; your body getting better at dealing with that stress.
- Exhaustion: When you’ve had too much stimulus and the body stops responding to it (like overtraining).
These three phases are why we structure the Building Block plans with a few weeks of building volume and intensity, followed by a recovery week.
Building recovery into the plan helps prevent reaching the exhaustion phase so you can stay in the first two phases, which is where gains are made.
Know Where You Are and Where You Want to Be
First, you need to consider your goals, target races or events, and training experience. Start by asking what the needs and demands of your goal event are. What type of event is it? Time trial, century? How long is the event? What are your goals (do you want to win or just finish)? What's your current fitness?
Answering these questions will help you decide what your desination is. From there, you can work backwards.
Your last block should be the most event-specific so you go into your race or ride with as much specific fitness as possible. If it’s a century ride, you’d want to focus on tempo or base for the last block since your effort for that distance will be relatively low and endurance will be your greatest demand. However, if the event is a time trial, you’d want to use an FTP block, as your effort is likely to be closer to your one-hour power.
Then, working backwards from your final block, it depends on how much time you have to prepare. If you have just enough time for one more block, we recommend choosing the block that improves your primary weakness as much as possible, based on your latest Full Frontal results.
Building a Full Season with the Block Plans
The most common form of structured training is called "linear periodization". That's where intensity gradually increases and volume gradually decreases over the course of the cycle or year. This allows for a slow, steady build of fitness, which is great for beginners or those with one big event that you want to peak for.
Using our building blocks, you would perform the Base Block, then the Tempo Block, followed by the FTP Block, then the MAP Block, and finish with the AC/NM Block. This type of training is especially great for events such as a mountain bike or cyclocross races, which requires anaerobic capacity and power.
Non-linear periodization typically refers to varying the training stimulus within a week or month and is better suited to more experienced/advanced athletes. You could adapt this type of periodization by performing the building blocks “out of order.” For example, if you’re planning to do a century or Gran Fondo this fall, you probably already have a solid base so you could start with a Tempo Block or FTP Block to raise your threshold power, then complete a MAP Block to increase VO2 max, then go back to the FTP Block to get more of an FTP increase thanks to your higher VO2 max.
If you aren’t looking to use the blocks for a full season and just need to fill in some gaps, then you’ll want to do the same needs analysis to determine what you need to achieve through training, then decide which block is most appropriate. For example, if you have three weeks in between criterium events, you could choose to have your 12-week plan finish on the event date of the first event, then use the 3-week AC/NM Block to maintain your speed until the next race.