This is a basic one.
So basic in fact, I shouldn’t really be needing to write it up.
Yet I get emails x 20 every winter asking the exact same question:
Hi! I’m going Gran Canaria/Tenerife/Lanzarote/Mallorca for a week long training camp. I’m wondering how to structure my training to ensure the camp is as beneficial as possible.
– About 20 Wattkoden/Wattkg readers every winter
I have to warn you in advance.
This is not one of my usual in-depth, well-referenced nuts and bolts posts. It’s more a super short application of training physiology 101 and common sense.
Still it seems there is a need for it.
As with any training related question, the answer is:
It depends on your training status, fitness level, race goals, injury susceptibility and your future training and racing schedule following your camp.
I am going to generalize and provide answers for two common athlete scenarios.
Regardless of your level of cycling expertise, when we leave the blistering cold European winter for a week of sleeveless cycling we usually desire the following:
- to maximize the number of hours riding in the sun
- to maximize the number of scenic rides
- to maximize our fitness development
In short, we desire to spend as much time as possible in the sun and on the bike.
The simple solution
The solution is straight forward.
If you want to be riding a lot, you need to prepare by getting a solid training base in place before your camp.
Brutally plain and simple.
As you probably already know, your ability to adapt to big training loads is by and large governed by your chronic training load over time.
The bigger your training base, the bigger training load you can take on during your winter camp and still adapt sufficiently.
When training base is in place
In this scenario, it’s pretty straight forward.
You have a solid training base. As such, you can take on a fairly big load during your training camp.
Because training loads during such camps tend to be higher than during normal winter training, make sure you arrive well-rested.
It’s usually a good idea to schedule lighter training in the days/week leading up to the camp. This to ensure you arrive fully recovered and ready to take on the big loads.
From there, you can pretty much plan your camp as you see fit. For fit riders this would usually involve fairly big volumes of low intensity rides and some threshold or high-intensity sessions, depending on your priorities.
Naturally, following this period of heavy training loads, it makes good sense to include a lighter week(s) following camp, to allow for sufficient adaptation.
When training base is NOT in place
This is a common scenario for many a keen amateur.
We tend to begin our winter training too late. So we arrive at our designated winter retreat with a scarce training base.
In this case too, simple logic rules.
1 – Do not panic
Don’t step on the landmine of training franticly the last two weeks leading up to camp. You are only going to arrive in a poorly recovered condition. Rides during camp will suffer, and worst case you’ll end up overreaching.
Instead, train regularly leading up to the camp. But, ensure you arrive sufficiently recovered.
2 – Low intensity allows for more hours
If you want to maximize the number of hours riding, but minimize the load you need to keep training intensity low.
Put simply, easy endurance rides with strict intensity control are the way to go.
For week-long camps, I would suggest you need not worry about high-intensity training.
Firstly, your high-intensity aerobic qualities don’t deteriorate that quickly. Secondly, since in this scenario, fitness is not great to begin with, this is not a pressing problem.
For longer camps of 10-14 days, particularly if you have a semi-solid training base, it might be more relevant to include an intervall session for the sake of maintenance.
Due to the already big loads endured on these camps, I would suggest keeping the interval(s) a tad on the gentler side. Knocking off a few percent from your regular interval intensity will facilitate recovery, while still allowing maintenance of those physiological properties.
Real-life example: January Gran Canaria camp
The below example is from my current workation / training camp in Gran Canaria.
I arrived in January, not having done any cycling since August. However, in between I have been doing 1-2 weekly running sessions.
Aside from being useful cross-training (particularly if you’re not an elite rider), running has one great benefit:
It ensures my leg muscles and tendons are at lease somewhat conditioned. As a result, I need not be too worried about the common Achilles and knee pains that may quickly occur when de-conditioned tissue meets rapid spikes in training loads.
With six full days available for training I was aiming for 4-5 rides.
My training was as follows:
Day 1: 3h 25 min easy ride. 66 km and 1300 m elevation. Bonked. Training load 600 arbitrary units (AU), 166 training stress score (TSS).
Day 2: 7h 20 min easy ride, but at times hard due to brutal climbs. 124 km and 3000 m elevation. Bonked (twice). Training load 880 AU, 312 TSS.
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: 5h easy ride. 100 km and 2150 m elevation. Felt fine. Training load 600 AU, 279 TSS.
Day 5: Rest. Short and easy 30 min run.
Day 6: Planning 3 hour easy ride.
Currently at day 5, this relatively big volume is so far working nicely for me. Take note that I would not recommend copying this plan. From an unfit baseline this is a rather big spike in training load.
The reason it works for me is because:
1) I’ve done it before, so I know fairly well what my body does and does not tolerate.
2) I am very comfortable with my own intensity control. I’m doing these rides strictly low intensity, with the exception of the hills that are so steep that you need to push watts in the 300-400s to keep moving.
Also, the two long rides included 2 eating breaks, which also makes a big difference compared to simply powering through the session in one go.
PS! All details and rides from this camp are available from my instagram and strava:
When going on a winter training camp, it pays to be prepared.
Your training base dictates how much training volume you can take on without sustaining injuries or going into overreaching.
If you do not have a solid training base before camp, you need to train accordingly.
The easy way of allowing many hours of sunny riding on a poor training base is by keeping intensity strictly low, and allowing for many breaks.
Best of luck on your training camp!