elitecycling | Preparing for your first training camp
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Preparing for your first training camp

Looking forward to a spring training camp? Now is the time to start planning and make sure you’re ready for it. Paul Mill takes you through the training camp basics.

Pre-Training Camp

It can be a very scary thing to step into the world of being a professional cyclist, even if just for a week. One of the most critical things to get right is to find a camp that offers the exact structure you require. A bit of research will make sure you get it right. Check out reviews of the camp as well as the organiser’s marketing. Volume may be your key objective for getting the most out of your camp, or you may decide that you want more emphasis placed on split day sessions. Extras like technique coaching, tuition in race specific training or even interval protocol may all be available but its best to make sure beforehand. Its important that you decide upon, and then choose, what is best for you.

Once you have researched and chosen the right camp it is a very good idea to plan ahead, building the camp into your overall training programme. If possible have a period where you can simulate the conditions you will experience on the camp with a higher volume week of training. Ideally this will be 2-3 weeks before the camp starts. This will prepare your body for the greatly increased mileage and intensity ahead whilst you are actually on your training camp.

We recommend a high volume week 2-3 weeks beforehand as it is essential that the week immediately before the training camp – the taper week – you focus mainly on resting and eating a balanced diet. This will enable you to get the maximum benefit out of your training camp.

Remember though that due to this high volume week of heavier than normal training workload, you may still feel the need to eat more with larger portions at each meal. In your taper week eating five regular small meals of just fist sized portions, is adequate to enhance your energy levels without piling on the pounds and again is good preparation for life on the camp.

The First Day

So you arrive at your camp and everyone looks fitter and stronger than you do, but do not be intimidated. Remember that you are there to do your own personal training with the aim of achieving your own goals, not to race everyone on the camp for the duration. Be smart and start in a lower category group if you are not sure of your current fitness; you can always move up to a stronger group the next day depending upon how you feel.

Make sure that after your ride, you take advantage of the remainder of the day to relax ready for the next day’s session. Keep your sessions progressive and don’t get carried away. A training camp will probably be the most volume that your body has done in one week, certainly since the previous summer, so make sure you focus on what you are trying to achieve long-term.

Don’t be distracted by the amazing scenery…

The Theory

During your time on the training camp, especially in a warmer climate, the body is being put under pressure by heat, increased mileage and higher intensity training. The terrain is usually very different to where you normally train and most training camp destinations will have longer climbs on mountain roads.

Usually anyone embarking on their first camp will want to jump head first into the mix and test themselves on the first climb, but are you ready? The main aim of the camp is to improve your aerobic fitness which will mean spending lots of time in the saddle to pre-condition your muscles and cardiovascular system to the harder efforts to come later in the year. Being too impatient can be a recipe for disaster as the prolonged activity, training nearly every day, will cause higher fatigue levels which can lead to overtraining or injury.

The key word here is adaptation. Your body needs time to adapt and if it doesn’t, then your training camp can turn into a week of sitting by the pool, completely fatigued.

…enjoy the camaraderie…

Despite everyone concentrating on their legs, one thing that we focus on during a camp is the improvement to your respiratory system, particularly inspiration. By breathing hard for prolonged periods and effectively strengthening your inspiratory muscles you will develop a more efficient breathing pattern, thereby improving the amount of oxygen transported to hard working muscles. Using a product such as Powerbreathe it has been shown that you can improve your breathing ‘strength’ by as much as 25% and may be a good investment pre-camp.

Recovery

As soon as you finish your ride you should be thinking about consuming a high carbohydrate drink, ideally within 30-minutes. Even better choose a specially designed recovery product that contains carbohydrate and protein, such as Maxifuel’s Recovermax, which has a 3-to-1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein balance. There is a very small window of opportunity to properly replenish muscle glycogen and initiate muscle repair so drink as soon as you can, as this is essential for your recovery phase.

It was always thought to be good for cyclists to consume huge amounts of pasta in this recovery phase during a camp, but think about what you are really trying to achieve; you are trying to increase your aerobic engine and your power output, and losing or maintaining weight, not putting it on, over the course of the camp is the ideal scenario.

There are things you can do to help achieve this. Switching pasta, which is linked to promoting estrogen production and thereby weight gain, to rice or potatoes will still afford better recovery and may even lead to some slight weight loss. That’s not saying that pasta is totally bad, but be sure to moderate consumption of heavily processed carbohydrates such as pasta and bread if weight loss is high up on your agenda.

The importance of protein at this time cannot be ignored. Muscle tissue damage will have taken place whilst pushing hard on that last climb, so add some fresh tuna or chicken to your recovery meals, along with some fresh vegetables and fruit, and then relax.

…and maintain a good diet to get the most out of your training camp.

Always plan a rest day during the week and if you possibly can, have a massage to loosen off those tired muscles. You can also take a leaf out of the pros book and, after finishing your ride and whilst having your recovery drink, stand in a cool swimming pool to help reduce the swelling in the muscles and promote good blood flow.

A whey protein shake, mixed with milk, last thing at night will help promote slow overnight protein release, which aids the recovery process within your muscles.

The Return

On returning home, feeling fit and looking tanned, it is only natural that you want to test yourself against your friends or race opposition; take your time though as your fitness will not be apparent straight away. You will be fatigued for at least a week to 10 days post-camp before feeling any benefits from the higher training load.

During the week immediately post-camp do shorter, easier rides and think about your calorie intake. It is perfectly normal to return from a training camp and want to eat the entire contents of the kitchen cupboards and fridge, especially if you have taken it seriously and lived like a pro all week, keeping clear of those crisps, biscuits and chocolate. Just take a moment to think of how, added to the training adaptations created by the camp, sacrificing those treats for a little longer will see you ride faster than ever before. Stay positive by reinforcing those good thoughts and just think of how quick you will now get around your local roads…

Test Yourself

Eventually the time will come to really test yourself though you may feel a little nervous, having invested so much in your fitness, in case you don’t do as well as you had hoped. But you simply have to put any such negative thoughts to the back of your mind and go for it. If you do not meet your expectations, use that as a positive, be reassured that you are far more prepared than you have ever been before, are probably still slightly fatigued from the training camp and that it will only be a matter of time before you are able to put all that extra strength and endurance to good use.