How to use the Building Blocks 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 SYSTM. 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 aren't 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 in the Training Plan Wizard by selecting Cycling-> General -> Building Blocks.  

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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.

 

Recovery Block

Sometimes to get faster you need to go slower. You can’t train at high intensity 12 months out of the year; sometimes you need to take a break and dial it back. That doesn’t mean you have to completely step away from the bike, active recovery is a valuable training tool to help you get faster. 

Choose the Recovery Block if:

You’re in need of a break from any sort of intensity. .

  1. You’re in need of a break from any intensity but don’t want to leave the bike in the garage for that time. 
  2. For one reason or another you are cleared for ultra low intensity training (like walking) and would prefer to spend that time on the bike.

Inside the Recovery Block Plans:

  • 1, 2, 3 and 4-week plans for a wide range of recovery needs

To achieve the necessary low intensity all sessions are from the Inspiration and NoVids Channels.

 

Base Block

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.

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 “Big Mountain”— that you’ve been working towards for several months.

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  • Options of Low/Medium/High weekly volume
  • Option for 2:1 or 3:1 progressions. 2:1 is more suited to those newer to training, or masters riders (50+)

To achieve the necessary low intensity most sessions are from the Inspiration and NoVids Channels.

 

Tempo Block

Tempo intensity as defined by SYSTM/ Wahoo Sports Science Team as efforts at 75-91% of FTP and 87-95% of cTHR (or an RPE of 5-6 on a scale 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 "powerhouses" 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:

  1. You’ve just completed a Base Block and want to gradually increase the intensity of your training before subjecting yourself to high-intensity efforts.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  • Options of Low/Medium/High weekly volume
  • Option for 2:1 or 3:1 progressions. 2:1 is more suited to those newer to training, or masters riders (50+)
  • Contains a mix of moderately-intense training sessions from multiple Channels

 

FTP Block

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 SYSTM app within the past 6-8 weeks so your workout targets are accurate.

 

Choose the FTP Block if:

  1. Your Full Frontal results revealed a Sustained Efforts weakness
  2. 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.
  3. The effort required in your upcoming event will be close to FTP effort, or approximately 1 hour in duration.
  4. You race time trials, triathlons, road races

Inside the FTP Block Plans:

  • Options of Low/Medium/High weekly volume
  • Option for 2:1 or 3:1 progressions. 2:1 is more suited to those newer to training, or masters riders (50+)
  • Contains a mix of moderate and high-intensity sessions from multiple Channels and lower intensity sessions from the Inspiration and NoVid Channels. 

 

MAP Block

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:

  1. Your primary weakness (as determined by Full Frontal) is VO2 efforts.
  2. 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:

  • Options of Low/Medium/High weekly volume
  • Option for 2:1 or 3:1 blocks. 2:1 is more suited to those newer to training, or masters riders (50+)
  • Contains a mix of high-intensity training sessions from multiple Channels and lower intensity sessions from the Inspiration and NoVid Channels.

AC/NM Block

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:

  1. Your Full Frontal results identified a primary weakness in either Sprinting or Repeated Efforts.
  2. You find it difficult to pedal at a high cadence (100+)
  3. You want to get better at tackling successive short, punchy climbs
  4. You want to be able to deliver repeated short maximal efforts.
  5. You want to improve your pedaling efficiency at all cadences and intensities.

Inside the AC/NM Block plans:

  • Options of Low/Medium/High weekly volume
  • Option for 2:1 or 3:1 blocks. 2:1 is more suited to those newer to training, or masters riders (55+)
  • Contains a mix of high and maximal intensity training sessions from multiple Channels and lower intensity sessions from the Inspiration and NoVid Channels

 

2:1 or 3:1 progression:  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 2:1 progression (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. 3:1 progression (4-week) plans are structured with three weeks of progressively building training volume and intensity, followed by a week of reduced volume and intensity.

2:1 Progression are best for:

  • Novice and intermediate riders
  • Athletes over the age of 55
  • Those who accumulate fatigue quickly and could benefit from more frequent recovery periods

3:1 Progression are best 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-week on / one-week off plan and feel like they’ve reached a fitness plateau

Moving to a 3:1 progression 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:

  1. Alarm: The initial shock of a new stimulus, like the soreness you experience when beginning a new strength routine.
  2. Resistance: the adaptation to the stimulus; your body getting better at dealing with that stress.
  3. 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 destination 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.

Questions about training?

Check out the Blog!  Turn to the Wahoo Sports Science team for the best training advice. 

Join the conversation in the Forum.  Join our community of like-minded athletes to share training tips, advice and more.  

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Schedule a consultation with one of our coaches.  The "Chat with a Coach"  might be the solution you need if you can't find your answer in the Blog or the Forum.  For more details, check out the Coaching Information article.