Peaking…. How do you maintain your peak?

Peaking is a delicate matter.  To create a peak takes hours and hours of hard work, hundreds of intervals, long rides, buckets of sweat and tears and gallons of electrolyte drinks.  When you finally get your FTP to the highest that it will be, you are both excited that you are “flying” and also in denial because you it’s hard to accept that this will probably be the fittest you are this year.  In other words, it could be all downhill from here for the rest of the season.  When you are on form, you have to have both the highest level of fitness for the year and also just the right amount of freshness, as form in its simplest, mathematical definition is Fitness+Freshness.  

That very first race you do when you come into your peak or form, is magical as you generally know you are riding well and feel strong, but all of the sudden you are in the breakaway (that you might have never made before) and you are also one of the strongest guys in the breakaway which might be a surprise (a very pleasant one!).  After your first successful race on form, you feel confident, exhilarated and happy.  This feeling of strength is a great feeling and one that you want to last for the rest of the season. All those doubts you had about not being good enough to ever win a big race or be in a strong breakaway with the best riders has been erased forever.  You are now ready to show the world that you are the winner that you have always known that you could be.   This incredible realization and breakthrough and will most certainly “change your world”.    If you have just read this and aren’t quite sure you have ever been “on form”, then you haven’t.  Give it some time though and with enough persistence, proper planning, you’ll achieve the magical “no chain” days.  When you are on form, it is a time when your legs don’t hurt as much, your heart rate can go higher than normal at threshold, you pull through harder, and you look at the riders around you and wonder why they are all hurting so much because to you it doesn’t feel like this pace is that hard.   Like, I wrote earlier, it’s a feeling you want to last forever, but in reality, you “might” be able to maintain for a maximum of 8 weeks, but more likely for 4 weeks.   In this article, you will learn some of the rules you need to follow in order to maintain that peak.  There are many critical things you need to do correctly to stay on form, there are things to avoid doing when on form and what absolutely cannot happen when you are on form as well.   

Rule # 1.  You will only have 10-12 days of just “AWESOME” legs in the roughly 4-8 week period of peak fitness.    Use them wisely.  Most athletes will use 6 of these in training, throw away 2 because of flat tires in races or some other calamity that doesn’t allow them to use their good legs, which leaves only 2-4 days of perfect legs on the weekends that you want them.   So, the trick here is to prevent yourself from using ALL 6 days in training.  You will need to use 2, maybe 3 for sure in order to build confidence and also keep your FTP high, but be very careful in planning too long and intense workouts during this period.   You know you are doing it correctly, when you come back from nearly every ride and say to yourself, “Wow, that wasn’t that hard, I could have easily done another hour”.  You can’t allow yourself to “Dig Deep” in training, if you are doing intervals when on form, always do one less interval than you would normally do.  Leave energy in the “bank” and leave that for the races.  It is very hard to resist going out to the Tuesday night world championships and just crushing everyone, but you have to preserve your “AWESOME” legs from training too hard during the week.   A typical week of training when on form would look like:

Monday- Complete Rest- Yoga or massage

Tuesday- Easy ride, even though the legs feel amazing, light and strong, just ride for 1.5hours at less than 56% of your FTP.

Wednesday- This is your work day.  Get in a ride in which you address ALL energy systems, so some Endurance/Tempo, Threshold, Vo2Max, Anaerobic Capacity and even Neuromuscular Power(sprinting).  The trick here is to UNDER do the workout.  Instead of 2x 20 at FTP, do 2 x15.  Instead of 10 hill repeats at Anaerobic Capacity, do 3.  Instead of 6 big ring sprints, do 2.   You get the picture. Reduce your interval work by at least 20-30%.

Thursday- Go for an endurance ride of at least 2-3hours but resist, absolutely resist the temptation to go hard.  You’ll feel strong.

Friday- Tune-ups and sprints, readying for the weekend.

Saturday- RACE- Make sure you race smart and don’t lose your head. You’ll be strong and want to chase anything that moves.  Race like you don’t have form. Then you’ll be in the winning move.  Make sure you do everything to recover afterwards: Recovery shake, cold bath, massage, whatever you can do to help recovery.

Sunday – RACE- Again, race smart and its O.K. to dig deep today!

Rule #2.   Immune system is key here.  You HAVE to stay healthy.  If you are on form and you get sick? Well, that’s pretty much it, game over (especially if you have to take anti-biotics) so do everything you can to keep yourself healthy.   Wash hands obsessively, stay away from people who are sick, carry a bottle of anti-bacterial gel around and wash your hands if you even think you might have touched something with germs on it.  Don’t share ANY water bottles or food and generally become a germ-o-phobe.  It is super critical you stay healthy, and I would go as far as avoiding people to a certain extent if you can.   You can also take steps to boost your immune system during this time and this means eating lots of colorful fruits and veggies along with taking vitamins that help to boost your immune system.  I highly encourage the use of vitamins/minerals and some herbs to enhance the immune system.   Echinacea has been proven to help boost the immune system and also increase red blood cells, so definitely use that.  I am also a big believer in the 4life products that include the Transfer Factor immune booster.  This has made a difference in many of my clients’ immune systems.  Email me and I’ll let you know which specific ones if you are interested.

Rule # 3. Form is incredibly fragile, especially in the last few weeks, so make sure that you balance the right amount of training in the “Middle” of the period of form.  This “middle period”, generally weeks 3-4 have to have 1 big long ride in order to maintain endurance and 1 intense ride in order to keep the FTP up.  This is different than the sample week above, as your form will be starting to wane at this point and you’ll need to do a little more training in order to maintain it.  I would make sure you go back to your 2×20 intervals at threshold for these two weeks, but don’t try to knock the wattages out of the park.  Right at threshold or at 95% of threshold is perfect to elicit a training response and also not use an “Awesome” Leg day either.  The problem with being on form is that you are gradually losing FTP because you are not training enough, and therefore in weeks 3-4, you need to help boost this back up a bit with a couple of longer and harder rides. Your CTL should be generally “FLAT” during this period or gently downward sloping.  That’s an indicator of more freshness and something that you have to balance throughout this 6 weeks.     See Figure 1 to understand how an athletes’ CTL (chronic training load) begins to plateau and slide when on form.   This slide leads to too much freshness (TSB-Training Stress Balance) and not enough fitness to keep you on form.

THE Performance Manager Chart…..

Rule # 4. Everything has to go right in order for the “form” to stick around for 6-8 weeks. I mean everything.   You can’t get sick.  You can’t crash, you can’t have their girlfriend/wife issues.  There cannot be any major emotional traumas (death in family, break up with your girlfriend, etc.) and life in general has to be very smooth and positive.    Some of these things you have no control over, but they one thing you can do is wash your hands obsessively like a crazed compulsive disorder fruit cake and absolutely avoid anyone that could be considered sick.   Avoid risks (other than cycling of course) and absolutely stay away from doing any type of cross-training for a while.  If someone wants to take you on a hike up a mountain, politely refuse and become hermit.  Oh, and be really nice to everyone also so you don’t create a bunch of unneeded drama.

Rule #5.  What happens when the “form” goes away?  It’s like a faucet turning off.    One weekend you are off front and in the winning breakaway.  The very next weekend, you are dropped.  Seriously. It turns off and instantly you suck. Bad.  It’s incredibly depressing.  You have to be ready for this mental state of being as it can put you in a tailspin for a long time.   The way to prevent a tailspin is with a plan to re-build and awareness that you are now “OFF-form”.    That starts with a FULL rest week, then a “mini-year” periodization cycle, so that you can gently re-build the aerobic fitness and then bring back up the level to a nice higher FTP.  I suggest starting with two weeks of endurance riding, 1 week of tempo riding, 1 week of SweetSpot, 1 week of FTP and then 1 week of intensity above FTP.  That should bring you back around to decent and normal fitness, but not back to peak form. That is more complicated and it will take at least 3-4 months of well-planned training to get back to your peak.  What to do after your peak is over is the subject of another article as re-building that fitness takes some finesse and careful training to bring yourself back to another peak.   Many riders think they can peak soon after their first peak, but this is nearly impossible.  Even the fastest recovering athletes need a solid 3 months between peaks and for most of us, it’s 4-5 months.    If you want to peak twice in a season, then plan for a peak early on and then later in the year.

As you have realized, being on form is like being on the razor’s edge. If just one thing goes wrong you get cut and fall off of your peak.  It’s an incredibly fine balance and why maintaining form for longer than 4 weeks is an accomplishment in and of itself.  Make sure that you are tracking your Training Stress with your power meter and that will make a big difference in extending your peak so that you don’t lose fitness nor gain too much freshness.

Come to one of Hunter’s spring training camps or sign up for personal coaching at his website,  Hunter has a monthly power newsletter in which you can subscribe to so that you will quickly learn the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of power training and also some great insights into the best riders in the world.  Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former Professional Cyclist. He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks WKO+ Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group.  He has online training programs available at  and you can contact Hunter directly