Your training questions answered with Dig Deep Coaching: part seven

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We all have questions when it comes to improving our training or improving our performance at that upcoming race or gran fondo we’re working towards. In an ongoing collaboration with CyclingTips, Stephen Gallagher and Dan Fleeman from Dig Deep Coaching have answered another round of your questions, providing insight that we can all benefit from.


I try to race in blocks of 2-3 weeks, followed by rest and then training up for the next block. When racing three crits a week — Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays — what is the best way to use my off days? Do you recommend recovery rides? Or staying off the bike altogether?


Hi Stuart,

The idea of putting your training and racing into larger blocks can be very effective when doing a large volume of races in a short spaces of time. However, it can also leave you unable to freshen up or develop within the racing blocks, given the large number of competitions each week.

Firstly I would try to prioritise at least one race a week over another. Doing this will allow you the freedom to perhaps increase some of the training the day before/after a particular race, to focus on one more than the others.

Even though you have had a solid training block coming into this period of racing it is still important to not de-train, which can happen easily when just focusing 100% on racing for a three-week period.

For the majority of the racing block period I would suggest recovery rides of between 45 and 90 minutes rather than complete days off. The intensity of the races might leave you with an increased build-up of toxins which can lead to that ‘heavy legged’ feeling along with muscle fatigue from racing. Easy recovery rides will help fix the damage.

Many people do recovery days too hard in my experience, so be sure to make easy days very easy so as to maximise recovery and adaptions. Also be aware that recovery between races is not all about the duration and intensity of your recovery rides — it’s also influenced by many other factors such as diet, hydration and sleep.

Answer by Stephen Gallagher


I have a question for Dig Deep. What is the optimum high altitude training protocol to follow to maximise performance for a one-day race of eight hours over terrain which varies from 300m to 2,500m above sea level?

Thank you.

Hi Martin,

There are many factors to altitude training that you need to consider when trying to maximise your time and training. It is also very important to remember that people react differently to training at altitude — some benefit from it, others see no benefit, and for some people altitude training can actually be detrimental.

It’s best to keep the duration of the altitude training to between two and three weeks, ideally sleeping at between 2,000m and 2,500m of altitude. This should have benefits on return to sea level for two to three weeks but, again, this is subject to individual response.


Make sure you have sufficient ferritin levels before starting your training camp — a pre-camp test will determine whether you need to take iron supplements during your time at altitude. Increasing protein and carbohydrate intake will also be required to help haemoglobin mass and prevent illness and infections, both of which can have an effect on your development at altitude.

It is best to ease gradually into training at altitude as this will help you build your performance. Avoid doing high-intensity workouts early in your camp — leave this for the last half of your training phase so you can maximise the training once you have adapted to altitude.

Hope this helps. Good luck with the race.

Answer by Stephen Gallagher.

Dear Dig Deep,

I do lots of time trials and was wondering what your thoughts were for training on the TT bike?

Many thanks,

Hi Pete,

Great question.

Lots of people race time trials but very rarely ride their time trial bike outside of competition. To me this is crazy — you need to get used to the equipment and position that you race in.

I would advise you to train on the TT bike at least twice a week. Don’t just ride it steadily but do TT/threshold efforts on it so you are used to getting the power out in the TT position.

Here are three sessions of around 90 minutes to two hours that you can try:

Classic 2 x 20 minutes in zone 4. After a good warm up do 20 minutes in the TT position in power/heart rate zone 4, 10 minutes easy spinning then another 20 minutes in zone 4 before a good cool-down to finish.

4 x 10 minutes upper zone 4. Another good warm up then 10 minutes in upper zone 4 and 10 minutes spinning. Do that cycle four times and then cool down.

5 x 6 minutes in zone 5. Good warm up then six minutes in zone 5 really pushing in the TT position. Do eight minutes easy and repeat that cycle four more times. Do a good cool-down to finish.

Do two of these sessions per week on the time trial bike and you should see some real improvements.

Answer by Dan Fleeman.

Hi Coach,

I love to climb but at the start of a decent hill I have noticed that when other riders tend to change gears to get a higher cadence I appear to lose momentum. What is your strategy?

David Rooke

Hello David,

There are various methods when it comes to cadence and climbing and everyone is different. Some people use a high cadence and some push a slightly bigger gear. Using a higher gear will help if you need to lift the pace and follow other people when they surge on a climb. But as you have said some people take this to the extreme and lose some momentum and spin too low a gear.

I would suggest around 80-90 rpm is a happy medium for most climbs. The important thing is to get into a good rhythm as soon as the climb starts and before the climb/gearing gets on top of you. I personally get out of the saddle first and then decide if I need to change gear. I try and keep my cadence as consistent as possible and settle into the climb before sitting down.


I would recommend consistently changing gears so your cadence doesn’t go too high or low, all while trying to maintain as good a posture on the bike as possible. Also don’t be afraid of coming out of the saddle if you need to make an acceleration or just for a change.

Don’t focus on getting to the top of the climb — aim for somewhere just over the crest. In races a lot of attacks come over the crest so don’t relax at the top and get caught out by sudden attacks.

All these things will take practice but a good technique will improve your climbing no end.

I hope this helps. Good luck.

Answer by Dan Fleeman.

Hi, my question is about how to gauge the amount/intensity of training you can do along with everything else in your life at that time. That is, how can you avoid overdoing it?

I did one of those four-week Strava training programs recently and it was a much higher load than I’ve ever done before; around five sessions per week, including recovery rides. I ride to work every day (not fast) and so I’m guessing I overdid it because when I got back to my regular bunch ride on a Saturday morning, I was no better off. I had expected to see some gains, even if they were small.

I’ve trained for events before by just adding a Wednesday night interval session on the trainer along with a long, steady ride on a Sunday. After four weeks I tend to see a noticeable difference when I do my regular Saturday bunch ride. So clearly, I need to factor in other loads on my weekly life and adjust my training, but is there a way to judge this?


Hi Paul,

Thanks for your question — it is one that I’m sure many people can relate to. It can be hard trying to get the most out of cycling while juggling all the other important things in life. This very subject is one of the key areas that we focus on when an individual is working with our personal coaches.

Following a generic plan can be difficult and has its challenges as this is not helping you with all those outside influences — it won’t give you the flexibility you need. Without knowing the exact details of your four-week Strava plan I think the frequency of the intensive sessions didn’t allow you to recover from and adapt to each session, and this only continued over a four-week period.

The accumulation of increased fatigue from intensive sessions, along with lack of adequate recovery due to outside influences, has meant you’ve seen little progress.

I would advise looking at a 4-6 week period where you begin to build intensive sessions twice a week and give yourself at least one day of aerobic riding or rest between each session. Build this over a 4-6 week period by increasing the frequency to three times a week. Perhaps also consider back-to-back intensive rides at the end of the block to help with the gradual training stimulus.

Mix this with at least one volume ride at the weekend and I think you will begin to see progress again. Avoid building volume and intensity at the same time and be sure to listen to your body. If you can’t complete a session to the best of your ability then slack it off and ride easy, or take a day off.

I hope this helps. Good luck with the training.

Answer by Stephen Gallagher


Do you have questions you’d like to ask of the Dig Deep Coaching team? Simply send an email to with the subject line “Dig Deep Coaching question” and we’ll forward it on to the appropriate person at Dig Deep. The team will select some questions to answer in the next instalment in this series.

For further information on Dig Deep Coaching and useful tips on all aspects of performance please head to their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow the links below to read previous instalments in this series:

To listen to and watch a webinar we recorded with the Dig Deep team in September 2014, click here.

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