20 hours per week (uphill, both ways)

A friend of mine overheard some people talking about me as a coach and the risk of burnout.    Word of mouth is a big part of how cycling coaches get known, and there’s obvious good and bad to that.  The gist of that conversation was that I gave the riders too much.    If you have a kid post something to social media that says “100 miles today,” it might help if it said it was the first time they’d ever ridden 100 miles, instead of making it sound like it was the first 100 mile ride of the day, and there were three of those rides scheduled today before lunch.

What with having a residence for young athletes (thinking U23 types) here, we run into the “burnout” talk often.  Add in that there have been a bunch of juniors here, too, it is a valid discussion.

First of all, it is bad for business to burnout a rider.  Whether it is the stress of competition or the stress of the training load, it can be too much…if it is too much.   From a coaching standpoint, you don’t want to pressure someone more than they can handle, but you also want to make sure that they are pushing themselves enough to meet their goals.  It is a balance.   Another factor is that I’m just the coach or director.  They have their own goals, the goals and pressures (or lack of) from their parents, and they have varying degrees of support or even realistic expectations.   It is a lot to work with, and the variables are quite a bit more complex than putting a plan together than says, “ride 20hr this week.”

Second of all, don’t believe the hype or rumors.   “20hr week” is thrown around so often that it has become a joke around here.   We had a kid go to worlds who rode about 10hr/wk on average.   It really has everything to do with age, experience, goals, practicality, and desire.   Last year we had three, maybe four weeks, all year, where more than one person put in 20hr.

I’ve never MADE someone ride (how would I do that, anyway?).  I can only think of a couple of occasions where I’ve had to tell an athlete that they might need to reconsider their goals if they weren’t motivated to do more.    But that 20hr per week thing…don’t confuse that someone did it once with that they do it every week.    We’ll come back to this in a moment.

I previously wrote about burnout in this post.

From a training standpoint, you simply don’t give someone training that they aren’t ready to do.   And you don’t give them training that doesn’t have a purpose.  You don’t go to a 100 mile ride if their longest ride was 50 miles.  You don’t do 100 mile rides if the longest race you’ll do will be 50 miles.  You don’t go to 15hr in a week if they’ve only been doing 7-8hr leading up to that.   Same thing with running, weights, swimming, golf, and glutton bowl.     You also don’t put some interval set out there that doesn’t help the athlete reach their short and long term goals.  More than all of that is that there isn’t a workout that can be put out there that is the “key” component to being successful, but many athletes (particularly young ones) stress over it like it matters more than it does.   Your body of work matters much more, not whether you hit the target wattage on #4 of 6, but not on #5 because there was a stop sign…  Burnout happens more from that kind of stress than the actual riding of a bicycle.

If a 16y old was out shooting baskets after basketball practice, how often are they told to stop to keep from burning out?   If he loves shooting, let him shoot!   But if he’s getting angry and it is causing problems, then address that.   If he’s trying to make the freethrow goal something that seems to be compensating for something else (playing time, parents getting a divorce, chemistry exam), then address that.  It may be that the extra free throws is helping process it all.   Or it could be hiding from a problem.

The kid who is playing the piano beyond their scheduled practices and lessons?  Other than perhaps not wanting to hear the kid practice, do we tell them to stop?   As with cycling, the person practicing piano becomes more and more capable of doing advanced level stuff, which is a challenge than many enjoy.  Some folks just love to ride!   Most everyone I know who rides would like to ride more if it fit their world.

Back to the 20hr per week.   For those who plan to be pro road racers, 20+hr per week is the norm, but that makes sense when you consider it is their job.  You can’t be pro at 16, 17, 18y old.    If you are regularly riding that much at 15, 16, 17 and  maybe even 18y old, you’ll probably get really good!   But when you go to the senior ranks or try to race pro or pro-like races, are you going to train 30hr a week to get better?  At 19y?   Really?    Where people burnout, then, has more to do with that their improvement curve has slowed.   They are putting in the same amount of work, or perhaps even more, but the incremental improvements have stopped or slowed.  That’s frustrating.   It causes stress.  Doing the same amount of work or more and not getting the gains is what causes many to burnout, and that’s if they actually have the desire to work that much in the first place.

As far as what I put out there for an athlete, there isn’t the “cat 3” plan or the “18y old” plan or the “40y old cat 4 with two daughters” plan.   There is putting together a map that gets them to their goals.    That map is put together based upon where they’ve been, where they are, and where they want to go.  We then make sure that all of the stuff that they have to carry with them makes the trip, too.  With the people living here with us, it is more the case that you have room and housemates whose goals are similar to yours and that you’ve made the same sort of sacrifices.   When we have the chemistry right, everyone is helping everyone, and that’s a powerful kind of momentum.   But it also requires that I’m seeing them often, so we can add a rest day when I see how they are sluggish during dinner.   Conversely, I can see that guys are bouncing off the walls and have more energy than expected, so we might go do some velodumb.   Then again, some people are living here because the winters are nicer and the roads and traffic are friendly.   And some just want to eat Chloe’s cooking.   Digressing.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this:  no two riders are the same.   What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.   Some need more work in one area.  Some need work in another.    Some folks hate working on a particular area, while others love it.   And that may or may not be influenced by how good they are at that particular area.  Some get more out of, say, the same 3hr ride than another.   Some may want to get a pro contract, but they have to work and go to school, when another doesn’t have those obligations.   Do you give them the same workouts?

I advise people not to post to social media what their workout is or was.   Part of the fun for some, though, is sharing that.  I don’t want to take that away from them, but if you post that you are doing 3 sets of 10x30s uphill sprints w/ 10s of rest between each and 1hr of threshold between sets, while wearing a weighted vest, some people will think that you do that every day.   For those who I coach, you well know that we only do that on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Even more lastly-  don’t be afraid to ride your bike if you love to ride your bike.   Avoid doing so to the extent that you neglect real obligations (school, work, family, friends), but if you want to ride, RIDE!

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