Hunter Allen is one of the original coaches to adopt using a power meter and coaching mountain bikers with it. He has spent much time working towards the development of power meter data and analysis and has even written a book called Training and Racing With a Power Meter. Allen has about 200 different plans to his name, most of which you can buy through his Peaks Coaching Group website. You can load those workouts into the TrainingPeaks app on your phone and or your cycling computer. Of course, most of the plans require a power meter and heart-rate monitor to get the most out of the workouts.
Allen has coached over 1000 riders, including world champions and Olympic medalists. He’s developed some outstanding plans that address the needs of athletes in every cycling discipline. Here are his suggestions for how to pick the right one. If you are interested, he has winter MTB training plans on his site—www.shoppeaks.com—along with others that will help masters riders build a base, help racers peak for their summer events and even help riders prepare for those long MTB stage races.
“Winter is one of the most important times for you to train smart and lay the foundation of fitness that will launch you into harder training blocks come spring, which in turn will launch you into your best season ever in 2022,” says Allen. “What you do in the winter really does make your coming season, and for those of you who put in the hard work in the off-season, you will reap the benefits come 2022. The most difficult part is making sure that you do not train too much in the winter so that you become a ‘January star’ and then fade away at the beginning of the race season. This means that you need a balance of intensity and endurance riding throughout the off-season. For those of you racing inside those online gaming platforms, be especially careful that you limit your racing to once a week or once every two weeks. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the online racing and then ride way too hard and often this winter. A winter training plan will give you the structure you need, the variety that allows you to keep from being bored to death and will ensure you won’t overdo the training.”
There are so many factors that go into a successful training plan that it is nearly impossible to nail them all down. Each rider has different needs, strengths, weaknesses and time constraints, so finding the right plan for achieving your goals can be challenging. Here are some of Hunter Allen’s tips for how to pick the right plan for you.
1. What is your event? If you are doing a 12-hour event like Leadville, that’s a very different type of training you will need than for a 1.5-hour cross-country event. Understanding the demands of your event is crucial to picking the right plan. Be sure that the plan you choose is specific to the event you are aiming to crush.
2. When is your event? This is especially important if you are picking out a winter training plan. If you want to peak in March/April, then you need a more intensive plan than if you are planning for your goal event in July. If your event is in 16 weeks, then you will likely need two 8-week plans that build on each other. Fitness changes occur in eight-week cycles (hence the reason most plans are eight weeks long), so it’s important that you know your current fitness level. Use the first eight weeks to progressively build your fitness and then the last eight weeks to build to a peak.
3. What are your strengths and limitations? If your strength is short, steep hills but you have an event coming up with a long climb, then you will want to develop a plan that addresses your threshold power more than your anaerobic capacity. If your strength is threshold power but the event coming up is 12 hours long, you’ll want to improve your endurance and stamina. Be sure to know your own abilities and where you should improve based on the event’s demands.
4. How much time do you have to train each week? Some plans call for 12–16 hours a week of training, but most of us do not have that much time to train, so be sure to find a plan that is realistic and doable within your time allotted for training.
5. Are you training with a heart-rate monitor or power meter? Many plans are built with both devices in mind, but some are not, so be sure you find a plan that will help you use your device.
6. Do you need to build your fitness? Are you out of shape now? You should consider a “base” plan that first builds your fitness so that you can handle harder, more intense intervals in a later plan. Many of us should do this plan in the winter, especially if we are planning on making a comeback in 2022!
7. Do you need to hone your current fitness? Maybe you are already pretty darn fit but really just need to “sharpen the blade.” These plans address your VO2 max, anaerobic capacity and neuromuscular power energy systems, and are very intense and can take you to the next level. These plans are best incorporated just before your race season starts or at the beginning of the race season. These are not winter plans.
8. Are you mainly training indoors on a smart trainer? If you train three to four days a week indoors, you should make sure your plan contains “structured workouts” so that they can be downloaded directly into your favorite training app in order to guide you on each of your workouts.
Once you have a plan, how should you execute it? Of course, riding your bike is always fun, but sticking to a more structured workout can be challenging depending on the trail, terrain and weather. The most important thing to consider is to read the workout carefully and understand the intent of it so that you can then match your workout to the local trails. Look at the intervals within the workout so that you can decide if you need to ride on a sustained climb or on a flat, fast singletrack, or if you need to just get on the road bike and knock it out on the street. Sometimes, the best answer is actually jumping on your indoor smart trainer and crushing it for an hour or so and nailing each interval perfectly. This works especially well for those of us who live in an urban environment and have a small window of training time per day, because driving to the local trail could eat up that time. A stationary bike is not always our favorite option, as we prefer to get outside, but when you have a goal of improving, sometimes you have to just do the work.
A pre-arranged training plan can be the perfect thing to launch you into your best season ever in 2022, but it’s always important to listen to your body as well. A pre-determined plan is just that, and it doesn’t take into account you getting sick for a week or having to travel to grandma’s over the holidays. If you miss a week, then just starting that week over again will allow you to continue your training progression and improvement. If after reading this article you still can’t pick out a plan, shoot Hunter an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and he’ll be glad to help guide you to the best one for you.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH HUNTER’S PLAN
By: Nick Claire
I was introduced to Training Peaks and Hunter’s plans through a friend of mine who had used them for a handful of years. My friend is a total number cruncher and data-obsessed type who helped me pick a plan that he thought would be good for the race I was planning on doing. I had about three and a half months before my race. We ended up going with a plan that was actually meant for road bike criterium races. It seemed to be a good plan for mountain biking since XC races tend to have punchy climbs that can resemble an attack in a crit race. Then there are times when you’re just sitting on someone’s wheel drafting, not putting in a full effort, which can resemble a fire road descent. In short, the crit plan seemed to fit well for my immediate goal at the time.
The workouts were as physically demanding as anything I’ve ever gone through. They required an incredible amount of mental strength and discipline. I spent most of my training miles on my road bike, which allowed me to do more accurate intervals on a long stretch of open road. At the end of each month, we would do an FTP test. By the third month, I had gained about 40 watts. This was an unexpected big jump up in fitness and inspired me to keep steaming ahead. Everyone is different, though, and will most likely experience different returns on their investment of effort.
The problem I ran into was trying to stick to the exact workouts in the plan, especially at first. My advice is to follow the plan like your life depends on it. Whatever the workout or rest prescribed is, just stick with it, because you can easily dig yourself into a big hole and get burnt out.
One important warning I have for people is to not think of rest as a bad thing. Even if you need three weeks off a couple times a year, it will more than likely make you stronger between plans. After my three months of hard training were up, I felt like Superman and continued to move forward going on big rides and putting in hard Strava efforts for fun. One day I went for a big ride through the mountains, and halfway through I felt a burn in my lower quad muscle. It turned out to be tendonitis, which ended up putting me out for quite a while. I had only myself to blame for not listening to my body and taking time off. It can be the hardest thing for really motivated riders to come down off of the moving train of, well, training. Believe me or anyone else who says rest is crucial. Have fun with whatever plan you pick, and be ready to enjoy the road to getting faster. It was worth the hard work because of the feeling of accomplishment it gave me.