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What is crash training?

Posted by Gale Bernhardt Apr 19, 2010

As promised in my earlier blog, this is the follow-up column on crash training. Crash training is a term that I believe has cycling roots, though I can’t trace the origin. Traditionally, a crash training week is one that is high volume, relative to the athlete’s current training schedule. Training is some 50- to 100-percent above the athlete’s normal weekly volume. Often, cycling teams will have a spring training camp to focus on riding, team building exercises (formal and informal), distribute new kits and begin to plan strategy for the season.

Cycling teams intend for this big-volume training week to spring-board the fitness of every team member, and very often that is indeed the result. Unfortunately, while some athletes respond very well, others leave the week of training ill or injured.


My first experience – summer bike tour

The first time I personally experienced an abnormally high volume week of training was the first year I did Bicycle Tour of Colorado. I was racing triathlons at the time and was not sure how my body would respond to such a high volume of cycling. The route that year was 468 miles over seven days and included climbing nearly every day. I can tell you I was very nervous about not being able to complete the ride.

My original plan was to include a couple days of swimming and running after I got off the bike. The short story of that is I didn’t have the least bit of interest in running or swimming after I got off the bike on any day. I don’t believe the lack of swimming and running hurt my triathlon training one bit.


What I found is that my overall endurance in all sports was significantly improved after the week of cycling. It took a little over two weeks for me to recover; but when I did, my fitness was significantly improved. As you would imagine, my cycling was much stronger. My swimming was unaffected and my running was also noticeably improved. (“Improved” means lower heart rates for the same speeds and the feeling like I had the endurance to go forever.)


The second experience – spring self-designed road riding block

After my experience with the fitness results produced by the bike tour, I decided to do a spring trip to Arizona. Several of us from Colorado decided to travel to warmer weather to get a jump on spring fitness. The first year we did a spring trip, it was in February. As it turned out, the trip was great but we returned to cold, snowy Colorado weather for the month of March. Though we felt the trip was somewhat beneficial, we decided that February is too early to do the week-long trip if we want the fitness to make a difference for summer riding.


What I have learned

In the last ten years or so, I’ve done multiple spring trips and summer bicycle tours. The trips have been a week long and other trips have been shorter. I’ve done organized tours and I’ve organized my own groups. I’ve also advised many athletes on how to structure crash training blocks to their fitness advantage. Here are a few things that might help you when you design your crash week on the bike:

  • If you are riding six or seven days, pick no more than three days to be “hard”. “Hard” can be fast, hilly, long or long mixed with fast or hilly. Make the remaining days lower intensity.
  • If you try to make all days fast or high intensity effort on all the hills, the result will be mediocre training. Manage your daily ride goals to achieve the results you want.
  • A crash training block doesn’t have to be an entire week and can be three or four days of riding. This can be a road trip somewhere or it can be done from your home base.
  • For a week of riding, you can make the training volume 50- to 100-percent greater than your current training volume. This is one guideline for design.
  • How much intensity you can tolerate needs to be determined for each individual athlete.
  • For athletes aiming for longer key events such as 100-mile mountain bike races or 200-mile road races, you can do shorter block of training, three days for example.  Make the total training time in the three-day block equal 80- to 150-percent of your total predicted event time. This can be done early spring or within six weeks of your race.
  • You MUST be rested before doing the crash training block.
  • Ignore anyone that has not been doing the training block with you. In other words, if you have been riding for three days on your own and you show up to a group ride where other people have fresh legs – ignore them. They do not have the accumulated fatigue you have in your legs. Ride to your own plan.
  • Excellent nutrition, hydration and sleep habits are critical to be able to absorb the benefits of the training block.
  • Get daily massage to speed recovery. If you don’t have access to a masseuse, you can do your own leg massage. (I have never had access to daily massage for my crash weeks and caring for my legs at the end of each day is critical.)
  • If you do the training block from your home base, you must manage your work, family and social obligations or the training can end up leaving you overtrained, ill or injured.
  • There are big advantages to taking a trip away from home to do the training. (Minimizing distractions, minimizing other chores, maximizing rest and recovery.)
  • You may need to rest more than someone else doing the same crash training week.
  • In order to reap the benefits, you must recover after the crash training block.


Crash weeks for other sports?

You can do crash training blocks for swimming, running or nearly any other sport. A crash block for running carries more injury risk than cycling, in my opinion. Be very careful with a running-only crash block.

You can combine running and cycling to yield running results from a crash training block.

A crash block in swimming is not as risky as running, but depending on your sport history, be aware of any shoulder pains.


Have you done a crash training week?

If you’ve done a crash training week, feel free to comment below about your experience.

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I’ll post the training ride stats for you first, while you’re reading this, I’ll be working on telling you more about how to use crash training to your advantage. The goal is to post it later today.


Day 3 – check (today was road bike, Day 1 and Day 2 were mountain)

4hrs ride time (“out” time 4:36)

4415 ft of climbing

63.88 miles

69.1 ft/mi


Three-day total:

Ride time = 11:15

Chamois time (this includes refueling, chatting, what I call “out” time) = 14:11

Feet of climbing = 10,664

Miles = 55.85 mountain, 63.88 road to total 119.73 miles

Combined hill ranking = ~89 ft/mi

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