Anyone serious about their cycling will inevitably ride for four or five consecutive days, on occasion. But the goal of an “overload block” of four (or more) days is to produce a stimulus overload. This overload is a concentrated dose of physiological stress that helps us adapt—making us fitter more efficiently.
In addition to the short-term physiological gains, this type of training also helps prepare us for the psychological rigors of multi-day events, whether that’s a bikepacking race or a road stage race. We learn what it feels like to deal with fatigue, physical and mental, and understand ways to push through those obstacles.
During a typical training week, our goal is to stress the body so that it adapts and makes us stronger and fitter. With an overload block, the goal is the same—we’re simply compressing our workload into a very specific time frame. The intention is to further enhance the adaptation in a more efficient manner.
If a normal training week consists of six to seven hours of riding (on average), an overload block would stretch to 10-14 hours in a single week, with most of that coming in three or four critical days.
Take your recovery seriously
It’s important to remember that concentrating the workload in a block necessitates increasing recovery time. If our recovery is not long enough, the overload can lead to serious fatigue and send us toward non-functional overreach.
Done right, however, and the reward can be significant. There is often a fitness “bump” from completing such a block, if all goes to plan. After recovering, the improvement from an effective and well-executed overload can be dramatic.
Before planning a block, I try to clear my schedule as much as possible. I give my family a kiss and tell them I apologize for getting grumpy with them. (It will likely happen by the end of the week, as the fatigue accumulates.)
Four days of fun
In this example below, we have a four-day block. For me, that’s typically done from Thursday to Sunday. There are different philosophies on how to construct an overload stimulus, but I prefer to place quality before quantity. To do that, I start the block with a set of my favorite intervals—usually that’s something like 4×8-minute threshold intervals or hill repeats.
To keep the volume and fatigue trending upward, I’ll do as long a ride as possible on Day 2 (Friday). Hopefully that’s two to three hours, depending on the time of year and available daylight. Outside, I’ll throw in some steady climbing if I can. (If you’re a fan of Zwift, go for it, just don’t go overboard on the intensity.)
Then comes the weekend—more time, more volume. If you prefer structure, get in another set of intervals early in the ride, then keep pushing through the fatigue and make it a healthy dose of steady endurance riding too. If you don’t like structure and there’s the option, a fast-paced group ride or practice race is great. Try to attack. Don’t race smart; instead, race to feel fatigued.
Lastly, end the block with a final big push: I’ll do a long endurance ride, keeping my effort below threshold, riding steady and strong. If I have the option to climb, I will.
On the last day, it’s imperative to pay attention to the body’s signals. We will feel fatigued; we might even feel at the start that we have no chance of completing the prescribed length. But keep rolling. Eventually those feelings should abate.
If I have one last effort in me, I’ll empty the tank with a threshold effort (if I can even reach that power output in such a fatigued state) on my favorite test climb.
As soon as I get home, I take the recovery as seriously as I did the riding. I do stretching and foam rolling. I eat well and sleep well. Last but not least, I kiss my family and thank them for letting me hurt myself; I tell them I couldn’t do it without their support.
Workout of the Week: Overload Block
- Determine your average weekly volume (in hours or TSS) for the previous month, then increase it by 50 to 100% to set the goal for the week
- Give your family a kiss and tell them you’ll be back to normal in a week
- Day 1: 4 x 8-min. threshold intervals
- Day 2: 2+ hours of steady riding
- Day 3: Fast group ride or practice race
- Day 4: Long, steady, sub-threshold miles. Push through the fatigue
- Stretch, eat, sleep, repeat
If you’re looking for more of Chris Case’s crazy workouts, you can check out his Workout of the Week: The Big Stupid Ride.