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How Fit are you?
Don't Trust Your Legs on Stairs

by Sam Krieg, PCG Elite Coach

Peaks Coaching Group

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Paris–Roubaix: The Inside Story

Les Woodland's book Paris-Roubaix: the Inside Story - all the bumps of cycling's cobbled classic is available as an audiobook here. For the print and Kindle eBook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

Sam Krieg writes:

Don't trust your legs on a flight of stairs. They will always lie! Stairs and cyclists are not friends. Stairs are the devil. I would only train one day a week if I used the stair test.

If I listened to my legs, I would have stopped training this morning, or last week, or probably about eight years ago. I’ve had some great days when I feel awful, and I’ve had some awful days when I felt great. I’ve had the most negative training stress balance (TSB or form) in the world and still have ridden peak wattages.

Ten years ago I felt like I needed a ton more rest, and I took it often. Looking back I’m pretty sure I rested myself right out of shape.

Six years ago I broke my back and spent eighty-four days in a brace. I couldn't ride, so I went to the gym and used the StairMaster. I learned a ton about my body and mind in those eighty-four days. I couldn't sleep much, so I’d just walk around for fifteen hours a day. I went to the gym for an hour or two to murder the stair machine. I never took a day off. I’d just go until I snapped. Every morning at 3:30 or 4:00, my back would wake me up in pain. Trying to sleep in a TLSO brace isn’t fun. I’d get up and start walking, and most of the pain would go away. Then I’d head to the gym and crush myself on the StairMaster. I found that if I ignored how my legs felt and gave myself a decent warm-up, I could perform just as good as the day before.

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I’ve had some of my most incredible days on the bike when I could barely walk up from my basement. (Just do a nice warm-up and a few one-minute 90+RPM efforts at your functional threshold power. You might surprise yourself.) At one point I went back and ran all of my peak 20-minute files for eight years, and I found that I often put out my peak efforts (20 and 5) when my chronic training load (CTL or past training) and acute training load (ATL or recent training) are crazy high.

I find that ramp rate has more to do with where your CTL has been before. If you’ve been to 100 CTL, 120, or 140, you can go back to that level a bit quicker than if you’ve never been there before. Be careful. This is just what I have found. Think of CTL like a mountain. The first time you climb it, you’re full of panic and nervous as hell. If you have a good guide, you might make it to the summit a bit faster, but you’ll still be scared. The second time it’ll be easier, and you’ll be a bit more confident, and the third, fourth, and fifth times (and beyond), the mountain gets easier both physically and mentally. The goal isn't to always summit your CTL and then run away. Try to live there for awhile. See if your body can adapt. Don't panic if you have a few bad days or even a week or two. It takes some time to acclimate to the new load. Right now I’m riding around 130 CTL and the load feels pretty easy, but I remember years ago struggling at 80 and trying to get it to 100.

I’ve also found that if you want to really improve, you need to endure a significant load change and attempt to bash through a few mental barriers. Use the performance manager chart in TrainingPeaks WKO software as a tool to push yourself, not limit yourself. Just because your buddy snapped 80 CTL doesn’t mean you will.

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I remember getting a workout from Hunter about eight years ago, the day after I’d done 4 x 15. I was feeling pretty blown and very stoked about my efforts. And then I saw that the workout for the day was to do the hour of power at the same wattage as I had done the 4 x 15! My brain was in shock. I thought he was crazy. Then I read his brief note below the workout: “So do you want to be good or what?”

It is easier now to be critical of my riding and training than years ago. I wish I could go back and shake the crap out of myself and give myself a little push. I was so scared that I was doing too much too fast that I was barely doing enough.

So hang in there. And ignore the stairs.

Sam Krieg is a USA Cycling Level 3 coach with Peaks Coaching Group. He can be contacted directly through

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