Everybody struggles to complete a workout every once in a while. With the right workout modifications, you can make sure that you are getting the most out of your work, even when you’re not at your best.

For more information on nutrition and recovery check out Ask A Cycling Coach Ep 244


Why Struggle is Good Thing

Struggling during a workout doesn’t always have to be a negative thing. It could be a sign that you are pushing up against your limits. In addition to the benefit of discovering your limits, it means that you are challenged enough to obtain the aerobic adaptations you’re after.

Another positive view of workout struggles is to see them as learning opportunities. As you ponder the reasons and gather as much data as possible about your preparation, you will begin to accrue an individualized training profile. Record and review that data so you can make sure that you are prepared to nail your next workout.

Questions to Access Your Preparation

  • Did I fuel enough beforehand?
  • What was my motivation or mood?
  • How was my sleep last night?
  • How well did I recover after my last ride?
  • Are there other stress factors in life that are affecting me?

An excellent way to keep track of your struggles is by using the ride notes feature. After you’re done, you can quickly record your thoughts, nutrition, or which workout modification you tried. You can type the notes in both the app or on the website. Reviewing the data will give you takeaways that you can apply to your training and see how often you are struggling with a workout.

What should I do if I’m Struggling?

There are a few things that you can do to get the most out of a workout, even when you aren’t 100%. The goal for these workout modifications is to preserve the quality of the interval or workout. That way, you can keep the power high enough to train the targeted energy system. There are three progressive levels of bailouts that we recommend.

Level 1: Take a Mini-Break

Taking a quick 5 to 15-second break can give your legs just enough rest to make it to the end of an interval. Even more, it will help you avoid the slow decline of power, and it doesn’t come at a great detriment to the goal of the interval. This strategy is especially useful when doing sweet-spot work. For example, if you are doing a 20-minute sweet-spot interval and take four quick breaks, you are still getting more than 19 minutes of quality work.

Level 2: Reduce the Intensity

Just a small reduction in intensity can go a long way in helping you get through the workout. To start, lower it 2-3% and you’ll be surprised at how much that will help. Lowering the intensity too much may have you not working the specific energy systems as intended VO2, so start small and do your best. As you continue your workout, you can raise it back up or lower it just a bit more depending on how you are feeling

Level 3: Quit the Workout

Even with the modifications, sometimes your body isn’t performing. It could be that you’re in need of some rest. In these instances, you might be doing more harm than good. Don’t be afraid to bail on the workout and double-down on rest and recovery. Depending on how you feel and how far into a workout you are, you could pick to do a lower intensity workout. Dans or Taku -1 would be good choices if you want to spin the legs out.

Help! I am struggling with every workout.

TrainerRoad workouts are designed to be challenging yet doable. You should not be dragged down to the bitter end every single workout. That is not a beneficial way to train. Experiencing this every once and a while is a good thing, but not every workout.

If you are struggling with each workout, it could mean that your FTP is set too high. In that case, you should re-access with a Ramp Test. Another reason could be that your current training volume doesn’t match up with your rest and recovery. It’s easy to say you’ll increase recovery, but that can be difficult to do. A safer bet is to consider a reduction in volume.

Every athlete will struggle with a workout. This is good news because you are pushing your limits and learning more about yourself. The next time you are struggling during an interval, try these modifications and get maximize the quality of the effort you do have.


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Jesse Fortson

Jesse Fortson is a former collegiate athlete turned cyclist. With TrainerRoad's help, he lost over 140 pounds and now races crits, gravel, and marathon XCO.