Training camps can be valuable in the search for an extra boost in fitness. However, they’re not always factored into training as efficiently as they should be. Let me explain with some reasoning from the perspective of two different cyclists.
Firstly, you have the time constricted cyclist, who has a full-time job, with a family to think about and can maybe manage one long ride per week of 3-4 hours, possibly with a club, and then a few more sessions, possibly on the turbo, ranging from half an hour to ninety minutes, throughout the week.
This athlete will get a big boost from a training camp. Essentially this is a holiday from his or her normal life, no work, no chores, no family issues to attend to, total freedom to ride the bike and in one week might stack up a similar amount of training load as they would in a month, possibly even more. Given enough recovery post camp they will see a significant boost in their fitness and if they timed it well, they should be able to hold onto these gains long into their season.
For this athlete a camp needs to be structured into their existing training plan incredibly carefully. First of all, the timing needs to be thought out. Too far away from the start of their season and they might struggle to carry these gains through with their restricted training time. Too close to their season and they might not recover from the huge increase in training. Previous data is the best way to diagnose this. If you use TrainingPeaks, then TSS (Training Stress Score) and TSB (Training Stress Balance) can play a pivotal role. What is the most TSS the athlete has sustained in a week before, how long will they take to recover based on their TSB. You might even have a slight taper into a camp in order for the athlete to get the most from it.
The second athlete is someone with more time available. They might be able to do back-to-back longer rides at the weekends and even get out during the week too. Shorter sessions may still be on the turbo, but they train in a more structured manner.
This athlete might not see as bigger boost in fitness as the first, but none the less the camp can be invaluable in search for that little extra push. While this athlete doesn’t have to worry too much about getting extra time in on the bike, the big concern might be not getting enough specificity. Again recovery is key, but having an understanding or reference of what the camp will be like will enable the athlete to plan the weeks before and after, to ensure there’s no risk if overtraining, and like the first athlete, they get the most from the camp.
Choice of camp becomes the biggest challenge for this athlete. A camp which is too easy might actually see the athlete head backwards, one that is too hard might push the athletes training load too far and be costly while needing additional recovery post camp. One that caters to the needs of the individual is important too. If the athlete is a road racer, then a team camp is perfect. Not only does it serve as a bonding experience for team mates, but it is reasonable to assume that they are of similar levels and with similar goals.
Regardless of whether you see yourself more as the first or second athlete, you should be able to use this information to pick the right camp for you. Camps are a break for the norm and should be enjoyed as much for the time away as the benefits in performance they provide. Whatever you do, have fun!