Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to spend time with a number of coaches from a variety of different professional teams… The role of the coach is to get each rider ready for their key races throughout the year. No rider is either physically or mentally the same. They have varying levels of experience & backgrounds and don’t respond to the same motivational techniques. On top of that, the riders have different roles both within the team and in different races. That said, the processes and tools all stem from the same training theory. These models can be simply incorporated into our training. I therefore thought it would be a good time to try and explain some of the basics.
What is Base Training?
Base training is the training you need to complete to create the foundations for your cycling for the coming year – the bigger the foundations the harder you will be able to train later on in the year. Put simply it will improve your stamina, fitness and form for the year ahead. As you get into the year, the intensity of your training will increase and with some solid base training behind you, your body will be in a better position to cope and not get too tired. It teaches your body to utilise oxygen as efficiently as possible and ultimately improve your power. In your more gruelling events and longer rides, you will finish stronger and recover quickly.
Compared to interval training, base training is a very social way to train and often carried out in groups – rides are typically long and at a low to medium intensity.
What are training zones?
Training zones refer to the intensity at which we are riding at.
Riding at different intensities brings about different physical changes. By having specific training zones, you can control and measure how hard you are riding. You are therefore able to target specific improvements in your form.
Different models have different numbers of training zones – but the basis of the zones is “Threshold”. There are two different thresholds: aerobic and anaerobic threshold.
Aerobic threshold is the maximum intensity at which you can ride without blood lactate levels increasing.
Anaerobic threshold is what people commonly refer to as their “threshold”. This is your functional threshold power (FTP) for those of you using a power meter or the maximum heart rate, for those using a heart rate monitor. In both cases – at this point the amount of lactate in the blood is elevated but still under control. Ride any harder and the amount of lactic acid will increase exponentially, you will be riding in the red and the effort will become unsustainable.
Using these two thresholds gives us a basic structure of three zones:
- zone one (below aerobic threshold)
- zone two (between aerobic and anaerobic threshold)
- zone three (above anaerobic threshold).
There are various models that use different numbers of zones – generally between 5 & 7 zones, all based on the aerobic and anaerobic thresholds. The increased number of zones assists in creating a more detailed and focused training plan. It also enables you to target more precisely what type of fitness you are gunning for – are you increasing power or stamina or maybe aiming to lose weight?
I have been working with Andy Coggan’s seven zones. This is used in Training Peaks, an internet based platform that riders and coaches use to monitor/analyse performance.
Whichever model you decide to use, the most important thing is that you understand what each zone does and try to stick to the zones when out training. When time on the bike is precious, it will allow you to maximise the time on your bike.
How do you calculate your zones?
To calculate your individual training zones you need to know one of the following things:
- your functional threshold power (FTP)
- your heart rate at anaerobic threshold
- your maximum heart rate.
Before any of the tests you should warm up for 45 minutes, with the intensity slowly increasing every 10 minutes.
Your maximum heart rate.
Pick a section of road (minimum of ten minutes long – ideally a hill) and start off at an intensity you think you can sustain until the end. Every minute accelerate and ride a little bit harder until you are right at your limit, then try and sprint for as long as you can. Record your maximum heart rate.
Your functional threshold power or your heart rate at anaerobic threshold
You need a section of road twenty minutes long. Set off at a pace you feel you can just sustain for 20 minutes and aim to hold this intensity for 17-18 mins, at which point go full gas till the end. You need to record your average power and/or average heart rate for the entire 20 minutes.
To calculate your FTP multiply the average power by 0.95 and for threshold heart rate you multiply your average heart rate by 0.95.
It’s important when using power or heart rate that you test yourself regularly to ensure that your training zones are up to date. If you only test yourself at the start of the year, then your zones will be out later on in the summer and your training won’t be as effective. Try and test yourself every six weeks or whenever riding a certain power feels easier than normal.
What are the purposes behind each zone?
Each zone has a specific purpose and your body will have a specific physiological reaction to training in a particular zone.
Zone 1 – Active Recovery
<55% FTP / <68% threshold HR / 50-60% max HR
“EASY SPINNING” – Training at this low intensity means you can continue to be active without becoming fatigued. Perfect for when you need to recover form a hard session or in between intervals.
Zone 2 – Endurance
55-75% FTP / 68-83% threshold HR / 60-70% MHR
“ALL DAY” Pace – Zone two is effectively your base training. Riding in zone two teaches your body to burn fat as a source of fuel. The very top of zone two is your aerobic threshold. Therefore in zone two your blood lactate shouldn’t be elevated. Sessions in zone two are typically longer rides – approximately 4-5 hours. The rides can be frequent and recovery is generally speedy.
Zone 3 – Tempo
76-90% FTP / 84-94% threshold HR / 70-80% MHR
“SPIRITED” Group Ride – This zone works on your ability to hold a consistent high pace, it has the benefits of zone 2 but is more tiring. In zone three you are riding quickly but not too hard, stimulating your body to increase the amount of glycogen it can store. You should be breathing deeper than zone two, where conversation on the bike is somewhat halted.
It is easy to ride a mix of zone 2 & zone 3 on long group rides where the pace is constantly pushed. Rides are typically 4-5 hour. Consecutive days riding in zone three is possible with the correct dietary carbohydrate intake, post ride rest and stretching.
Zone 4 – Lactate Threshold
91-105% FTP / 95-105% threshold HR / 80-90% MHR – PE LIGHT
Just below/above a “TT effort” – Zone four works on your anaerobic threshold. The zone therefore starts just below or above your anaerobic threshold. Training in this zone allows you to raise your anaerobic threshold. Conversation when riding in zone four is difficult and the ride is mentally taxing. Typically performed as multiple “repeats” or “intervals” of between 10-30 min in duration with recovery in between. Consecutive days training in zone four is generally only performed when sufficiently rested prior to the training block.
Zone 5 – VO2 Max
106-120% FTP / >106% threshold HR / 90-100% MHR –
This is the high intensity efforts you can hold for 3-8 minute intervals and is intended to increase your VO2max. Training in zone five is full on, you need to be focused and in the zone (there’s no time for talking). In the shorter efforts your heart rate may not even have time to reach your max rate (training to HR can be limiting in this zone).
This is the zone you will be riding in when you blast a short sharp climb. Consecutive days training in zone five are not really desirable.
Zone 6 – Anaerobic Capacity
Power only 121-150% FTP
Short 30 secs – 3 mins high intensity intervals with rests in between. Heart Rate is not a useful guide in zone six. Certainly no patter here! Consecutive days in zone 6 not usually attempted.
Zone 7 – Neuromuscular Power
Power only 150%+ FTP
Very short and very high intensity sessions – Training in this zone works on your sprint power. This zone also causes the most muscle size increase, therefore if you want bigger, more powerful legs then zone seven is for you.
So… by understanding what your short, medium and long term goals are for the year, you can start to plan in your weekly training. This will ensure you don’t over train & you maximise your time on the road. It is not about time on the bike, it is about how you use your time on the bike. Having a real purpose to your ride is an incredible feeling and worth pursuing – you really feel like you are getting somewhere. If you are new to training zones, getting yourself a coach for a few months is well worth it – feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org and I can point you in the right direction. There are plenty of local coaches on the island.