Although we had a heavy snowfall in Colorado a week ago, it’s in the 70s this week so spring is mostly here!
Several readers wrote in with questions about spring training. Before answering the questions, a bit of context. The Spring Training eArtice includes four programs based on how active a rider has been over the winter, and the rider’s goals:
- #1 Base Program is for riders who exercised 4-6 hours a week in the winter. The plan builds endurance and power until the rider can do a 4- to 5-hour ride.
- #2 Recreational Program is for riders who exercised 7-9 hours a week in the winter. The plan builds endurance and power until the rider can do a 5- to 6-hour ride.
- #3a Fast Club Program is for riders who exercised 7-9 hours a week in the winter. The plan builds endurance and power and also builds speed until the rider can do a fast 4- to 5-hour ride.
- #3b Century and 200 km Program is for riders who exercised 10-12 hours a week in the winter. This plan builds much more endurance and power until the rider can ride 100-mile to 200-km.
Each program is divided into two 5-week blocks so that a rider can pick the best program for you and either do 5 or 10 weeks of training. Now, on to the reader questions.
Tim Brown wrote: I read John Hughes’ article on training for a June long ride. Great article! I am puzzled by the zone 3 tempo rides. Some articles say avoid zone 3, that it’s not hard enough but too hard all at same time. So, how to reconcile these recommendations?
Tim asks a question with a very interesting answer. Different coaches define training zones differently. My zones are from Hunter Allen & Andrew Coggan Training and Racing with a Power Meter. The same zones also apply if one is using a HR monitor or RPE. Joe Friel also uses these zones, which are pretty widely accepted. In this system Z3 tempo rides are still aerobic and build endurance.
When I started coaching 20 years ago the accepted wisdom was that a rider should train either completely aerobically (Z2 and Z3) or fully anaerobically (Z4 and higher). There was a gap between Z3 and Z4 where a rider shouldn’t train – you’re referring to what we used to call the “dead zone.”
Coaching science has advanced and now recognizes that human power production is a continuum. As you ride harder and harder your body doesn’t shift from aerobic metabolism to anaerobic metabolism. The term “lactate threshold” implies that the body shifts from aerobic to anaerobic. However, as you ride harder and harder your body continues to produce energy aerobically and also produces more and more energy anaerobically. Lactate threshold is an arbitrary point at which your body produces a certain amount of lactate.
Through a lot of research Allen and Coggan have found that the most effective place to train to build sustained power is the Sweet Spot, which overlaps the top of Z3 and bottom of Z4, the old “dead zone!”
Here’s the logic: the harder you ride, the more muscle fibers you recruit, the harder your cardiovascular system has to work and the higher the training effect. However, the harder you ride the more recovery you need between intervals and between days of intensity. Training in the Sweet Spot you aren’t pushing your body quite as hard and you also need significantly less recovery, so that the total stimulus to your muscles and cardiovascular system is greater than if you trained harder.
If you go to my website it explains in detail how I define Training Zones and you can download the spreadsheet that I use with clients to determine your own zones by perceived exertion, heart rate and power.
Steven Southworth wrote: Question on the Spring Training eBook. Why only 1 day of Endurance in a 6-day week? I thought there would be 50-75% Endurance at this time. I am active in the winter. Over 12 hours a week skate skiing and back country skiing.
Steve, since you have been skiing 12 hours a week you could do Program #3b, the Century program. From all your skiing you have good general cardiovascular and muscular fitness. The key to effective training is varying the intensity. The rides in the Century program are at different intensities to convert your general fitness to cycling-specific fitness.
The Century program includes:
- 1 day of Endurance riding in Z2 and Z3, i.e., at a conversational pace.
- 1 or 2 days of Tempo riding in Z3, i.e., at a brisk conversational pace. Tempo riding recruits more of your slow-twitch muscles and is still endurance training. It also trains your legs specifically for cycling.
- 2 days of Recovery riding at a leisurely pace.
- 1 day of Sweet Spot intensity riding overlapping Z3 and Z4.
That’s three days in the endurance zones of Z2 and Z3 and also the two days of active recovery. There’s only one day of intensity (Sweet Spot) and it’s the lowest level of intensity training. The vast majority of the riding is non-intensity riding either by number of days or number of hours.
Steven added: I have a friend following the 3a schedule and doing a Lactate Threshold and a Sweet Spot ride each week. Why that level of intensity so early in the season?
When selecting and following a plan a rider is his or her own coach. The rider should pick the plan that fits the rider’s current fitness. It’s like Goldilocks – the plan should be not too hard and not too easy but just right. If the weeks in a particular plan are too hard, then follow the preceding plan. Doing more or harder workouts than the body can handle won’t make a rider fitter. Instead, this would make the rider less fit than if the rider followed the appropriate plan.
The #2 Recreational program and the #3a Fast Club program are both for riders who exercised 7-9 hours a week in the winter; however, they have different goals. The Recreational program is for endurance riders who want to do 5- to 6-hour rides. The Fast Club program is for faster riders who want to do 4- to 5-hour hard rides.
Each of the four programs includes Sweet Spot workouts. The Sweet Spot is the optimal place to train to build sustained power, the kind of power a rider needs for windy days and long climbs.
The Fast Club program adds a second day of intensity, Lactate Threshold rides, which train the rider to go harder. The Fast Club program is still primarily a spring endurance program. Each week has six rides. Forexample, the first week has:
- 1 Endurance day of 2:00 to 3:30 hours.
- 1 Tempo day of 2:00 to 3:30.
- 1 Sweet Spot day of 1:00 including 10 to 20 minutes of Sweet Spot efforts and recovery.
- 1 Lactate Threshold day of 1:00 including 10 to 20 minutes of Lactate Threshold efforts and recovery.
- 2 Recovery rides totaling 2:00 to 3:00.
That’s 8 – 11 hours of riding with only 20 to 40 minutes of mixed intensity, i.e., hard efforts and recovery. The following weeks maintain the same proportion of endurance riding and mixed intensity.
The takeaway message is that varying the intensity is the key to effective spring training. This is explained in detail in my new eArticle Intensity Training 2016.
To hear more about How to Get the Most Out of Your Spring Training, listen to this podcast I recently recorded with George Thomas:
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Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.