How to Manage intensity

When I did my Sports Science degree back in the 90’s there was a lot of emphasis on improving endurance performance by finding and training at ‘lactate threshold’ (LT). In fact, my undergrad dissertation was on developing a ramp test protocol for determining LT in rowers.

As a masters athlete, my learning journey started in a fresh direction. The increase in popularity and quality of podcasts was a big part of it. I was training increasingly on the turbo trainer because of time restrictions and music didn’t do it for me after a while. That’s when I started listening to podcasts.

After a couple of years using Trainer Road I was stuck in a pattern of training, burning out, getting ill and repeat!! Very frustrating and led me to stagnate in my racing.

Of course, a new direction was needed. Thankfully, I made the best decision ever and started working with Joe Beer. Joe is an incredible coach who guided me through a winter of training and onto my best season ever.

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So what changed?

The change came from the intensity distribution. Trainer Road used a huge amount of sweet spot and threshold training. My change to a polarised model wasn’t necessarily easy, but learning from Joe, his support and committing to the process the results soon started to build.

I think the learning was a crucial part of the process for me. Helped me to commit to the process. Reading and listening to Stephen Seiler was a big part of it.

People are so afraid to go easy, but the research is very clear, it works!! My intensity distribution ranged from 90-95% EASY training each week. Which works out to be about 8-9 hours easy with about 40-50 minutes on high-intensity intervals.

How do you set your intensity zones


The easiest way to get started is with Stephen Seilers 3 zone model. All you need to know is your maximum heart rate (MHR):


  • Zone 1 = up to 78% of your MHR
  • Zone 2 = Between 78-86% of MHR
  • Zone 3 = Over 86% of MHR

Start by going out easy and monitoring your HR. If it’s an easy day you should stay in Zone 1 the whole time (a few seconds above here and there won’t matter…but don’t con yourself…stay in Z1).

On hard days do your intervals targeting the competition you are doing or the metabolic system you are trying to improve.

It’s actually very easy…the hard bit is staying disciplined. If it’s a Z1 day, don’t go for a KOM!! Don’t chase down that rider who just overtook you…BE DISCIPLINED!!! Remember you have bigger fish to fry, race days are for racing…save it for then.


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Endurance performance comes primarily from frequent, consistent training. Frequent consistent training is best achieved with good control of your intensity distribution.

Get control of your intensity and good things will happen.

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Returning to Fitness

If you read my post in September on Returning from a Break in Training, you’ll know I’ve had a very disrupted season due to a move of country.

As luck would have it, I started using Aerotune Metabolic Profile Testing just before life overtook me and was in decent shape. So I got a reasonable look at my profile when in racing shape. Then there was a big gap in training, where I had limited training time and the training I could do was only of limited use due to stress!!

When life started to settle down I did 3-4 weeks of easy training to get back into the routine of it, then I tested again to see where I was. So I have a picture of where I was when near my lowest fitness.

My most recent test was last weekend. I really felt like it was time to test as my feelings on the bike were much improved and I wanted to re-calculate my zones to keep the training accurate.

Metabolic Profile – Test 1


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These results while in decent shape were a little surprising. Particularly my VLamax,  which is much higher than expected.  I’d recently done my second fastest 10 mile TT ever (20:13) so it was a good representation of what I can do, but clearly, there is room for improvement. If. my VLamax was lower it would improve my threshold power, which is what I am after for my time trialing.

Test 2

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Not surprising to see big drops in my testing in September. The training I had been doing had included some effort in lower my VLamax, which seemed to be working, though not as much as I expected.

Though this was the second test, it was the first one that I really used to plan a block of training. My plan for the next month was to increase the volume a little, keep it to 6 sessions a week and really work on lowering that VLamax.

My strategy was to mix up my sessions with 4-5 endurance rides each week at FATmax, sometimes with carbs, sometimes fasted. Then 1-2 sessions a week with OGE (over-geared efforts) at sweet spot.

Training was really good during this period and I would have waited to test another 2-3 weeks normally, but I think because I was coming from a relatively low point for me, I progressed more quickly and really needed to re-test at 4 weeks to re-set my zones and keep my training moving forward.

Test 3

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I was right to get the test in when I did, things had moved on quite a bit!

I could really feel the difference on the road. My work to bring that VLamax down was working and you can, even though my VO2max has not returned to its highest point, the combination of VO2max and VLamax now allowing my critical power to be at its highest of the 3 tests.

These changes are also very obvious when you look at the improvements in FATmax, a 30 Watt improvement since test 2! So the controlled intensity of endurance rides and the carb periodisation were really paying off. 

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In short, I am really pleased with the results from the training. I averaged 10-12 hours per week for the 4 weeks and as you can see on the right the intensity distribution of Heart Rate was 92% in zone 1 (the HR zones are set up for Seiler’s 3 zone model). The power zones are in the default 7+SS zone model. Gives you a good idea of how ‘easy’ the training was for the vast majority of the time.

The main changes that the metabolic testing made for me were:


  • My endurance rides were at a lower power average
  • I put greater emphasis on lowering the VLamax

Though these technical changes to my training are of vital importance, I actually think one of the biggest benefits of the testing comes from the belief in what you are doing is really the right thing to do….and the results speak for themselves.

If you have any comments or questions leave them below or email me:

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Find out what metabolic testing can do for you



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Metabolic testing

Having a Sports Science background makes me interested in all things physiology and testing. I’m sure we are all familiar with various tests, FTP tests, lactate testing, VO2max tests, etc. But it was some interviews I listened to with Sebastian Weber of InScyd that got me really interested in metabolic testing.

What previously would have required a trip to a lab, was now accessible to those with a power meter…with all the testing done at home. Though I went through their demonstrations and some of their education, I decided it was a bit expensive for me and my clients.

However, I was listening to the brilliant Endurance Innovations Podcast a while back, they were interviewing the guys behind the website AeroTune. I’d not heard of them previously, but I really liked what they were saying.

There were two episodes, the first one I heard was about their aero-testing platform…and actually, that was what made me download the podcast. However, during that interview, they started talking about their metabolic testing platform and that was much closer to the price range I was looking for.

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Easy to do a home or on the road, following their very clear instructions.

Find out your:

  • VO2max
  • VLamax
  • Fatmax
  • Critical Power

Why metabolic testing?

The reasons for getting metabolic testing are actually something I hadn’t considered a huge amount before, mainly because of expense and the fact you’d have to travel to a lab to get it done. This new type of modelling allows you to test at home with the power meter on your bike. This makes it both far more convenient and far more affordable.

These two factors combined have the added benefit that you will not only be able to get tested, but you will also be able to re-test at appropriate times to check on progress and correct course if necessary.

Metabolic testing goes beyond simply finding out a simple measure like FTP…WAY BEYOND!

With accurate metabolic testing, you find out the ‘how’ behind the threshold measure. What metabolic pathways are you using to achieve your FTP.

As a time trialist, I was particularly interested in my VLamax. I was keen to see if I could take advantage of lowering this in the pursuit of a higher sustained power. Without this knowledge, training is less targeted, exciting times!

I was also interested to find out where my ‘FATmax zone’ was too. Definitely keen to take advantage of knowing that and seeing if I can improve it.

That’s key with the test and re-test…you can find out if what you doing is having the expected results!


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interpreting the results

Aerotune also gives you some great feedback in your results form that has some information about your results and some suggestions on how you might direct your training.

Beyond that, the information is just such a great starting point and can give your training some real focus.

As with any training, it starts with your goals. What do you want to achieve? The goals you set are the ‘end point’ if you like (or more likely a waypoint), but what’s key here is that with metabolic testing you have a starting point. A much more accurate starting point.

I think metabolic testing is the missing piece of the puzzle. You can certainly make very educated guesses at your starting point and there are other ways of establishing your starting point and therefore the focus of training. However, I believe this is a more accurate way of finding the starting point.


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Models of possible changes

Your test on the day is the starting point, the programme models the potential benefits of changes to your VO2max (above) and VLamax (below). This allows you start planning your training too make the changes you want. No more guess work!

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Obviously, you still have to put in the hard work!! But there is a comfort and confidence that this testing brings to your training that is very motivating. Also, because this is a very convenient and affordable platform you can re-test and check your progress.

The day to day planning and the month to month progression of your workouts is still of vital importance. You can’t get away from that, but with a look into your metabolic profile, you can make all the hard work pay off to the maximum.

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The key to improving your endurance performance


There are so many things to look at in training. I find it all extremely interesting and spend a huge amount of time listening to podcasts, reading and attending seminars on training, physiology and anything I think will help my athletes.

When you listen to all the ideas, tips and tricks you have to remember, ‘how does this affect today’s training, this weeks training, this months training etc’.

As I’ve learned more and more, the one word that all the advice points back to is ‘patience’.

It began to crystalise as the root of almost all of the advice as I was on a lovely Z1 ride in the Jura Mountains.

It’s the most important thing, yet is almost absurdly simple you could miss it. I’ve read cycling magazines for years and even though occasionally there are articles that allude to this; it is massively overwhelmed by the ‘get fit in 4 weeks’ programmes and the ‘boost your FTP in less than 4 hours a week’ high-intensity training articles.

I do understand it; it’s not sexy to say you. need to be patient, you need to get on your bike regularly, keep intensity under control and make sure you occasionally go hard and occasionally have a day off.

There’s clearly a lot more to it in fairness, but all the high-intensity stuff is really not the key. 

The Key to endurnace performance: Patience!

I also think there are many layers to patience. You need to be patient on a micro level, meso level and macro level.

Have patience in the ride you are on; what is its purpose? If it is an easy Z1 ride (3 Zone model), then use your gears, keep it easy and don’t go chasing that rider that just overtook you.

If it’s a hard ride with quality intervals, be patient and work through the intervals as prescribed…don’t go out all guns blazing and blow up before the end.

That brings me on to another area where patience is key; be kind to yourself when you make mistakes! If you did blow up before the end of your interval session, don’t beat yourself up. Learn from it and try and do better next time. If you keep making the same mistake all the time, that’s a problem. If you make mistakes and learn, you are getting better.

On a meso level, you need to be patient to let the sessions build. Be patient in the week, if it’s an easy ride, ride easy, don’t chase a Strava KOM that day or your planned hard session the next day will be of less quality and not create the desired adaptation.


Also, be patient on a macro level. Don’t take shortcuts to try and get fit quick…it doesn’t work in the long term. We’re in an aerobic sport, training the aerobic system is what gets you the gains. Being consistent over time, managing your intensity and building a powerful engine all comes back to being patient. So simple,  but ultimately the key to endurance performance.

Given that we are close to the end of the summer season and many will be planning a bit of time off the bike before setting about their winter training. So first on the list of being patient Is giving yourself a suitable amount of time off the bike or at least off hard training.

Don’t get sucked into the rubbish about losing all your fitness and getting behind on your training!! It really is rubbish, have confidence and patience in your process, if you aren’t racing until next April…why would you want to be fit in November/December anyway?

I’ve heard some physiologists and coaches talk about how the body may not necessarily need a break if training is well designed. However, the mind definitely needs a break. It will be different for everyone, some will have a few weeks of no bike and no training. Some will choose to get a few easy rides, but. much. lower frequency, volume and intensity.  Some. may choose a different activity to stay active,  but not train as such. A great time to spend with family and give back if you’ve been away for a lot of racing.

It’s important you get this reset. The biggest you can make is train too hard now.  The great shame of this is that it’s a mistake that can be made so easily. That’s mainly because your body can cope…at least for a while. 

The tragedy is that you will cope for long enough that by the time you realise your mistake and start burning out the season will actually be in sight…but your motivation will be rapidly running out. I can speak to this from personal experience!

Be patient, focus on the appropriate intensities. Spend time with your family and friends. Spend time fixing any niggles you might have with some good off-bike training (More in for on that here).

It’s a good time to focus on things like getting a bike fit, which means you can make any changes needed and have plenty of time to adapt to them before you have to start pushing hard on the pedals again.

Here’s an example of a case study that involved a masters rider having the patience to control intensity, completely changing their riding over an offseason and getting the rewards in their results.

Case study

A Masters rider who used to train for cycling with a lot of Z2/3 riding (in a 3 Zone Model). A typical week of training consisted of 2-3 sweet spot rides on my turbo trainer, 1 threshold ride/race and 1 long ride.


This resulted in a pattern of regular colds, particularly after a ‘peak’. Nothing too bad, but it would always knock them back a couple of weeks.

Progress was good for a few years but in the 3rd and 4th seasons stagnation and burnout. Towards the end of this period, I started seeing this pattern of frequent illness and stagnation.

Changing to a polarised training approach in late 2018 delivered a more consistent winter and build into the 2019 season. You can see the difference in intensity in the graph on the right.

The biggest difference was a feeling of freshness almost all of the time and when the racing came so did the PB’s. FTP had been about 305 for 2 years and now it was 323.

Here’s a summary of the time trial PB’s:

  • 19:57 for 10 miles (down from 20:56)
  • 50:46 for 25 miles (down from 54:55)
  • 1:49.45 for 50 miles (down from 1:56.42)

There were no episodes of illness, allowing training to be more consistent and more PB’s would surely have happened if there had been racing in 2020!





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Stay Healthy

Meaning both not getting injured and not getting ill.

If your training is too hard or too frequently intense you will get little illnesses and injuries that break your consistency.

Keep your easy sessions easy, for most athletes, this means around 80-90% of your training is below 78% of your max heart rate.

Be Consistent

Once you are disciplined with your intensity, you will stay healthier and consistency will come.

Getting on your bike as much as you can, in balance with the rest of your busy life, will be the thing that impacts your fitness the most.

Sustainable rhythm

All this put together means that you can put together long stretches of sustained endurance training stimulus that creates greater adaptation and performance gains.

It’s important to remember to keep life in balance, fit the training in around everything else and don’t dig too deep into your energy or your partner or families ‘good will’. Find a balance.



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3 parts

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3 Ways to Solve Knee Injuries in Cycling – Part 3


Knee pain is one of the most common injuries in cycling, accounting for between 30-60% of all injuries, depending on what you read. In my experience, it is certainly the most common complaint I see and deal with.

In parts 1 and 2 we covered load management and strength/mobility. It’s certainly reasonable to try a few things before rushing off for advice. However, I would caution against ignoring injury for too long. It’s all too easy to stay in denial for months and dig. yourself a big hole.

So when should you seek advice? and where from?

3 – Seeking Professional Advice from Therapist or Bike Fitter

I’d probably split this down into 2 broad categories:


  1. Influencing the body
  2. Influencing the bike


Clearly, there’s a big overlap between these two, but to try and keep it simple, lets go with it.

Influencing the body can be anything from manual work on muscles, joints, neural mobility, balance, strength, coordination and many more. Again, you will see the overlap with our second strategy (Strength and Mobility)…a strong, skilful body with help you.

A lot of these gains are possible with exercise and the strategies outlined in part 2. However, sometimes more help is required and manual work from a physiotherapist can save a lot of time allowing you to progress the on bike and off bike exercises more quickly.

For example, we’ve all seen cyclists where one or both of their knees flare out at the top of the pedal stroke. This is most commonly due to stiffness in the hips, where hip flexion and/or hip internal rotation are limited meaning that to get the foot over the top of the pedal stroke the hip ‘buys’ some range using external rotation. This is what makes the knee flare out.

Now as we’ve said, this may not be optimal for the knee, but the knee can’t change it, it’s forced into this pattern by the hips. Manual therapy and exercise can really help increase hip range and change this pattern for the knee to a pattern of movement that no longer causes undue stress on the knee.

This is just one example, but similar could be seen all over the body. A little targeted help from a physio can allow self-help/maintenance to be far more rapid and sustained.


Influencing the bike is simply a way of influencing the body through the bike, but is no less effective. Changing the position on the bike is something we are all familiar with. I tinkered with my position for years, before I finally got a bike fit. I was totally blown away by how much more effective a bike fit was than my endless changes.

Since then of course I have extensively studied bike fitting and completed my qualifications to help my patients and clients directly. As well as the formal qualifications I have studied informally through Steve Hogg’s ebooks and blogs (which are incredibly detailed) and also I have spent a large amount of time researching bike fitting through my Clinical  Biomechanics MSc.

In the example above we looked at the knees flaring out due to stiff hips. If the pattern persists even after you have achieved as much range as you can from the hips/body, you need to look elsewhere for help. Here is where bike fitting can be so important. You can set the bike up so less hip flexion is required by making sure the saddle is at the right height, bar reach/height, altering the crank lengths, looking at pedal stack, pedal spacers and I’m sure many other options. This solution is never a generic 1+1=2 scenario. Everyone is an individual and comes with their own bike set up, their own movement patterns, their own injury history, their own set of beliefs. Everyone is an individual and the best results come from always treating my patients and clients with the highest level of individual attention.

The other advantage of influencing the bike is that the changes to the bike can be done instantly. Though this won’t necessarily solve all your pain instantly, you can buy some ROM so you can keep training while you work on the body. The bike fit can then evolve as the body improves, making for a quicker outcome that allows training to continue.

In Summary

Preventing injuries is the best-case scenario and having a good quality bike fit and a good movement regime off the bike are the best ways to achieve this.

If injuries do occur, don’t stay too long in denial! Look at the issue and its possible causes and try to address them. If it is beyond your knowledge or skill set then it is time to seek the advice from those who can help.

I’d caution against asking the internet…I see these posts all the time. You get a million answers all saying different things, each from an individual with a biased perspect. For example ‘raise your saddle 5-10mm, takes pressure off the knee…I’ve had no pain since I did it’ (I see that one a lot!). That’s great for that individual, but who. knows why they had knee pain? It may be for completely different reasons to you…your saddle may be the perfect height.

That is where the value of a trusted physio/bike fitter can really pay off.  If they are good, they minimise the bias, have an objective view and can look at you as an individual. This gives you a much better chance of understanding why you have knee pain and how you can solve it.


I really hope these posts are helpful, but if you have any questions at all leave them in the comments below or you can email me directly.


Neil Poulton

BSc. Physiotherapy

BSc. Sports Science

MSc. Clinical Biomechanics (ongoing)

ABCC Level 3 Cycling Coach

Bike Fitter


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