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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Summary

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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Summary

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:

coach@summitcyclecoaching.co.uk

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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.

Any questions

If you have any questions or comments you can ask them in the comments section below or email:

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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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Returning from a break in training


What caused you to have a gap?

There are loads of reasons why you might need to or have to take a break from training:

  • Injury
  • Illness
  • Holiday
  • Family pressures
  • Work Pressures
  • Life Stress
  • End of the season
  • After a big goal has been achieved 
    • Just to name a few!!

And within that, the reasons you might take a break vary wildly….changing jobs, moving house, new baby…it could be anything really.

This post has mainly been inspired by my recent absence from training. I’m usually extremely consistent, training between 5 and 8 x per week, every week all year, apart from I usually take 2-3 weeks of an offseason…where I do no cycling!

I’m not a pro rider, so life sometimes gets in the way of what is ideal, but this year, it happened in a big way. The disruption with very limited cycling was in 1 month period, where I didn’t have my bikes for 3 out of 4 weeks! However, the disruption goes a bit deeper than that and will I’d bet be a scenario that is familiar to many riders.

My family and I decided to move to Switzerland. So the disruption started from about May 2021 when the waiting for confirmation of jobs and permits was happening, all the way to the move in July/August training had to take a back seat.

From a training frequency standpoint, looking at my Training Peaks it doesn’t look too bad, the quality wasn’t there.  I was stressed to the absolute limit, I wasn’t sleeping and I was eating all the wrong foods…and for that matter, too much food!

 

Looking at the PMC Chart

As you can see, there are still plenty of red dots, so I was training for most of this period. However, as I say, the quality wasn’t there and I knew if I pushed harder this would have tipped the balance too far and I would have got ill. 

It’s not just the training stress that counts, it’s the total life stress. So I did as much as I felt I could. It’s easy in this scenario to push to hard, ignore the life stress and compound the issue by getting ill.

As you can see there was a week of no training where my bikes were taken by the moving company. I did a few rides on a training bike while on holiday the following week, then there is a two-week wait for my bikes to arrive in Switzerland (in itself extremely stressful!!).

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Turning the corner

When things settled down my fitness felt like it was completely gone (even if it hasn’t really, it still feels poor). Though CTL is not a pure measure of fitness, it had dropped from 85-90 at the end of my build period, I won a National Title and did my second fastest 10TT ever!! It was down to 40 when I did my first ride in Switzerland.

To compound the issue, the rubbish sleep and poor diet contributed to my going from my normal race weight of 75-76kg up to 83kg…REALLY not ideal when you move to such a hilly country!! 

Returning to training

To test or not to test?

Personally, though it’s tempting to see where you are as you know you’ll get a big boost in the second test…and that always feels good. There’s no real need in my opinion. It’s unnecessary stress both physically and psychologically.

Returning to training in my view should consist of frequent, lower stress, lower intensity training. As you can see on the PMC chart, I did about 2 weeks of training roughly 6x per week, but none of it with any intensity. Just get back to the routine, enjoy the riding and keep the intensity low.

After those two weeks, I added a couple of intervals in my rides 1 x per week and when I got the chance I did a longer ride, but kept the intensity low.

The emphasis when returning to training should be on building what is sustainable. Don’t rush in like a bull at a gate and end up ill or burnt out or compromising more important areas of your life.

If you get back to some nice low intensity riding with good frequency and consistency, the fitness will come, BE PATIENT!

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My training peaks PMC from my return to today

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On the descent from the Col de Romme

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From the top of the Col de la Colmbiere

I was lucky whenreturning to training; once the move had happened there was not a huge amount of ongoing stress, so once training started again it wasn’t really interrupted. This may not always be the case. If there are ongoing challenges, it’s important to factor in that stress and not build training stress too quickly…you’ll just get ill!!

I was in the middle of summer at a. weight I feel is 7kg too much for me. It would be easy to try and crash diet and force the weight back down. I would advise caution with this approach, that is another added stress you really don’t need.

I find that as training gets back on track I’m more able to be consistent in other areas, like nutrition. Consistency is key, get back into good habits around your eating, but don’t deprive yourself or consistency and sustainability will suffer. Cutting out the things you know you don’t need and some consistent training and things will start heading back in the right direction.

As of this am, I’ve lost 3kg’s since getting back to training, so a nice improvement in this time frame. Continued consistency will get me the next 3kg’s in time.

Different needs depending on why?

Clearly, when returning to training, everyone’s circumstances are individual. And the reason why you had to take a break will influence how you return:

  • If it was due to injury, your training frequency and volume may have to take into account the adaptation of the injured tissue.
  • If it was an illness, a longer, more gradual build-up may be required to avoid a relapse, which no one wants.
  • A particularly long break may also require a more gradual build-up.
  • If there are ongoing life stresses, you may need to prioritise and though you start training, you keep life in balance with lower frequency, volume and intensity…a bit like I did in the build-up to my move to Switzerland.

 

Summary of key points


There are plenty of mistakes to be made when returning to training and plenty of traps to fall in to during this really tricky time for a keen athlete:

  • Not recognising the stresses and pushing too hard, making yourself ill.
  • Trying to jump back into training at the same level you left off!
  • Being too hard on yourself for things like lack of fitness, increased weight, inconsistent training…you have to be kind to yourself here, adding more stress doesn’t lead anywhere good.
  • Make small, short term goals that are achievable.
  • Enjoy being bike to training and be patient.

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Any questions

If you have any questions or comments you can ask them in the comments section below or email:

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