Proper workout execution: the key to getting better

Training, October 31, 2017

Every ride has a training goal and it is important that you do your training rides in a way that gets you the training response you're looking for. While an overarching look at what zones you rode in might look good at the end of a ride, you need to look at the workout a bit more closely to see if you did it properly.


Every ride we do as an athlete on a training plan should have a goal. Often, when we see the ride file from an athlete that hasn’t been coached by us the work done in the ride doesn’t really match the expectation of the ride. They haven’t done the work that is expected of them as outlined in the training plan. This matters because...

Let’s take a look at  a few  examples of typical files that get sent to us, and compare them to files of well executed sessions.

Let’s look at an endurance ride prescribed to be done by two different athletes. You will see that the one athlete had a much better execution than the other.

In the example below, you can  see that a very high percentage of time is spent in the heart rate endurance zone, represented by the bright yellow section in the graph, and by the tall buckets in the red bar graph below.

This is a very well executed endurance ride keeping the heart rate very steady the entire time.


Next let’s take a look at an endurance workout that wasn’t so well executed.

This is a pretty typical file for a lot of athletes.  Most riders would say that because it is  a nice long ride that it  is a great endurance builder.  It is sort of…

Anytime you ride long it will build your endurance,but in this example the rider actually only works on pure endurance  for 35% of the time. Remember, in the first example the rider spent 77% of the ride at their endurance heart rate.

The fact that this rider spent only 35% of the ride time at their endurance heart rate means that they didn’t achieve the goal of the workout. We train at endurance in part to teach our body to burn fat as a fuel source. Riding only 35% of the time at their endurance heart rate means that the rider can complete this session without requiring their  body to burn mostly fat to complete this length of ride. Each time they go above their endurance heart rate the body turns on its sugar burning capabilities, cheating to achieve a ride that is suppose to be predominantly fat burning.

An endurance ride, done poorly, will still work on your endurance capabilities, but most often leave you too tired to have a good ride the next day, or possibly may even require a day off to recover. Better to execute the ride properly and be able to train again the next without being overly fatigued.


Here is a third, excellent example, of perfect workout execution. Amazingly this workout was done outdoors, not in ERG mode on the trainer which is what you might think at first glance. The first graph shows the power file and includes the endurance warm-up (light blue), 3x 10m Sweetspot intervals (yellow), and 3x 15m Threshold Intervals (orange).  


And here is the heart rate graph from the same workout. As you can see the power and heart rate correspond to one another, and are both perfectly within the zone throughout each effort. This is the type of fitness that we should all strive towards: when we push the power for a specific zone, say tempo, then the heart rate is also able to stay in that zone. There are not many riders that we see who are able to do this. In large measure we would say this is because everyone neglects their aerobic capacity, training solely by power and with too much focus on the threshold and VO2 training zones.  These kinds of sessions work exactly the zones or limiters that are the goals of session.


In the above example you can see that heart rate and power or both in the proper zones, this is the eventual goal to know that your fitness is balanced.

Let’s look at some of the goals we might be trying to achieve in a workout.

Endurance: we are trying to build our fat burning ability.

Tempo: improved muscular endurance, and the ability to sustain the effort over a longer time period

Threshold: again, improved muscular endurance, and the ability to sustain an effort for a longer period.  You won’t see much of this work on our programming, we find that it has little benefit for the amount of fatigue it generates.

If we look back at our second example, the poorly executed endurance ride, we can consider whether the goals of the workout were achieved. In this second example, if we look at the bar graph after the ride it looks like we did a solid ride: 2 hours of tempo training, which is a good workload. Look more closely at the ride graph though. The heart rate moved up and down across  zones, never staying in one zone for more than a few minutes, for the whole ride.

Consider our goals through for this ride. This was supposed to be a fat burning endurance ride. We have already mentioned this this wasn’t achieved because as the heart rate moved up and down across zones the fat burning isn’t the primary fuel source, sugar is also used, missing out on one of our ride goals.

You might then say as a rider though that you’ve done a solid tempo ride. Remember, with tempo type training we are really trying to improve muscular endurance and the ability to sustain these types of intensities over longer periods of time. During this ride there was never a period of more than a few minutes when the effort was steady in a given zone. When we don’t hold steady in a zone the muscles work properly for moments at a time but never really long enough to gain strength over time. To develop our tempo ability we want to have extended periods of time, moving from 6x 10m for example to a full 60m, where we are riding in the tempo zone. Riding a few minutes at a time to accumulate time in the isn’t achieving our tempo development goal either.

When you hold steady in a zone you really get the benefit of working both your aerobic system and the ability to endure sustained muscular work. Paying attention to which zone you are riding in and executing the workout properly, even if it means backing off the wattage to stay in a heart rate zone, will generate the maximum training benefit.

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