Tempo Training

Tempo = 76-90% of your threshold by FTP, Heart Rate or RPE

I made it out the door with about 90 min to spare before darkness and black ice would set in. What type of ride did I do? How do you go about achieving aerobic adaptations and adding some variety with limited time in the winter?

I did my first slushy sports drink ride the other day. For a short window of time that day the cycling god(s) shined down on me and work, weather, wife and baby all cooperated. A rare occurrence, indeed. No doubt with the way winter is going here in Colorado there’ll be more slushy rides. Don’t get me wrong, it was exhilarating – a thousand times better than the trainer.

The exhilarating part comes when you ride as far as possible away from home calculating exactly when you have to turn around in order to make it home in time. I just love hustling back and stopping at red lights with steam coming off my legs and shoulders.

Jailbreak from Trainer Hell

With 90 minutes to ride you might wonder what type of ride I did? I design training plans and think about training all day so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I put a lot of thought into each and every minute I spend on the bike. At this time of year I’d venture to guess that a large majority of us are well into our “base” phases, myself included. And I’m pretty sure we are all riding as much as we can within the grander scheme of life. Hey, we’d all like to be out there doing 5 hours rides day in and day out but that just simply isn’t realistic.

Additionally, I’d also venture to guess that, like me, you are getting pretty sick of riding the stationary trainer. I mean who can do more than 90 minutes back to back to back like an aerobic endurance phase calls for? I know I can’t.

And so what do you do to achieve those aerobic adaptations? Back to my slushy ride, you ride harder! Bring an ever so slight bit of intensity into your shorter time crunched rides and indoor trainer sessions. Take it up a notch! Not all out, eye popping interval intensity but nice, steady, sweat factory tempo training: Zone 3 intensity as seen from this table.

Tempo Training

Notice how more adaptations occur from riding in zone 3 than in zone 2 alone – more bang for your buck! If you’re using a powermeter, riding tempo (aka zone 3) will be represented by a greater total workload measured in kilojoules. If you are using WKO+, you’ll notice a greater Training Stress Score or TSS. If you’re using a heart rate monitor or RPE, well, it’s just a notch higher. All represent greater training adaptations than zone 2 alone.

Riding tempo is what I like to call “fun fast”, because tempo doesn’t elicit the pain like threshold training does unless it’s for an extended period of time. Plus, tempo is more technically stimulating than the mind numbing point and shoot zone 2 training. For even more adaptations there is sweet spot training which we describe here.

Not So Fast, Buckaroo!

Now it would be really easy to take this recommendation out of context because it is based on several assumptions. First would be that you’ve already put in plenty of level 2 aerobic endurance training. Secondly, in the classical model of periodization you are ready and in need for an even greater training load in order to stimulate further adaptations. And finally it is based on athletes who are limited in their time: (i.e., not carrying a training load as high as they could if they had more time to train). Or in other words, athlete’s not even close to overtraining. That’s not to say that athletes carrying a greater training load can’t also benefit from riding tempo, they can; however it becomes a more slippery slope of optimizing just the right balance between the dose of training and the amount of recovery. Tempo delivers a greater training load and that’s why it’s beneficial for cyclists training with a limited amount of time.

For the weekend warriors, group rides are another great way to incorporate tempo into your training. Then you’ll really get your money’s worth out of your day. It’s a great transition between lower intensity zone 2 training and full tilt racing. When professional riders go off to training camp this is precisely what they are doing. Can you imagine one of the new Discovery recruits raising his hand saying, “errrr Mr. Armstrong, I’m only supposed to ride in Zone 2 today”? Hah! Did you read Armstrong’s quote the other week, “Some teams go off to camp to fish, I like to get together and suffer with the boys”? Fun for Armstrong, and I bet down right suffer city for some of the others!

Example Tempo Workouts

Zone 3: 3 reps of 10 minutes ON 5 minutes OFF (Tempo performed between 76 - 90% of FTP)

Zone 3: 3 x 15 min ON 7.5 min OFF Zone 3: 2 x 20 min ON 5 min OFF

Zone 3: 4 x 15 min ON 7.5 min OFF

As with all phases and cycles of your training, start off gradually – incorporate a few zone/level 3 tempo intervals into your mid week 90 minute trainer ride. Start conservatively with two or three 6 - 10 minute tempo intervals and work your way up. It is totally feasible to be able to work your way up to twenty or thirty minute tempo intervals for 60 minutes total tempo . After that point you may want to forget the structure and simply get out there and just throw down. And that my friends, is exactly what I did on my slushy ride!

Copyright 2017, FasCat Coaching

Frank is the founder and owner of FasCat Coaching in Boulder, CO. To talk with a FasCat Coach about incorporating Tempo into your training please 720.406.7444 or fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a Coaching Consultation. Or buy one of our six week, $49 training plans that have plenty of tempo training.

About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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