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best way to train is by going as hard as you can for as long as
you can on every ride you do, right? As we begin the off-season
in the northern hemisphere, let's examine the idea of base training.
First up, we discuss the dreaded Zone 3 plateau
and how to begin getting out of the cycle of constant hammering.
We may be entering the age of power monitoring and periodization
of training, yet it remains difficult for many riders to wrap
their heads around what smart training really means. The philosophy
of hard riding is one of the pervading cycling training
misconceptions of the 21st century. It is the idea that periodization
and scientifically-based training is great for those with time
to burn, but for those under severe time restraints, the way to
get the best bang for our buck is by going hard all day, every
those who don't consciously embrace this antiquated training methodology
often fall to its pretty clutches when they get caught up in the
group ride hammerfest mentality. Even when they set out for a
moderate or easy recovery ride, they can't resist the temptation
to jump on with the first group that comes flying by. The pace
skyrockets at the rise in the road and the end result is the samea
never-ending string of high-tempo riding with little to no recovery.
result of this type of training is an ailment I call the
Zone 3 Syndrome. Before we get into the syndrome itself,
let's do a little self-diagnosis. Start by asking yourself the
you exceedingly proud of the average speeds of your rides, and
do you gauge your training progress by the improvement of your
average speed from one ride to another?
you find group rides fairly easy, even when the pace picks up,
yet you can't seem to make that final acceleration or stay with
the group over the steepest part of the climb?
you have a maximum heart rate of 195, yet you haven't seen it
go above 180 since the season began?
the thought of letting a rider pass you on the bike path make
you ill, or do you pride yourself on the fact that no rider
has ever passed you on a training rideeven on recovery
you often leave the house with one ride in mind but more often
than not find yourself in the middle of the weekday morning
you find it impossible to imagine that riding with a heart rate
at 130 beats-per-minute could possibly be anything other than
an utter waste of time?
you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be suffering
from the Zone 3 Syndrome.
Problems with Plateau
Whether it's a desire to get the most out of every minute on the
bike or just an inability to resist the temptation of searing
your lungs on a daily basis, the effect is the same when you're
caught in the rut of the Zone 3 Syndrome. Intensity on every ride
with no recovery results in sustained and difficult-to-overcome
mediocrity and a seemingly endless plateau of middle-of-the-road
adequate recovery time is not given between workouts, the body
reaches a level of sustained exhaustion. Due to this ongoing exhaustion,
the upper reaches of intensity required to induce training adaptation
are not attainable. Workouts that are intended to be done in zone
4 (threshold) and zone 5 (anaerobic) all wind up hovering within
a stones throw of zone 3 (tempo, otherwise known as the dreaded
make matters worse, as a result of frustration with poor maximum
efforts and sustained plateaus of fitness, the rider grows desperate
to break though. Thus zone 1 recovery rides and zone 2 endurance
rides start to creep up in intensity until, across the board,
every mile is done in this foggy, dead zone of zone 3 riding.
there is a time and a place for zone 3, generally speaking, it
is not considered hard enough to cause a desired physical adaptation.
At the same time, it is too hard to allow for proper recovery.
Therefore, you don't want to be spending the majority of your
time there. Remember the old adage: When you go fast, you should
be going really fast. And when you're going slow, you should be
going really slow.
that the body is incredibly good at adapting itself to whatever
stress is imposed on it. So when you spend most of your time in
Zone 3, the only real adaptation that occurs is the body becomes
incredibly adept at riding in Zone 3.
can go out the door, hit a nice, fast tempo and hold it all the
way around your favorite loop and back to your house with an average
speed over 20 miles per hour. Because of this zone 3 fitness,
moderate zone 2 riding (which is where 90 percent of any cyclists'
training should ideally be), feels ridiculously easy.
Out of the Rut
The good news is that if you've reached this level with your riding,
chances are you've built up a pretty good base of fitness. To
take your riding to the next level, it may just be a question
of backing off a bit, letting your body reset and starting again
on a slightly more disciplined training plan.
you change your workout habits, for one week take your resting
heart rate every morning before you get out of bed. Then for two
weeks after that, restrict yourself to zone 1 riding. (If you
don't know your zones, this means easy.) Little girls on roller
skates should be passing you on the path.
of you are thinking right now, "This doesn't include the
hard group ride I do every Saturday morning though, right?"
Are you starting to see how you managed to get into this situation?
a week, you should start to see your resting heart rate come down.
Wait until it hits rock bottom and then rest another three to
five days. Now, you're body is reset. It's time to get going.
first thing you'll notice when you're well rested is your heart
rate will increase quickly and go up higher. This does not mean
you've lost fitness, it just means you're fresh. In fact, during
your week or two of recovery riding, the damage you've previously
done to your body will heal and you might notice a significant
improvement in fitness.
that's right. An improvement in your cycling strength from doing
nothing. In other words, you've done all the hard work and you've
torn your body down over and over. Now all you have to do is let
it build itself back up, stronger and faster than before.
now you're ready to go out to see if you can beat your average
speed on your daily 18 mile loop. Wrong! You've turned over a
new leaf and you're now what they call in the industry a smart
trainer. Build intensity into your program but focus on quality
rather than quantity. Instead of doing your 60 minute ride at
90 percent of your threshold heart rate, break the ride up into
intervals. If you want to work on your threshold power, do three
10-minute intervals right at your threshold (your legs and lungs
begin to burn and you find it hard to talk). Rest for five or
10 minutes in between and then go again.
a month you might notice your threshold power or speed start to
plateau. Take an easy week, let your resting heart rate drop back
down (presumably it has started to rise over the last three weeks
of training) and then start to work on your anaerobic power and
some shorter three-minute intervals at maximum effort. Give yourself
plenty of rest in between so that each interval is better than
the one before. Experiment to see how much intensity you can handle
in a week. Start with two days and build to three. Rarely will
you want to do more than three days of intensity in a week.
the most important thing to remember is when you start to get
tired and the quality of your intervals starts to diminish, do
not try to push through. Rest up until the quality returns to
your workouts. As much as you hate to miss workouts, nothing will
hurt your cycling ability more than chronic, mediocre, low-quality
Horowitz is a USCF Certified coach and an active Category 1 racer.
For more information about his coaching services and any coaching
questions you may have, check out his website at LiquidFitness.com.