Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Training Levels and Training Zones for Cycling and Running

Cyclist tend to train in two different methods.  First would be Zone training.  These are focused zones which are defined by heart rate and/or power levels.  Every day is a focused day working on a specific zone.  Secondly would be those racers who use group rides as mock races.  There is no focus on zones the ride dictates what is being trained.  Then compare that to runners who often train within the same zone consistently.
Training Zones
Training zones, as mentioned are often defined by heart rate, power or pace.  Typically there are enough zones to cover most of the energy systems used by your body.  Keep in mind that you can never isolate an energy system, but you can focus on its development.  For me and my clients I use the 7 zone method.
  1. Recovery
  2. Endurance
  3. Tempo
  4. Threshold
  5. VO2max
  6. Anaerobic Capacity
  7. Neuromuscular Power
Heart rates and power levels are defined within these zones.  Also defined within these zones are time limits for the intervals.  For example Zone 5-VO2max:  it takes your body about 2 minutes to reach this level.  Therefore in order to train that level, each interval should be longer than 2 minutes.  If you go too long you won't be able to maintain this level and you will drop down.  The time limits than would be set at 3-8 minutes.  Does the rest period matter much when doing these intervals?  Obviously a shorter rest would mean a harder workout.  Is there a method to determine rest intervals?  For many people the answer is no.  Do you rest until your HR comes down?  Or until your legs feel better? Or is it just a number of minute/seconds that you have used before?

The question to ask is what exactly are you training?  For cyclist do you go exclusively on power numbers?  Runners, do you go exclusively on heart rate numbers?  The reason I ask is because those are two different measurements that though they are related could mean very different things.  Have you ever wondered what your limiting factors are?  Legs or lungs?  That statement really asks the question where is your weakness?

Legs or Lungs?
During a given workout, do you want to train your leg strength/endurance or are you looking to improve on your heart and lungs ability to work within the zone prescribed.  If you are going on exclusively power numbers, then you really are more concerned with muscular strength and endurance.  Let me pose another training scenario.  You want to train Zone 5 but are looking to do intervals that last only 30 seconds with a rest interval of 30 seconds.  Since it takes about 2 minutes to reach Zone 5 (which is the absolute top of your aerobic capacity), the first few to several intervals are not training this system properly.  However, once you reach that zone, the short rest interval will not allow your body to recover.  Eventually you will spend the entire 30 seconds of an interval in Zone 5.  If using power exclusively, the first several intervals might be in or above zone 5 power, but you are not training zone 5 at this point.  Near the end of the series you may not be able to maintain zone 5 power, but your body is still working in that training zone, your legs just don't have enough endurance to keep up.  I have come up with a method to better define the goals of your workouts.  I call these training levels.  Combine them with the training zones to better focus the outcome.

Training Levels
I have defined training levels into 4 different areas:
  1. Steady state
  2. Impulse
  3. Intervals
  4. Repetitions
Example:  Level 4 Repetitions in Zone 5 VO2max.  This workout could be defined as 5-minute repetitions with 5-8 minutes rest or full recovery.  The goal of this workout would be to see if you can give 100% effort during each of the repetitions.  This will primarily work the muscle endurance at that level as well as the energy system.  For cyclists this could be a prologue practice.  Each effort would be the equivalent of a short prologue.  For runners it could be mile pace practice.  In this type of workout you would want to stop the repetitions at the point that you could no longer maintain the proper power output or pace, because that is the goal.

I define steady state as any training done in any zone that is just a constant effort.  Impulse training usually has a foundation zone and you would perform short bursts out of that zone and then return to that zone after the burst.  Think about it as covering an attack.  You are at tempo, burst to Zone 6 then have to settle back into tempo.  Intervals usually will have a rest period no more than the work period.  These typically will work Zone 5 regardless of the length of the interval.  Repetitions are defined by having the rest period equal to or greater than the work period.

By combining Zones and Levels together, you can get much more out of your workout and better attack your weakness and strengthen your strengths. 
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