VeloNews 68: The Three Rides You Should Do

A listener of the Velonews podcasts pinged us after reading our Polarized Blogs and said, “Can you summarize this for us? You guys seems to take a lot of information and break it down into smaller, more digestible part.”

Sure! We picked out some of the big points from this podcast, to make it easier to apply to your own training. Please let us know what questions you have from this.

Before we get to the 3 types of rides, let’s highlight some things that they discussed early on in the podcast.

Overthinking Cycling Intervals

It doesn’t have to be complex. There are too many up down up down left rights. When our athletes go out on an interval ride, many time the intervals are working only ONE system, and then they ride endurance. There MAY BE a kitchen sink workout for advanced riders for race simulation, but that is usually for cat 1-2 only, as it’s not very representative of racing Cat 3-5.

Mindset: If It Doesn’t Hurt, It Isn’t Working

This is the mindset of many cyclists, thinking that if they aren’t hurting, they aren’t improving. We couldn’t disagree more with this, and love how the podcast highlights this fallacy in cycling. A really comparison that Dr. Seiler points out is the difference between coming home from a ride neurologically trashed, or just being really hungry, where you’ve completely emptied the tank. The former is an extremely hard race, an all out slug fest; you’re just cracked. The other one, which many cyclists never complete, is a long endurance ride that totally empties that tank, but you never go over tempo, or 90% of your FTP. This ride build massive endurance engines, for an endurance spot, and will make you a faster cyclist. We preach this style of riding, and while it doesn’t look crazy on paper, go out and try to truly pedal zone 2-3 for 4-5 hours at once, with minimal stops; it’s not easy!

Once you start doing them, you will enjoy them. The difference in the types of rides is often why people like the group ride: it makes you feel tired, but it DID NOT make you faster.

Focusing On The Trees And Losing The Forest

There are many times during a season where you will hit a workout that you REALLY struggle with, or cannot complete. As competitive people and cyclists, this feels like a failure to so many athletes.

If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough. That holds true in and outside of the sport.

Think of uncovering an area where you fail at as a highly targeted area where you can now improve yourself!

Athletes will freak out over one poor workout and feel like their entire season is a mess. What about all the others successes? Thing of all the other WINS that you get day in and day out, and really take a look at the forest.

Amount of High Intensity Needed For Cycling Success

This goes along with the paragraph above entitled Mindset. You don’t need that much high intensity to get really sharp, which is why we preach endurance riding. You need a solid base of endurance miles, a really strong body from lifting weights, and then intensity dosed at the right time for the right events.
People ride too hard, too often, which gets in the way of their growth as a cyclist, and stunts their performance.

Group rides are where you’re turning on the stress signals, but not actually stressing the body enough. it’s really a vicious cycle!

We must highlight that we don’t encourage you to ride TOO EASY though, and you need to actually PEDAL the bike. Don’t read this and think, “Oh cool, I’ll just sit on the back of a group ride.” You’re not actually pedaling then. You want to consistently pedal at Zone 2-3 for as much of your ride as possible, ideally having less than 10% of the ride in Zone 1. That sounds SO EASY but I will bet you have more Z1 time that you’d ever expect.

We point this out to athletes and they are almost always shocked with how much coasting goes on in their rides.

What Is A Coach Here For

There are many reasons why athletes should have a coach, and the obvious ones are to make a schedule that allow you to hit your endurance goals.

It’s also really important to have someone be able to look at your forest and help you see it. The big picture of everything is REALLY important in endurance sports, and so often we see athletes, and ourselves, getting extremely granular with everything.

As Coach Connor points out, the guy who’s worried about his cadence at 82rpm versus 84rpm is really missing the big picture. It’s easy to do so in an age where there is so much data, so many forums to talk about data, and it’s extremely easy to just pick out workouts that look like they’ll make you faster. Usually, if it looks hard, people will say, “Oh I’ll do that workout” so that they feel tired, they feel accomplished, but sadly they haven’t gotten faster for their own goals.

Coaches are also here for accountability. I’m here for questions on races, training, things that pop up in life, minor counseling (joking, but not really!), and helping with the roadmap.

Three Types Of Rides

Long Slow Duration

High Intensity Intervals


These follow the 3 Zone Model, because they find it to be the easiest to use. I still don’t agree with this 100%, but let’s go along and see what they have to say in this podcast.

There are 2 physiological markers given: upper marker is anaerobic threshold or FTP (not quite but close), around 172bpm...this is the example given in the podcast, but obviously everyone will have slightly different high and low level values based on age, sex, etc.

The lower threshold is aerobic threshold, around 85% of anaerobic threshold (you need to get in a lab to really get specific on it), around 145bpm

Targeting Different Energy Systems

Ideally you want to train different energy systems, which is why we have zones. The good thing about the 3 zone system is that you really break out the zones based on physiology. The thing I dislike about them is that with the availability of power meters, we can get way more specific within these zones.

We believe and train our athletes on 9 zones, but we boil that down to specific percentages that they have to ride in. 9 zones would be way to complicated for many riders and sticking to Zone 1-6 is more effective.

We train the different zones based on the goals, events, strengths, and weaknesses of our athletes. Because of this, we’re able to create extremely well rounded athletes that can hit the highest levels of performance at specific events.

Autonomic Stress, HR variability

When you train below the aerobic threshold, there is no autonomic stress. This is the base miles ride that eventually wipes you out, but you never go over Zone 3 power and you head right to the dinner table, extremely tired. You see us do a LOT of these rides on Strava. Here and here.

When you train at or below, you aren’t building up stress and fatigue in a way that trashes the body, like a 2 hour group ride.

How does that affect affect CTL? This doesn’t push burnout, which was mentioned in our plateau blog; you can ride endurance all the time, but you STILL DO Need to watch how much of it. But you won’t get burn out like you will from high intensity rides.

YOU WILL BURN OUT from group rides.

That stress will make you take time off the bike? Don’t believe me? We need to define time off. Look at the most successful amateur cyclists: they ride a bike very often. They RARELY take 2 or 3 consecutive days off, unless it is a rest week.

After looking through over 100 athlete calendars and training programs, and nearly 100,000 power files, we will tell you this: most athletes are not consistent. They miss 1-2 workouts PER WEEK. That is time off and prevents their burn out, but they never get better because they don’t do rides that physiologically improve their cycling. They have training monotony and are lifelong Category 4 riders. That is why there are so many of them!

Cardiac Drift

This is really interesting. They mention a 5h ride at 180W and start at 130bpm but at the end you will be 145bpm; dehydration and muscle fiber fatigue. As your muscles fibers get damaged and call out to more and more fibers, the fast twitch muscle fibers have to work aerobically which is a massive gain. You can train fast twitch without the autonomic stress and make gains that don’t involve massive fatigue.

Don’t stop at the coffee shop; it’s too much rest. We Agree!

Yes, there is a point to these long rides and being able to utilize fat at the highest rate possible but at the end of the day, we’re all doing carb dependent racing. Not fat dependent.  

Going to exhaustion at submaximal pace, or aerobic and endurance pace, you’re tapping into ALL your muscle fibers without going into maximum intensity. Use everything that you’ve got and that will be a hard ask for muscles that aren’t used to doing them.


Long slow distance rides, November, December, and even January. Ride at your aerobic threshold (144bpm-146 max), so you’re just slightly uncomfortable. Do this for 3-5h and you’ll be tired, you are feeling it. You cannot do these ALL of the time though or you crack yourself.

Finish The Intervals?

They talk about intervals and when to complete them and when to turn around and go home. This has been talked about for a while. In the popular book, Training and Racing With A Power Meter, they give claim to specific percentage decreases in power which determined if you should keep training, or just head home.

In this long thread in the WKO4 Power Users group on Facebook, Tim Cusick discusses this at one point in this post:

End of the day, your hard intervals need to be really hard. If you are prescribed 5 of them, they need to be REALLY HARD. It would be better to do 2 at supreme max intensity, than hold back so that you can complete 4 of them at 97%.

Now i find the interesting that Trevor Connor agrees with this because Dr. Seiler talks about never going over 90% or the lactate build up interferes with adaptation. Another issue with the 3 zone model; never going FULL GAS.

The podcast mentions the ability to get sharp in 3-6 weeks…and here we have athletes going HAM in the December. It goes back to how much high intensity to you really need? It’s not a whole lot, especially if you have a long season ahead.

They start going back into the zone numbers:

95% of lactate threshold

LT1 is 63-70% of HR peak. Not above 75%

LT2 is 85-87%

Man the numbers are really all over the place at times, so let’s pause and ask this question:

Wrapping This All Up

ARE YOU GETTING FASTER? IF THINGS AREN’T WORKING, CHANGE THEM UP. We tell all our athletes that when we start working with them, it’s like a first haircut. You get in and we might not get the sideburns JUST right, but we can tweak that. The same for training; some things just don’t work for certain athletes, and you need to test them and then change it up.

To develop the endurance engine, it takes years and years and years. To build the high end throttle, it takes weeks. It’s the two together that make the total athlete, and so many athletes have lost this concept.

Training does damage, recovering repairs that damage; that is where compensation takes place.

Every ride should have a purpose, so go after that purpose and hold yourself to it.

Joe Friel: the event is the reason we train; we don’t train just for numbers! We train for outcomes in races. Sometimes you’re 80% easy / 20% intense, sometimes 70/30, or other times 90/10. It all depends on what you are training for! Do you need long intervals that will take up more of your training time (70/30), or are you honing in on a 90 second finish uphill that will be a small amount of time, but at extremely high intensity (90/10)?

Again, the training is event specific and dealing with your weaknesses. If you already are the best at 90 second efforts, you might be working on your aerobic system more to make sure you are there at the end, to WIN that 90 second effort!

Back to reality: Here’s the deal, you need a little bit of everything and make it race specific.

Finally, take chances and learn about yourself as a cyclist.

Blow Yourself Up in training races and “real races”; don’t be embarrassed about it. Is your ego too big to learn more about yourself and see yourself halfway down on the results sheet? That will make you faster, and stronger, down the road. Trust us!

Race smart on the weekends and race hard on the weekdays. Go to the training race to kill yourself. Experiment and try new things.

Keep it simple.

Keep it purposeful.

How does it all fit together?

Thanks for reading, and contact us today to learn how you can get faster!