Improving Our Training Goals

I was thinking about ways in which we set and achieve goals through cycling, as well as the process that we go through as athletes as we encounter failure. While failure often leads to greater success, it can be tough to grasp when you’re in the trees and not able to see the entire forest. The failed workout or lost race sucks that day, but where do you go from there?

In a round about way, I was watching an old webinar by Tim Cusick on Fatigue Resistance, and it brought to mind some other important points that I think can be used to directly improve our training goals.

2 Different Types of Training Goals

While I’m not a huge fan of metric based goals (ride X watts for Y minutes) because they often leave athletes too caught up in the numbers and it takes them away from the act of cycling, especially when failure is involved.

If you fail at the metric based goal, all you have is the failure. There isn’t much joy found in that process for the athlete. On the other hand, performance based goals (races, events, etc) have so many other ways to get a “Win” in life, even if the race doesn’t go as planned. Being able to look back on the weekend trip with your friends and saying, “That was a fun weekend” is a Win, even if you DNF’d with a flat tire.

See the difference? I digress for a moment.

The topics that were brought to mind are not about setting goals, but the different ways in which we get to achieving them, and how do we alter things on the fly. Most notably:

  • Progressive Time In Zone

  • When Do You Call It A Day? (Stress vs Strain)

  • When To Add One More Interval

Tim has the same theory that we have about coaching: we’re always trying to get better and look at the many different ways to coach athletes. Tim doesn’t draw a line in the sand and say this is gospel, and we play the same way. The suggestions recommended here are what has worked for us and the majority of our athletes; there are always athletes that physiologically respond to training different, so work with your coach on the best approach for you. Training has to be custom!

I Want More Watts vs Time Spent In Zone

More watts, higher FTP, increase my sprint watts...for many, it’s all about the number. However, the one thing that we aren’t discussing often enough is the duration. Someone with a lower w/kg can outform another cyclist if they have fatigue resistance, or repeatability. How many times can you produce those watts?

It started to make me think of winter training through the base period, and how many athletes don’t get progressive with their Time in Zone.

Before we talk about the race season and whether we need to add one more interval, and how do we know when to do that, let’s jump way back to think about our Base Training, and how Time in Zone is a major player. It will help us as we move forward.

In the base phase, while you’re building aerobic endurance and aerobic power, as well as starting to rev the Max Aerobic engine, it’s all about increasing the duration that you can ride in these zones. 2 x 20 becomes 3 x 15, which becomes 2 x 25, or something to that effect.

This framework changes once you shift towards Max Aerobic, which is classically called VO2Max Training. In this phase, there really isn’t much time progression. The best gain for maximal aerobic activity is 15-20 minutes. After that, you’re just getting tired and not absorbing any training (read the next paragraph).

That being said, for my athletes at a very high level, they definitely have some races or kitchen sink workouts that include more than 15 minutes of VO2Max workouts, but that’s because we want to have the psychological benefit of surviving that workout before the big race, but it’s not about absorbing the most physiological benefit with the least amount of stress on the body (the real goal of training).

For Max Aerobic, you don’t add more time, you add more watts! The progression is go harder; Max is the target. 5 x 3, 5 x 3 HARDER, 5 x 3.5….(these are in the 3-8m range).

Summary: aerobic workouts, increase your time. Once you get to Max Aerobic work, there’s a cap on time, so it’s all about going harder.

Should I Go Home? Stress vs. Strain

There are charts out there that will show you that after your power drops a certain percentage during an interval set, you should go home. While this is even in Training and Racing With A Power Meter, a fantastic book,  it just never felt right to me. Here’s my thinking:

If I’m in the midst of a VO2Max session for 3m intervals, and I’m aiming to do 7 reps, is there really no benefit if I just suffer through the last 2 if my power dropped on Interval 5?

Sure, I might not be pegging the top end of the zone, but what about if the watts fall to threshold? Is there any VO2Max style benefit from this?

Also, this is my VO2Max day...I’ve revved the engine and throttled some serious stress to the body. If I can’t complete this, it’s not wise to try this again later in the week; it will be too much accumulated intensity. That being said, I’m here, shouldn’t I just finish as best I can?

The answer: YES!

I’ve always felt yes. The ALL OUT effort would still almost be similar to an effort at the end of a race where you might try to hit VO2Max but you’re really only supra-threshold.

“Stress is an external measurement; strain is what is happening within your body.”

Stress is measured in watts; how hard, and how fast, are you pushing on the pedal?

Strain is what your body is actually going through.

So the watts go down, but your rate of perceived exertion is going up. The stress is going down externally, but the body is still getting THRASHED! More and more of the anaerobic contribution to your efforts are removed.

Therefore, Max Aerobic efforts are to be done for 15 minutes MAX...whatever you got, BRING IT!

Now if you’re dropping to threshold right off the bat, that’s not ideal. But if you’re late in a block and just looking to squeeze out that last bit of strain on the body, keep going!

I think too many people quit because they aren’t smashing the top end of the number they hoped to hit when they set out on the session. If you are suffering, you are getting benefit. It might not be the 100% most optimal workout, but it’s better than coasting home.

When Do I Add One More Interval?

“I felt really good, so I did one more.”

We’ve all been there, wondering, should I go for another?

More times than not, my answer is no, which is up for debate. The biggest thing that I see happen when athletes do this is that then they don’t hit the next workout, and they make themselves more tired for no reason. You’re trying to do the least amount of work for the most amount of gain. Is adding one more going to be super quality, and absorbed? Or just adding more fatigue? 

As we read above, Max Aerobic isn’t one more...if you can do “one more”, and go for like 35 minutes, you weren’t going hard enough. But for the sub-maximal aerobic work, how do we know if we add another?

A good rule of thumb is to go back and look at your Time in Zone Goal. You should be setting a progressive goal that is not impossible to hit, but tough. If it was easy, and you want another, I’d go home and just lengthen the next one.

Here are Tim’s recommended capabilities for your aerobic work.

Used with permission from Tim Cusick

Used with permission from Tim Cusick

So, when do you add one more? When you’re doing Intensive or Extensive Anaerobic work (generally speaking, think sub 2 minute efforts). Completing 6? Do 7. Can’t do 8? Go back to 7. Utilizing Optimized Intervals in WKO4 / WKO5 can really help you understand what watts you want to be targeting for what duration when you have pinpointed the zone that you need to work on. 

Work on the weaknesses that will be applicable to your A priority races over the next 30-45 days.


Once you’ve gotten a hand on progressively increasing your aerobic work, you’ll see massive gains as a cyclist. This is not a one season type goal though; it’s a forever goal. Always be working on your aerobic capabilities. I can’t stress that enough.

It’s not always time to go home early: if you’re in the ballpark, keep smashing. If you’re way off, let your coach know ASAP.

Want one more interval? Sure, if you’re doing Anaerobic Work. If you’re doing aerobic work, stick to the plan and keep with your natural progression. Save the extra watts that you feel like you have for the next session. You don’t need to go home wasted after every ride. That is key.

Want more free speed? Check out all of our blogs here, and contact us if you’d like to chat more about your training. We’re happy to answer all of your questions.

Brendan HouslerComment