In the Zone …

Armed with my newly established functional threshold power (FTP) I can set my power zones and use these to guide my training.

The ideal training program stretches the envelope and leads to greater fitness – remember stress, recovery, adaptation. Too aggressive a program tears the envelope. Lack of adequate recovery can make the process inefficient. And the cardinal sin would be not training hard enough.

Behind this there is an assumption of a predictable dose/response mechanism which simply doesn’t exist. In every study of training outcomes, no matter whether the subjects have been recruited from the couch or are trained athletes, the gains vary and may even be negligible. There are, as well, diminishing returns for the highly trained but then they are better placed to deal with the bigger doses.

Training zones help to tailor the dose to the individual.

The continuum from not pedaling  (0 Watts) to pedaling as hard as you can may best be communicated by dividing it into a number of zones. The most popular seems to be that devised by Andrew Coggan utilizing seven levels. Your FTP serves as the anchor point so that the zones have some correlation with your physiology. It is at or close to the point where a graph of blood lactate makes a noticeable increase in slope indicating the beginning of an oxygen debt.

Level

Description

% of FTP

1

Active Recovery

<55

2

Endurance

56-75

3

Tempo

76-90

4

Lactate Threshold

91-105

5

VO2max

106-120

6

Anaerobic Capacity

121-150

7

Neuromuscular Power

N/A

There are other schemes with different names and/or a different number of levels. The notion that there is any significant difference between high level 2 and low level 3 is nonsensical. The state of the athlete (rested, fatigued, hungover) is likely to have a far greater effect on the response than the difference in power output.

In general terms levels 1 through 3 are all day levels – for those with the patience and all day backsides. The time that you can sustain the higher levels falls away rapidly.

Different athletes have different strengths and weaknesses in large part determined by the muscles they were born with. In any workout session the further you are from your FTP the less accurate is the zone as a guide to the likely benefit. This can be addressed by measuring your best power output for a number of time periods and setting zones that better match your current abilities. Too great an obsession with the numbers may not be all that beneficial because departures from the norm are likely to be at the sprint end of the spectrum where workouts are likely to be maximal rather than at a target power.

In summary. The power meter is a measuring device. FTP is a  valid way of calibrating the athlete to work with one. The power zones around it are largely arbitrary, handy for communication between athlete and coach and excellent material to bore your mother with. On your easy days the power meter is a good guide as a number not to be exceeded. On hard days effort is the key, analyse the numbers after the session to check on progress. And every day remember that happiness is not measured in Watts.

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