Power Zones in PowerAgent Software
I’m just starting to use my PowerTap power meter rear wheel these days now that we had our first snow yesterday. I set my bike up on an indoor training device and tried to pedal at a steady power rate (or intensity level) for an extended period of time. It’s harder than one might initially think. The power zones are as follows:
0. Zero Watts, or “coasting”
1. Recovery, or riding-spinning-“but not training”
2. Endurance, or aerobic endurance
3. Threshold, or tempo riding
4. Race Pace, or lactate threshold-FTP
5. Max, or VO2Max
6. Supra Max, or Anaerobic Capacity
7. Sprint Power
The two power zones most important to the cyclist trying to improve his or her endurance on the bike are zones 2 and 3. When first starting to develop endurance a smart cyclist will spend much of his time in the lower range of Zone 2 and gradually build to being proficient in the upper range of Zone 2. After some time the cyclist will start to dabble more and more in Zone 3. It’s only as the cyclist nears his or her race event that he or she will spend more time in Zone 3 as opposed to Zone 2. At this time the athlete will get faster for the short term, but less fit overall. Training at higher intensities requires more recovery time, and thus less training time for developing endurance.
The crazy thing about these zones is they don’t stay the same over time – especially when the cyclist is in fact training properly and improving his or her fitness level. As a result, it is never safe to get overly comfortable when doing a workout. What used to be a Zone 3 intensity level for you might now be a Zone 2 intensity level since your fitness has improved. Keep in mind that this is not a bad thing since the objective of training is to improve one’s fitness level.
It is probably safe to say that it is a waste of time to ride in Zone 1 much. In fact, I’d recommend any riding in that zone should be avoided. [FN1] Focus on training in Zone 2 and increasing the duration of the ride. When the duration gets too long, then increase the intensity to Zone 3 and cut back the duration to a manageable level. Ultimately go back to Zone 2, but this time your Zone 2 is at a new intensity level since your fitness improved.
To get faster and improve your fitness more dramatically you will need to do some speed work or interval work involving zones 4 and 5, and maybe some of 6.
The definition of FTP is the maximum average power in watts a rider can maintain for 1 hour. This is the pace a rider can maintain under race circumstances if the rider performs as good as he or she is capable of. Breathing will be labored, and conversation will be difficult. It is the benchmark power zone, i.e., 100%. Zone 3 is 80 to 90%, and Zone 2 is 60 to 70%. It is a lot easier to recover from 60-70 percent effort than an 80-90 percent effort. This is why you get your best workouts when your training is performed somewhere between YOUR zone 2 and 3. The low end of Zone 2 is really too easy to get a training effect, and the high end of Zone 3 is too high to recover timely and still get in sufficient training to improve well.
FN1: I’m adding this footnote on 1/11/2016. What I recommend applies to athletes who haven’t gotten to age 45 to 50. However, if you are an older athlete, then to maintain or add power, strength and speed you must do high intensity workouts (HiiT workouts) which means workouts involving efforts in zones 5, 6, and 7. These HiiT workouts are about the only way to get human growth hormone (HGH) to develop for the older athlete. A younger athlete will generate HGH while training in the lower zones, and this is a big reason older athlete are not as competitive as younger ones. Higher intensity workouts (ones done in zones 5,6 and 7) require more recovery workouts (ones in zones 1 and 2) in a training program. That doesn’t leave much time for zone 3 and 4 workouts for the older athlete since he or she will be wanting to maximize the number of HiiT workouts and training will be a cycle of high intensity, recovery, then high intensity. As a result, the older athlete will spend most of his or her time training in zones 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 – with maybe some time in Zone 3, in order to maximize their ability to maintain and improve strength. This is called “Polarized Training” because workouts are done at one end or the other of the training zone spectrum without doing the moderate intensity workouts in the middle. If they compete in races that require endurance, then they will need to deviate from the polarized method for 1.5 to 2 months before their race so they can build in some endurance training (zones 3 and 4). So yes, training for the older athlete is much more complicated than training for a younger athlete.