We know the blood lactate response to exercise to explain an athlete’s ability to perform in endurance events. Once we have spent time ‘pushing up’ the lactate threshold from below, we can switch to ‘pulling it up’ by working in zone 3. A good analogy for zone 3 is as a kind of ‘stepping stone’ taking you from pure base training to racing, hence why it will appear at that point in your periodised year (see below). There are two other instances where zone 3 training is useful to have in your armoury:
to develop fitness when you are short of time
maintain endurance volume in the race season when training is dominated by shorter, more intense sessions.
Again, don’t think this means you can skip zone 2 work: too much zone 3 too soon is a shortcut to overtraining. Zone 3 is the double edged sword of the training intensities: a time efficient, high return zone; but too much can be a slippery slope. Optimizing just the right balance between the dose of training and the amount of recovery is essential.
What part of the periodised year would I train in Zone 3?
Zone 3 is best used in the transition from your base miles to your race season build. There comes a time when the returns from continued Zone 2 emphasis diminish, so it makes sense to up the training intensity rather than the duration to increase overall load. Typically, the coach would i) integrate blocks of zone 3 work into longer zone 2 sessions and then, ii) build the overall time spent in zone 3 to a point where whole rides are completed at ‘tempo’.
What are the benefits training in Zone 3?
Since Zone 3 sits between the two important landmarks of the lactate profile, you would rightly assume that training in that region impacts on the body’s ability to retard lactic acid production, speed its removal, and importantly, to maintain a high rate of energy turnover necessitated when using the lactic acid energy system. Indeed, the biggest adaptations from training in this region are:
increased mitochondrial enzymes (these will help oxidise the lactate being produced)
increased muscle glycogen storage (as the body is using more carbohydrate during exercise at this intensity, the body prepares for that)
optimising the properties of the fast twitch muscle fibres (which are recruited more and more above LT) to make them more ‘oxidative’
producing a strong network of capillaries in the muscle (helping oxygen delivery to, but also removal of lactic acid from, the muscle)
What can we expect from Zone 3 training?
The athlete training in Zone 3 is likely to experience the following:
• Requires relentless focus to maintain, easy to lose power if you “take your eye off the ball”
• Breathing regular, unable to have a constant conversation
• There is a sensation of leg effort now, with it often being a challenge to keep going to the end of the ride
• Complete recovery normally within 24 hours if nutrition is prioritised during and post ride.
Since these sessions are above LT, and are therefore fuelled predominantly by carbohydrate, zone 3 eats body glycogen stores at a considerable rate – obviously, not to the same extent as zone 4 – but because duration of sessions is still reasonably high (reaching 2 to 3 hours by the end of a dedicated training mesocycle), daily calorie intake may need to be doubled (a 3 hour ride in zone 3 can require upwards of 2500kcal!)
Why do I need a threshold test?
The importance of testing is to establish a baseline set of data from which an athlete can have accurate training zones set by their coach compare future tests and see progress to ensure training, resting, recovery and nutrition are on track producing the desired improvements. Testing such as the threshold test allows a good picture to be formed of Heart Rate and Power Training Zones so that each workout thereafter can be maximized by training in the correct zones for optimal progression and specific physiological benefits.
Performance Testing is an effective way to indirectly assess metabolic responses. There are various performances tests but perhaps the simplest and easiest way to track training progress on the bike is by performing a Time Trial (threshold test) on the CompuTrainer which can indirectly assess how the body handles lactate production by measuring one’s performance during the time trial.
What is Profiling?
Performance Profiling comprises of four steps:
Performance Profiling can help coaches develop a better understanding of their athletes by:
Achieving the desired outcomes with a CompuTrainer Threshold test, like any other test, begins before testing starts. In order to have successful data interpretation, the test and conditions need to be consistent and repeatable. Variables to keep constant are time of test, distance, gearing, equipment, temperature, humidity, nutrition, sleep, rest and training status. By measuring and monitoring your Heart Rate, Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), Watts and Total Time for completion of the distance one will be able to measure performance gains or losses from time to time.
What is Spinscan Analysis?
Gain Power and Efficiency with Spinscan analysis
SpinScan Pedal Stroke Analyzer is an exclusive CompuTrainer feature that helps you increase power and efficiency. The multicolor torque graph represents one full 360 revolution divided into 15 segments. The left /right leg percentage power splits give you the feedback needed to pedal in “circles”. It will identify “flat” or “dead” spots in the pedal stoke where optimal power is not transferred to the drive train. A dynamic bike fit utilizing SpinScan is an excellent way to take the subjectivity and guesswork out of the bike fit process. And the ATA (Average Torque Angle) displayed on the Polar Graph helps you to adjust your position for optimum power.
The CompuTrainer also provides other very important tools that will enhance cycling efficiency and economy. The SpinScan can be viewed while riding on the CompuTrainer. This tool is defined as: Average Torque divided by Maximum Torque multiplied by 100. In essence, the SpinScan numbers represent efficiency of the muscle group in the legs to distribute effort throughout the pedal stroke. The more efficiently an athlete uses the muscles in his or her legs to “pedal in circles,” the higher the SpinScan values will become and the flatter the bargraph SpinScan will appear and the rounder the polar Spin Scan will become.
The Bargraph SpinScan is a graphic video that provides a multi-color torque bar graph representing one full 360-degree pedal revolution
divided into 15-degree segments. The first bar is the left leg at the Top Dead Center (TDC) and the TDC for the right legs starts 180 degrees later, or 12 bars later which is in the center of the
graph. The height of the bars is proportional to torque, showing road thrust in foot pounds. By referencing the weaker (lower) areas of the Torque Graph, one can determine which muscle group or
groups can best improve this weak area. Specifically training these muscle groups can maximize the pedal efficiency and produce a “flatter” SpinScan over time. A flatter Torque Profile along with
higher SpinScan numbers should equate to less fatigue for any single muscle group and improved overall endurance.
The Polar SpinScan works exactly the same way the Bargraph version does, however the Polar SpinScan shows the Torque Graph in a circular or polar patter rather than bar graphs. The Polar version also adds Average Torque Angle (ATA) which is a visual representation of where the average torque is being applied. It represents how you can use the “lever-arm” of your bike cranks. The longest and most efficient “lever-arm” of a bicycle crank is while it is at 90-degrees from TDC. If the muscles are firing too early or too late, ATA will indicate this. Values too high or too low or perhaps uneven may awaken the need to have an expert coach or exercise physiologist examine what the athlete is doing.
While riding, a coach can analyze the data and provide instruction on mechanics to work on to improve efficiency on the bike. An expert bike fitter can also use this information to tweak positions and find optimal riding efficiency as well.
Using SpinScan can increase a rider’s power, efficiency and effectiveness on the bike. It is important to understand this because the
Torque Graph represents torque output, measured from both the right and left leg from the cadence sensor determining crank position, it is using the crank arms and therefore this represents both the
push of one leg and the pull of other. The “push” muscles are more powerful than the “pull” muscles in the pedal stroke and the Power Spilt numbers will show the evenness of the force generated from
the “Push” muscles. Modifying muscles coordination by pulling up, pushing forward or pulling back, will show dramatic changes in the Torque Profile. Various equipment and positioning changes can do
the same. Using this information can help athletes develop optimal positions, efficient use of muscles and tweaks in equipment such as cranks, pedal systems and more for improved
Improvements in Pedaling efficiency can enable and athlete to produce more power with less muscles stress and less fatigue. Inefficient pedaling causes one to recruit a less leg-muscle fibers but at higher intensity, whereas efficient pedaling technique spreads the load out over many muscles fibers and therefore lowering the overall intensity. Muscle fibers fatigue quickly at high intensity, whereas muscle fatigue occurs much more gradually at lower intensities. It is therefore advantageous to produce more power using lower average intensity. Although developing the circular pedaling technique and increasing efficiency may seem hard at first, in time the neuromuscular system will ingrain this new pattern and the muscle cell firing patters will be very effective at supplying this force consistently.