This week’s podcast extends the conversation around data and metrics, something that I dug into with Alex Hutchinson a couple of weeks ago, and left many wanting more. Remembering that the podcast is a broadcast to a wide range of listeners, many of whom are not coached or associated with Purple Patch, I wanted to provide some additional context to our motley crew within the community of Purple Patch proper.
Let’s first dig into zones.
The reason that we establish zones for athletes is to facilitate them executing a workout as intended. What we used to believe to deliver specificity, namely sending athletes through a one-day assessment to establish physiological markers, then prescribing intensity down to the second or watt, has been debunked as ill-effective once we put into real action. Pragmatism rules, and once we realize that the body will always respond to the various inputs on stress it has to manage on a daily basis, it is insanity to aim to hit a specific metric based on a single day assessment. Was that assessment under conditions of fatigue? Did the athlete feel great? Were results elevated or suppressed due to the conditions of a test? Most psychologists agree that there are better paths to establish execution aligned with intent. It is with this in mind that we focus on approaching data as a guide and framework to align and respond relative to what’s happening in the interval and session.
Let’s take an example: 4 x 40 sec best effort with 2 min rest.
“What zone coach? Give me a specific power target, give me a heart rate!”. No! You don’t need to align a specific number to the interval. Instead, on the day of execution, you dive in and give it the best effort you can. You ride hard. Then you review what happened to your heart rate, what power you achieved, all the while considering how you rode, if form was good, where the cadence was and more. A good day -- so far is effective training -- is that you gave your best effort and rode with your best form. The numbers that provide a framework that isn’t about good or bad, but reality. Sometimes they will be lower than prior efforts, due to training fatigue or life stress. It doesn’t make it bad.
So what about an easier endurance run: Zone 2. Metrics come into a place of value here as well. The intention is to build cardiovascular and muscular conditioning, not break records of pace. As you are in flight you run to intention:
- Good form
- Alignment with how it should feel (Z2 is conversational, by the way!).
You can then monitor true metabolic stress via heart rate, and align it with pace, especially over flatter terrain. This feedback provides information that is helpful. Is your perceived effort aligned with metabolic cost? If your heart rate is through the roof, then embrace walk breaks and slow down. By definition, a threshold like heart rate doesn’t fit under the banner of the intention of this type of session.
You can simply see how the metrics allow clarity into how you did, or to facilitate smart decision-making within the sessions or intervals within a session.
There are other considerations, or expectations, when aligning heart rate and pace within zones. Here are some quick hits:
- Low RPM work: When we hit strength-endurance work, we place the emphasis on muscular stress. At any effort -- until very hard riding -- your associated heart rate should be lower. We are relieving the heart rate stress. That is anticipated and not a reason to add power to chase heart rate.
- High RPM work: Converse to the above, when we ask you to ride at 95, 105, 115 rpm or beyond the cardiovascular stress gets more and more amplified. We can expect to see zone 4 heart rates at zone 2 power! Yes, that’s the stress and the expectation. It is hard. Just because we program zone 2 power, if it is high rpm the cost goes up. Expected. Don’t lower cadence to hit zone two power in this case. Bingo! A reason to review the focus and intention of the session.
- Hill Running: When running up against a grade, focus on form and anticipated perceived effort. Your pace will drop (*duh), and heart rate may be higher. If we ask you to run at a controlled but strong effort, you should have a gear or two to go harder if needed. If we ask you to power up hard, then hit it. Seldom do you need to chase a specific pace or heart rate on a hill.
I hope that provides some context -- but also -- I really hope it sparks an "aha" moment.
While I more than understand the love and desire to have pre-built structured workouts for bikes (and even run), and while we agree to do this for your ease of execution and other factors, please appreciate that they are not optimal. It is not as good of an execution process to set a predetermined number and just follow along. I get it, I appreciate the appeal, but please don’t try to argue that it is more beneficial to your training execution than following the intent and being coached through the session. Think about that when you decide between Zwift and a live or video-on-demand coached session.