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Training Levels (with Power or HR) Andy Coggan:
Stationary Bikes

Training Levels (with Power or HR) Andy Coggan:

Here’s a summary of our ‘levels’:
1 Active recovery – <55% of TT power, <68% of TT HR 2 Endurance – 56-75% of TT power, 69-83% of TT HR 3 Tempo – 76-90% of TT power, 84-94% of TT HR 4 Threshold – 91-105% of TT power, 95-105% of TT HR 5 Aerobic power – 106-120% of TT power, >105% of TT HR
6 Anaerobic capacity – >121% of TT power, HR n/a
7 Anaerobic power – n/a, n/a

(Let me emphasize again that this is a power-based system, and that I don’t put much stock in the HR guidelines, due both to individual differences and the unique response of HR (e.g., HR drift, training vs. competition differences, etc.). I therefore discourage anyone from trying to use my classification scheme to blindly train using HR alone…at the very least, you need to be aware of such subtleties.)

Cycle-Smart (referenced to “lactate threshold”, i.e., sustainable HR) (if I screw any of this up, please correct me!)
1 Active recovery – <70% of TT HR
2 Easy – 71-80% of TT HR
3 Light – 81-90% of TT HR
4 Middle – 93-95% of TT HR (10-14 beats/min below TT HR)
5 Extensive intervals (intervals of 2-4 min duration) – as close to TT HR as possible
6 Intensive intervals (intervals of 45 s to 2 min) – HR n/a
7 Power Starts, Hill Sprints, Sprints, CP Jumps/Max (8-15 second efforts) – HR n/a

So, even though my system is power-based (w/ the HR guidelines being. IMO, ‘iffy’) and the Cycle-Smart program is (largely) HR-based, there is very close agreement for the first two or three levels, and reasonably close agreement above that. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic is the definition of the ‘threshold’ training level itself (#4 in both programs). I’ve defined it rather broadly (in power terms), whereas the Cycle-Smart program defines it fairly narrowly (in terms of HR). Even this difference, though, may not be as large as it appears…

1) While I extended the upper range of this level to 105% of TT power, in reality intervals above TT power would result in a different physiological response, and thus elicit different physiological response, than ‘repeats’ or ‘blocks’ at or just below TT power. Perhaps the simplest way to think of such supra-threshold intervals (~6-10 min) would be ‘lactate tolerance’ training, something that would be performed only at specific times during a training program. The range from 100-105% of TT power is therefore really different than the range from 90-100% of TT power, where the bulk of ‘quality training’ would be performed. Because of this, I considered the idea of adding an additional level and/or lumping the 100-105% range into level 5, but these solutions aren’t ideal, either…an additional level just adds to the complexity, and the intensity we’re talking about here (i.e., just above TT power), while quite strenuous, really isn’t high enough to be considered a major stimulus to VO2max (the purpose of level 5 training).

2) Due to the vagaries of HR responses, HR is unlikely to be as expected/predicted (i.e., up to 105% of TT HR) during *training* efforts at level 4, especially at the upper end. Thus, while the power range covers a 15% span, HR itself is likely to fall into a narrower ‘window’, thus more closely correpsonding to the Cycle-Smart level 4.

Respose from John Verheul, Cycle-Smart:

The major differences I see at first reading are:

1) We leave gaps between zones to differentiate the specific efforts. We have found when working with clients this ensures we are training what we think we are training when we prescribe certain workouts. You can achieve the similar level of workout using recumbent bikes as well.

AC:

I chose to cover the entire range with my ‘levels’ because we really have a continuum of responses and adaptations to deal with here, and to specificy too narrow (or non-overlapping) ranges implies that there’s something ‘magic’ about training at that intensity. In application, though, my approach would be to prescribe workouts with more specificity than implied by the overall ranges. (Interestingly, one experienced coach told me that he uses *overlapping* power levels in prescribing workouts for athletes…rather than a true difference in philosophy, I think this is really just another way of dealing with problems arising from the variability of power in the ‘real world’, etc.)

JV:

2) Our middle zone corresponds closely to Andy’s zone 4 in what we are trying to train. We are somewhat more conservative in terms of limiting the upper end of the zone than is Andy.

AC:

see comments above

JV:

3) We prescribe slightly shorter interval lengths in the zones above LT than Andy.

AC:

While I defined level 5 intervals as 3-8 min duration and level 6 intervals as less than 3 min (down to about 20 seconds), that doesn’t necessarily mean that I would advocate intervals at the upper end of either range. On the other hand, I might…provided you keep the intensity under control. Just as an example: in his textbook, Astrand provides data from a treamill interval workout of a runner, performing intervals at close to VO2max. If the speed were just a little too high, the athlete couldn’t complete the workout, but if the speed were just a little bit lower, he could do many more repetitions. In both cases, though, the intensity was sufficient to drive VO2 all the way to maximum. The argument was put forth that it may be better to perform such intervals at a slightly lower intensity, thus being able to accumulate more training time at/very near VO2max. Whether this is true or not isn’t proven, but is certainly worth considering.

Somewhat converse to above, there may, on occasion, be reason to extend level 6 (anaerobic capacity) intervals up to the full 3 min, for the very simple reason that this much time may be required to ‘max out’ (and thus overload) this physiological ability. (Alternatively, one can manipulate the work:rest ratio.) I would definitely agree, though, that such training is extremely strenuous, and must be performed with caution.

JV:

As indicated above, we all know, a 40k TT duration can vary quite a bit depending on the rider, so using duration instead provides us with consistency in our program. Our program prescribes workouts based on intensity (could be described by HR, perceived exertion, or power), duration (as opposed to distance), and cadence. That’s not to say I disagree with Andy, I simply wanted to provide the reasoning for our slightly different choice of basis.

AC:

Since power (and HR) varies little in TTs between ~20 and ~70 min, I don’t think it makes any real difference whether you define your ‘threshold’ (actually, supra-threshold by scientific criteria) values based on distance or time. For prescribing workouts, though, I definitely favor using duration, not distance.

Somewhat related to the above, several people have asked me whether they should use their 40k personal best, or the average of several representative efforts, to define their ‘levels’. My answer is that I favor the average, but the truth is that again I don’t think it makes a significant difference. Training is not rocket science, i.e., there’s no need to know your ‘levels’ down to the last decimal point…what we’re after are useful guidelines, not exact criteria. By the same token, I don’t believe it is necessary to retest frequently (e.g., every 4th week) to see if your ‘levels’ have changed. First, only with fairly major swings in fitness would such changes be so large as to have a significant impact. Second, one of the beauties of using a power meter for training AND racing is that you’re ALWAYS testing yourself…this minimizes the need to set aside specific occasions to determine your fitness (although this comments is closely related to my penchant for performing standardized workouts on a regular basis, so that you can directly compare results and track progress).

JV:

I am struck by the number of zones being identical to what we use at Cycle-Smart.

AC:

As well by Friel and by Janssen. In contrast, though, the original BCF systems had only four levels, although I believe that has since been expanded to six.

JV:

To echo your final sentence, our training manual is also just that – reference information that provides a framework. Our actual training programs/schedules drive it down to the next level of detail.

AC:

Exactly! And, I think this is the direction that this discussion should (or least hopefully will) eventually go. However, I’ve resisted introducing such specifics yet in part because I thought it would be useful to have some exchange the general idea of training via power. Also, any time you move from a generalized system to application you have to individualize things, and we will likely run into as many ideas and programs as there are coaches and athletes…

JV:

A sample Cycle-Smart program (written as an example, for people who have not read the training manual) is available at Cycle-Smart.com.

AC:

3. Heart rate guidelines: The suggested heart rate ranges must be considered as imprecise, because of individual differences in the positive y-intercept of the power-heart rate relationship. That is, even when power is zero, heart rate is not, with differences between individual in this ‘zero power’ (not resting) heart rate significantly influencing the percentage of 40k TT heart rate corresponding to any given power output. Because of this, I do not believe it is really useful to try to derive power ranges from heart rate ranges (as Friel’s initial attempt to do so readily shows). (Expressing heart rate as a percentage of the range from that at zero power (derived by back-extrapolation of the linear power-heart rate relationship) to that at 40k TT power – akin to the Karvonen formula for heart rate reserve – corrects for this individual effect and allows you to more precisely specify the levels based on heart rate.

JV:

My experience correlating my own HR-based training zones with power ranges bears this out.

AC:

I reproduced all (or most) of what I’d written above, because I’m curious as to what specific part of it you were referring to with your response.

JV:

Our own programs and schedules are similar to your opinion in their reliance on easy, light and middle (corresponding to your zones 2,3 and 4). We view well-planned and executed efforts in these sub-threshold zones as “putting money in the bank”, while extended efforts in high such as are often required when racing are akin to making withdrawels. Of all our training periods, only one prescribes any extended efforts in high, and only as part of a very controlled plan to prepare an advanced athlete for a specific peak. Training above threshold has it’s place, but it must be used very carefully. Adam adressed this point exactly in his 6/21/01 Bike.com training column here .

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