Know Your Zones

Can you recall your training zones? Heart rate and power?

The numbers should roll off your tongue. With the introduction of technology-based guides more and more athletes are becoming dependent on what their screen tells them. The real problem with this is often that they lose sight of the reason for training in the first place. At FasCat, we fully support using technology as a training tool, but we also want to remind you to find a balance.

Here’s why:

Zwift, cycling computers, workout builder functions, etc. all have great benefits such as walking you through a workout step by step, saving you time and energy, and in general, giving you guidance. Lately, we’ve also noticed an unintended consequence-- some athletes struggle to maintain their workout when the guides fail.

A common example is when your computer- for whatever reason- doesn’t prompt your next workout. You might remember that your coach assigned 3 x 10 Z3 with 5 minutes of rest in between, but what watts were you supposed to target? You should know your zones and have them in your head before your begin each workout. If prompted you should be able roll your wattages off your tongue for each workout you are doing.

Another example happens for Zwift riders. You’re going through a workout, but you notice that your power seems off. You have performed a spin down, but it’s still not right.

Next, you think to look at your HR to compare to your power, but you don’t know how your zones compare. Or, what if you’re out mountain biking and your heart rate and power meter die? You still want to make the workout count, but what should the effort feel like? Start Sweet Spotting your way to your best cycling season ever.

All of these examples are ones we frequently hear. As coaches we are passionate about having a reason behind every workout--either physically or mentally. This means training a system to achieve precise physiological adaptations. When using training zones to achieve this, it's important to understand what the purpose of those zones are and how to use them. This will further your understanding of your training as an athlete and keep you from struggling if/when technology lets you down.

In 2017 Frank Overton (Big Cat) wrote a training tip called “Training Zones for Cycling” , which is a full break down of training by zones-- what each should “feel like”; the percentages of FTP; and, importantly, what that zone is doing for you. If you need a refresher, start here. Read up on the what and why. After having done that, I would encourage you to apply that knowledge to your workouts.

Start by asking yourself, “how do I feel while doing this effort in this zone?” Does it match what you know of the zone? Get to know that feeling. This will not only give you an understanding of your zones and your training but also allow you to mentally prepare for workouts and your ability to pace during rides and races.

Finally, get to know your numbers. Know what 200 watts is, versus 250 watts, versus 300 watts. Also know what that means to you. Like knowing sensations, knowing numbers will give you a deeper understanding of the meaning of your workouts and how many matches spent during an event.

We’re not advocating leaving your computer at home, but we do challenge you to become as familiar with your zones, numbers, and “feel”, as you are with reading your screens. You pour sweat and tears into your training. Putting effort into understanding your zones and and why they matter is just as important for well-rounded athletes. Doing so will help you stay on track and able to adapt to any situation.

If you’re still not convinced, consider this: one of my pro athletes was competing in the Tour of the Gila time trial. When she went off the start ramp, she noticed her power meter was totally dead, meaning she was now going to have to do this very difficult TT blind. We had been working for months on her pacing and what gradually emptying the tank “feels like.” At that moment, she knew the zone she needed to target and transferred that understanding to the race by memory. No surprise, she nailed the pacing and hit her goal.


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To talk about your zones with Coach Isaiah, please fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire to schedule a free Coaching Consultation with Isaiah.

About Isaiah Newkirk

Isaiah has been coaching for 12+ years and a FasCat Coach for 6. He came to us as a graduate of collegiate cycling powerhouse Marian University competing in Track, Road, and Cross. Isaiah raced Professionally on the Road for years, racing all over the world, and doing iconic US races such as Tour of Utah and Tour of Colorado. Since "retiring" he has shifted focus to doing races to the likes of LT100, Unbound, and other endurance events. Isaiah started coaching in 2008 when he was asked to coach a little 500 team in his home town of Bloomington, IN. Since then coaching has become a passion for Isaiah and he is eager to help any rider achieve their goals and potential. Isaiah has coached athletes to National titles, World Titles, and to the professional ranks. Isaiah is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach, TrainingPeaks Level 1, Certified Skills Instructor, and was a speaker at the USA Cycling Coaching Summit 2020. Isaiah is also director and performance manager for Domestic Elite Team : Project Echelon.

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