Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Quick Guide to Setting Zones

I returned home from Oslo last night and seem to be very close to the Mountain Time Zone already. Traveling west is so much easier than traveling east. But that's not the topic for this post. Perhaps at another time. Now is when most northern hemisphere athletes are thinking about setting their training zones for the Base period. And since I tend to get a lot of questions about how to do that it's a good time to explain the process for heart rate, power and pace.

This Quick Guide will help you get the intensity of your workouts dialed in for your heart rate monitor, power meter, and runner’s speed and distance device such as a GPS or accelerometer. Swimming pace is also described here.

For a more complete guide to training with heart rate, power and pace please see my book Total Heart Rate Training. You will also find more detailed information on the subject of measuring intensity in my Triathlete’s Training Bible, Cyclist’s Training Bible and Mountain Biker’s Training Bible books. Feel free to share this Quick Guide with your training partners.

Setting Heart Rate Zones (Running and Cycling)
Step 1. Determine your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) with a short test. (Do not use 220 minus your age to find max heart rate as this is as likely to be wrong as right. This is explained in detail in Total Heart Rate Training.) This LTHR test is best done early in the Base and Build periods.

To find your LTHR do a 30-minute time trial all by yourself (no training partners and not in a race). Again, it should be done as if it was a race for the entire 30 minutes. But at 10 minutes into the test click the lap button on your heart rate monitor. When done look to see what your average heart rate was for the last 20 minutes. That number is an approximation of your LTHR.

Note: I am frequently asked if you should go hard for the first 10 minutes. The answer is yes. Go hard for the entire 30 minutes. But be aware that most people doing this test go too hard the first few minutes and then gradually slow down for the remainder. That will give you inaccurate results. The more times you do this test the more accurate your LTHR is likely to become as you will learn to pace yourself better at the start.

Step 2. Establish your training zones. Use the following guide to establish each zone by sport.

Run Zones
Zone 1 Less than 85% of LTHR
Zone 2 85% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 94% of LTHR
Zone 4 95% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

Bike Zones
Zone 1 Less than 81% of LTHR
Zone 2 81% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 93% of LTHR
Zone 4 94% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

Step 3. When following the heart rate-zone directions in my training plans or the workouts in the appendices of my books or my workouts in the menu of workouts at TrainingPeaks use the zones as established above.

Setting Power Zones (Cycling)
Step 1. Establish your Functional Threshold Power (FTPw). Use the same 30-minute time trial test above for LTHR to determine your FTPw. The only difference is that the average power for the entire 30 minutes is an approximation of your FTPw (not the last 20 minutes). This may be done on the road or on an indoor trainer. The road will generally give better results so long as it is relatively flat and free of stop signs and heavy traffic. (Keep your head up. Time trialing with your head down is very dangerous. I have a friend who is in a wheelchair now because of this.)

As with LTHR testing, the more times you do this test the more accurate the results will become since there is a learning curve associated with such an effort. This is best done early in the Base period and then every 4 to 6 weeks thereafter. The more times you do this test the more accurate your FTPw will become.

Step 2. Set up your personal power training zones using the following guide (from Allen and Coggan, Training and Racing With a Power Meter).

Zone 1 Less than 55% of FTPw
Zone 2 55% to 74% of FTPw
Zone 3 75% to 89% of FTPw
Zone 4 90% to 104% of FTPw
Zone 5 105% to 120% of FTPw
Zone 6 More than 120% of FTPw

Step 3. When following the power-zone directions in my training plans or workouts in the appendices of my books use your zones as established above.

Setting Pace Zones (Running)
Step 1. Determine your Functional Threshold Pace (FTPa) using either a runner’s GPS device or an accelerometer. To do this, warm up and then run for 30 minutes just as described under “Setting Heart Rate Zones, Step 1” above. Your FTPa is your average pace for the entire 30 minutes (not the last 20 minutes). This is best done early in the Base period and then every 4 to 6 weeks thereafter. The more times you do this test the more accurate your FTPa will become.

Step 2. Compute your pace zones with the following guidelines using your pace as minutes and seconds per mile or kilometer. It is easier to work with this if you convert seconds to tenths of a minute (or work entirely in seconds). For example, 7 minutes 30 second would be 7.5 minutes (or 450 seconds).

Zone 1 Slower than 129% of FTPa
Zone 2 114% to 129% of FTPa
Zone 3 106% to 113% of FTPa
Zone 4 99% to 105% of FTPa
Zone 5a 97% to 100% of FTPa
Zone 5b 90% to 96% of FTPa
Zone 5c Faster than 90% of FTPa

Step 3. When following the run pace-zone directions in my training plans or my book workouts or from my workouts in the menu at TrainingPeaks use your zones as established above.

Swimming Pace
Step 1. Determine your T-time. There are many ways of doing this. One of the most common is to swim a 1000-meter/yard time trial at your pool. It may help to have someone on deck counting laps as it’s easy to lose track in such a test. What you are trying to determine is your average 100 pace for the test. Simply swim 1000 and then divide your finish time by 10. This is your T-time. This should be done early in the Base period and every 4 to 6 weeks thereafter. The more times you do this test the more accurate your T-time will become as there is a learning curve that has to do with pacing in the first few minutes when doing this test.

Step 2. In my training plans, book workouts (in The Triathlete’s Training Bible) and in the workout menu of TrainingPeaks the swim workouts will often refer to pace as T-time plus (+) or minus (-) a few seconds. For example, T-time + 5 seconds would mean swimming at a pace that would be the equivalent of your T-time plus 5 seconds. So if your T-time is 91 seconds this workout would be calling for you to swim at 96 seconds per 100. If it is a 50 meter/yard set you are doing, the time you are shooting for is 48 seconds (half of 96). In the same way, if the set calls for you to swim 150 meters/yards at T-time + 5 you would swim the distance in 2 minutes and 24 seconds (96 sec + 48 sec).

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Functional Threshold

Someone asked on my Twitter feed today what ‘FTP’ is. I had recently mentioned it in a tweet. Since I use that term a lot it’s probably a good idea to define it. A little background first…

Anaerobic threshold. Lactate threshold. Ventilatory threshold. These are terms used to describe points in the intensity spectrum when the athlete is on the verge of or is already accumulating lactate and hydrogen ions in the body’s fluids. This means that the body is rapidly becoming acidic. Scientists attempt to define the above terms very precisely and see each as having unique conditions. Despite their best efforts even they fail to be in complete agreement on what each means.

As athletes we seldom get involved in such discussions. We tend to see these terms as interchangeable and meaning roughly the same thing – you are “redlining.” And for all intents and purposes, that is reasonable since these thresholds occur at roughly the same point and are seldom exactly the same from one day to the next due to variations in fitness and fatigue.

Magazines and books written for the athletic market use these terms when talking about training for endurance sports, also often interchangeably. So we have come to accept and generally understand what they mean, especially 'anaerobic' and 'lactate' threshold. They are less clear on 'ventilatory' threshold since this term is used much less frequently than the other two. In fact, you can simply use the word 'threshold' when speaking with other athletes and they will usually take that to mean a high effort with an RPE of about 7 or 8 on a 10 scale.

Now there is a new term being used to describe this level of intensity – 'functional' threshold. This is largely due to the work of Andrew Coggan, PhD, and Hunter Allen and their book, Training and Racing with a Power Meter (VeloPress, 2006). I like this term for field work because it removes all of the mystery associated with scientific concepts such as hydrogen build up, lactic acid, lactate, aerobic, anaerobic, RER, ventilatory rates, and the like. Very few really understand these terms. Functional threshold solves this problem by defining redlining based on actual output in a field test or race.

Functional threshold power or pace (FTP) is the highest mean average power or pace you can maintain for one hour. That’s quite precise, clear and logical. It even fits nicely with what we know about AT, LT, and VT. When you are in good shape these various measures of intensity can be maintained for about an hour. So rather than trying to describe this phenomenon with biological conditions, we simply define it based on a common output denominator.

Once you know FTP your training zones may be established based on power or pace. WKO+ software does this for you. All you do is plug in your FT power (cycling) or pace (running) and the zones are automatically calculated. Then workout intensity is determined based on pace or power zones. WKO+ will also determine heart rate zones using the system described in my books. Just enter your average heart rate for a one-hour race effort. Of course, this software goes well beyond simply setting zones. It also allows you to see a visual representation of the pace- or power-based workout and graph the workout/race data into several different charts for analysis.

All of this analysis data is based on FTP so it must be kept updated with periodic testing to make sure you have it right. Over the course of a season FTP will change a lot if your training is affective. And it is one of the best indicators of how your fitness and race readiness are progressing. While heart rate remains rather steady throughout the season, power and pace change considerably. That’s obvious since becoming more fit provides several benefits including being faster and more powerful. Training is all about accomplishing these goals. That’s why I keep a close watch on FTP for the athletes I coach and highly recommend that self-coached athletes do the same.

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