Remember that the body is incredibly good at adapting itself to whatever stress is imposed on it. So when you spend most of your time in Zone 3, the only real adaptation that occurs is the body becomes incredibly adept at riding in Zone 3.
You can go out the door, hit a nice, fast tempo and hold it all the way around your favorite loop and back to your house with an average speed over 20 miles per hour. Because of this zone 3 fitness, moderate zone 2 riding (which is where 90 percent of any cyclists' training should ideally be), feels ridiculously easy.
Breaking Out of the Rut
The good news is that if you've reached this level with your riding, chances are you've built up a pretty good base of fitness. To take your riding to the next level, it may just be a question of backing off a bit, letting your body reset and starting again on a slightly more disciplined training plan.
Before you change your workout habits, for one week take your resting heart rate every morning before you get out of bed. Then for two weeks after that, restrict yourself to zone 1 riding. (If you don't know your zones, this means easy.) Little girls on roller skates should be passing you on the path.
Some of you are thinking right now, "This doesn't include the hard group ride I do every Saturday morning though, right?" Are you starting to see how you managed to get into this situation?
After a week, you should start to see your resting heart rate come down. Wait until it hits rock bottom and then rest another three to five days. Now, you're body is reset. It's time to get going.
The first thing you'll notice when you're well rested is your heart rate will increase quickly and go up higher. This does not mean you've lost fitness, it just means you're fresh. In fact, during your week or two of recovery riding, the damage you've previously done to your body will heal and you might notice a significant improvement in fitness.
Yes, that's right. An improvement in your cycling strength from doing nothing. In other words, you've done all the hard work and you've torn your body down over and over. Now all you have to do is let it build itself back up, stronger and faster than before.
So now you're ready to go out to see if you can beat your average speed on your daily 18 mile loop. Wrong! You've turned over a new leaf and you're now what they call in the industry a smart trainer. Build intensity into your program but focus on quality rather than quantity.
Instead of doing your 60 minute ride at 90 percent of your threshold heart rate, break the ride up into intervals. If you want to work on your threshold power, do three 10-minute intervals right at your threshold (your legs and lungs begin to burn and you find it hard to talk). Rest for five or 10 minutes in between and then go again.
After a month you might notice your threshold power or speed start to plateau. Take an easy week, let your resting heart rate drop back down (presumably it has started to rise over the last three weeks of training) and then start to work on your anaerobic power and endurance.
Do some shorter three-minute intervals at maximum effort. Give yourself plenty of rest in between so that each interval is better than the one before. Experiment to see how much intensity you can handle in a week. Start with two days and build to three. Rarely will you want to do more than three days of intensity in a week.
Finally, the most important thing to remember is when you start to get tired and the quality of your intervals starts to diminish, do not try to push through. Rest up until the quality returns to your workouts. As much as you hate to miss workouts, nothing will hurt your cycling ability more than chronic, mediocre, low-quality training.
Josh Horowitz is a USCF certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website, LiquidFitness.com.
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