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As suspected, my cardio is way off: same training workout comparison.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Daily Blog


So far in 2013 I’ve only cycled a grand total of 356 miles. Considering we’re two months into the year, that’s pretty weak (for me). The past couple of months there have been a lot of distractions, an unfortunate bout of the flu, a 2-week vacation and a couple weeks off from riding so I could take care of a huge list of spring projects. Over the past week I’ve resumed cycling and mountain biking, and my riding schedule has finally started to resemble my normal routine, riding 5 of the past 7 days.

CardioYesterday I rebooted my indoor cycling training program using TrainerRoad, as that’s going to allow me to regain my previous fitness level as quickly as possible. I decided to go back and repeat the 6-week Intermediate Base I program (that program did wonders for my riding last last year). Because I’ve already completed this training program, repeating it presents a unique opportunity for me to compare my workout stats then and now.

The first workout in the program tests the athlete’s Functional Threshold Power (commonly abbreviated as “FTP”). Functional Threshold Power is simply the maximum average wattage an athlete can sustain for 1 hour. For a more complete examination of FTP and power-based training, please see my article “Coggan’s Power-Based Training“.

At my peak conditioning level, which was right after completing the first 6-week training program, my FTP was measured to be 288. When I started my cycling-specific training back in October I was riding a lot and in good shape, and my initial FTP was determined to be 270. I decided yesterday to forgo the initial FTP test, and to set my FTP to 270; I did this so that I could perform apples-to-apples comparisons as I progressed through the Intermediate Base I training program again.

The first workout after the FTP test is called “Gayley“. It’s a tough one: 4×8 minute sets @ FTP, with 4 minutes active recovery between sets.

Yesterday I really struggled with the workout, especially last couple of intervals. My average heart rate during the final two intervals was 179 BPM and 181 BPM, respectively. It took every ounce of willpower I had to complete the workout and make my target power goals (which I did, but it was extremely painful).

After my workout and shower, I sat down and analyzed yesterday’s workout data vs. the workout data from last October.

Here’s yesterday’s data (click to enlarge):

"Gayley" workout stats from February 26, 2013.

“Gayley” workout stats from February 26, 2013.


Here’s the data from last October (click to enlarge):

"Gayley" workout stats from October 15, 2012.

“Gayley” workout stats from October 15, 2012.


My actual average power output for the entire workout (including recovery intervals) was the same at 212 (target was 204), so that’s good. But look at the heart rate difference: 145 BPM in October vs. 159 BPM yesterday. Ouch. No wonder I was hurting.

Drilling down a little bit and looking at the four 8-minute working intervals yields more information. Target power for each working interval was 269 watts; I exceeded the target power on all intervals in both workouts, but look how much harder I had to work yesterday to do that! While producing virtually identical amounts of power, my average heart rate was 11-15 BPM higher yesterday than it was back in October. This is undeniable evidence that my fitness level and cardio efficiency has declined.

When I first did this workout back in October I found it very challenging, and so doing the same workout again in worse shape (and hitting the same wattage targets) was a real gut check. I didn’t back down, and I’m going to latch on to that positive note as I move forward.

In light of this data I do not think my FTP belongs at 270 right now, but I’m going to force myself to keep it there. I wonder how quickly I will regain my previous fitness level as I progress through the training program? The workout data will be very telling and, I think, quite interesting. More to come…

John Stone Fitness Comments

4 Responses to “As suspected, my cardio is way off: same training workout comparison.”
  1. So are most of these TrainerRoad workouts HIIT in nature? Not exactly HIIT, as I can’t imagine you’re ‘all out’ for a duration of 8 minutes, but you are cycling high and low intensity intervals?

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    • People who think of HIIT as simply “all out” followed by active recovery have the wrong idea. Of course that’s one way to do HIIT, but it’s not the only way. Take, for example, the “Body For Life” HIIT cardio method, which is something like 1-minute intervals @ 60/70/80/90 (% of perceived effort), repeat.

      There are certainly intervals in the training program I’m currently following that would be considered “all out”, but power-based training is more scientific than that. It’s important to realize that these workouts use wattage targets and not perceived effort or heart rate targets (both of which can be misleading).

      If you’ll check out my Coggan’s article (linked above), you’ll see that there are very distinct “zones” based on the athlete’s actual FTP, which is determined through standardized tests.

      An athlete who is doing the “all out” style of HIIT may go what he or she considers to be “all out” for 30-60 seconds (or whatever), but that’s obviously highly subjective. In theory a maximal effort sustained for 30-60 seconds should have the athlete in his or her “Aerobic Capacity” zone (and, perhaps for a short time, the “Neuromuscular Power” zone), but the only way to really know that is with power-based training.

      As I mentioned in today’s blog, the 8-minute intervals in this particular workout are at at FTP, which is defined as the maximum average power an athlete can sustain for 1 hour. Riding at FTP for any real length of time is very uncomfortable and requires a lot of focus, but is not “all out”–although if the sustained effort is required to be 1 hour in length, riding at FTP is quite literally defined as going “all out” for that hour.

      So, to address your specific question, I would definitely consider most of these workouts to be “HIIT”; it’s interval-based training, and most of the working intervals are highly intense.

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