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FTP Friday – What is Power Zone Training? Overview of Power Zone Training

I’ve read quite a few posts with both questions and incorrect assumptions about Power Zone training. I’d like to address a few of these topics.

*While I’m not a Peloton instructor, I’m a former cycling time trial racer and have been world age-group top ten in Concept2 sprint rowing events for over a decade. I have operated the heart/lung machine for open heart surgery for over 40 years, so have a reasonable understanding of cardio respiratory physiology. End of boring bio…*

What is Power Zone Training?

PZ training is a scientifically proven progressive method of training which provides continual improvement in fitness. EVERYONE, REGARDLESS OF PHYSICAL CONDITION, CAN BE SUCCESSFUL WITH THIS METHOD. As an example, in weightlifting, we get an idea how much weight we can lift for one all-out repetition, then choose an appropriate percentage of that weight to use for various reps/intensities. PZ training works the same way: you find out how much average power you can produce over a 20-minute “test”, then that result is used to determine the output wattage you will target during your training rides. The instructors will tell you clearly how hard to ride and for how long.

HOW DOES THIS ALL WORK?

You can learn how the rides are structured and coached by taking the four-week “Discover Your Power Zones” program available on your screen. This program starts very mildly, so it’s easy for anyone to try it out. The program explains the different types of PZ training rides and what they do to improve your fitness. You learn about the FTP Test, which is used to set the wattage targets for 7 different levels of intensity. (More on this below).

The FTP TEST:

The FTP Test is a 20 minute ride which is used to calculate the intensity of each portion of the PZ training rides. You are urged to work as hard as you can, so that a fairly accurate estimate of your maximum fitness is established. The test provides an AVERAGE OUTPUT WATTAGE over the entire 20-minute ride. It can take a few attempts at the test before we really do well on it, as we just have to learn how to spend 20 minutes’ worth of energy to best effect. (This is normal.)

WHAT ARE POWER ZONES?

Power Zones are 7 different levels of intensity (ranges of watts) that vary from extremely easy to extremely hard. Your FTP Test result is used to calculate these zones, so everything is set according to your individual ability. So, you won’t be expected to keep up with Michael Phelps (who has a Peloton), nor will you think the ride is too easy. Because all your rides are based on the FTP Test, it’s important that you try your best & set the most accurate effort zones for you.

During the rides, you will do intervals of work combined with easier intervals of rest. The higher the intensity during a work interval, the shorter it will be. The easier the intensity of the work interval, the longer the duration of that interval, etc.

3 TYPES OF POWER ZONE RIDES:

PZ ENDURANCE (Power Zone Endurance):

The “easiest” of PZ rides, these rides never ask you to ride harder than a pace you could hold for a few hours. These rides are not meant to destroy you, they are meant as active recovery from harder work and to build your aerobic base of conditioning. The efforts never exceed a “3” on a scale of “1-7”, so you will work up a sweat, but not be crushed. They are purposely easy.

PZ (Power Zone):

“Regular” PZ rides step it up a notch to allow us to work harder during the work intervals, which are therefore shorter than the endurance intervals. Rest intervals follow the work sections, and allow just enough recovery so we can successfully complete the next round of work. These rides can go up to an effort level of “6” on the 1-7 scale.

PZ MAX (Power Zone Max)

The “sprint/power” component of PZ training uses the shortest and most intense work intervals, coupled with sufficient rest to be able to complete the next effort. Expect to hit a “7” out of 7 on the effort scale, but for an appropriate duration.

The best long-term continual-improvement training plan consists of these varying types of workouts. Working super-hard all the time leads to a plateau where one can no longer improve, and often illness or injury occurs eventually. While we may not feel like we worked hard enough on a PZ ride, we must remember that this is a long-term training progression which will help us avoid so many of the typical pitfalls of unstructured training.

I hope this explanation helps those who had questions or wondered if PZ training was right for them. I swear by it. Feel free to ask questions and I’ll try to help.

Good luck!

This article is part of an ongoing series on Power Zone Training. You can find the other entries below in suggested reading order:
#1 – What is Power Zone Training? (This Article)
#2 – FTP Test Strategies & Lessons
#3 – Living with new zones & more FTP test
#4 – Post FTP-Test New Zone Struggles (Mental & Physical)
#5 – Decreases in FTP

Image Credit: Peloton Blog
Lee Aldridge
Lee Aldridge is a former cycling time trialist and current competitive rower. These articles are reposted with permission from Lee's Facebook group posts.

1 Comment

  • Marc says:

    I’m about to finish the four-week “Discover Your Power Zones” program. I have taken the FTP test for the second time and did better! I’m not sure how I’ll continue this workout regimen though.
    Do I just take a class in the 3 Types of Power Zones rides in order? Maybe skip a day between? Or is there some challenge that I need to sign up? I loved how the 4 week program just told me what to do, with no planning on my part.

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