Tempo: or, How to improve muscular endurance -- Incorporate continuous periods of tempo into your base training rides and feel the benefits.
During the late fall and winter months there’s always lots of talk of fat-burning and base training among cyclists. This is the time of year when cyclists get in their zone 2 miles and dream about how many watts/kilogram they will eventually produce. There is no doubt that riding your bike a lot will get you somewhere; it just may not be exactly where you want it to be. It can also lead to a list of excuses that you hear post race when, for some reason, you got dropped, were out of position, or didn’t get enough sleep. Don’t be on the long road to nowhere.
So, how do we get to be both the cyclist that looks good and who leaves the excuses at home? In part, get over the idea of zone 2 ‘fat-burning.’ To put it simply, you’re not burning much fat in zone 2. So if weight reduction is your goal, you’ve already lost the battle, and Jan Ulrich will have the last laugh. While you do burn a greater percentage of fat than carbohydrates in zone 2, the intensity is so low that you don’t really burn that much fat. You also aren’t doing much to increase your muscular endurance, which is want you need if you want to hang with the group. You’ve got to up your tempo – to tempo.
Tempo is what many refer to as zone 3. It’s where you can hold a significant amount of power (76-90% of ftp) for an extended period of time (30min-3 hours). The increased effort will burn more fat; it will ‘teach’ your body to burn fat more efficiently; it will increase your glycogen storage; and it will help you to avoid getting dropped. So you can leave the excuses at home. Incorporating extended periods of tempo into your rides will help you build power and muscular endurance.
Riding for an extended time at tempo doesn’t come overnight, and you still need zone 2 miles for endurance. You need to get a feel for your bike, and start bringing tempo along on your rides. When you get serious, maybe you can do ‘The Sleeper:’ 3 hours of straight, strong tempo.