Fast Talk Podcast, Ep. 72: Do we need training zones?

I was annoyed that Trevor kept talking about how he hated the term “zone” and how “levels” were somehow better. As Chad said, they are exactly the same- different names for non-overlapping segments of the range of values that a physical parameter can take. All the talk about the semantics of the name partially obscured the major point- the important thing is understanding the point of each workout and how hard/ long you are targeting going.


Yup, they touch on it at several points, specifically 1:21:00, which is great. And they cover it pretty well, but I agree that the semantics muddy the water and lead to a loss of focus on the more important picture (continuum of the spectrum).

The difference is that the previous 7 zone model uses % FTP (power) to define all training levels.

The new iLevel uses:

  • FTP to set training levels for aerobic endurance, tempo, sweet spot, and threshold
  • individual physiology to set training levels above threshold

In Dr Coggan’s Individualized Training: The What, Why, and How Of the New WKO4 iLevels article he gives the example of two world champions, both have similar power above 10 minutes. However below 10 minutes there is a huge difference, where the sprinter can produce 150% ftp for 4-minutes, while the time trial specialist can only do that for 1-minute.

A few more details from the article:

Based on the logic behind the original approach, levels 1-4 remain anchored to FTP, with the addition of a new level 4a (SweetSpot) at 88-94 percent of FTP to satisfy the requests of numerous coaches who have found value in prescribing workouts at this intensity.

However, at higher intensities, four levels (instead of three) have been defined, with the boundaries between them determined based on … the individual’s unique physiology.

The whole point is:

the determination of highly-individualized training levels (iLevels) for describing and prescribing training.

for example my iLevel (from WKO4) for VO2max intervals recommends a low target of 112% 1:1 or 1:2 work/rest ratio. And that matches up well with what I’m capable of using as adjusted intensity in TR vo2max workouts. At the moment, I simply can’t repeatably do 120% ftp vo2max intervals above 2-3 minutes.


The issues of individuality above Threshold are very interesting. I think the evidence of that reality is clear in the many VO2 max threads we have seen in past months. There is wide variability in duration, rest, and repeat-ability of these and higher efforts.

The higher iLevels aim to target these differences and find the more appropriate prescriptive range for each person, vs the more simplistic models that are purely power based across the full range. It’s an interesting option to dig into and learn more about, if those efforts are part of your training and racing world.

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Colby brings the most rational explanation in all their pods he is on.

At one point he got on why he doesn’t like zones and (over simplistic) he doesn’t want you to ride at what your threshold was when you tested, but what it is that day. Go out and ride on rpe and time was the gist.

That was the highlight of the pod for me


Allen, Coggan, Seiler, Weber and Pierce are all on the same page that training is a continuum; levels/zones/izones are more to define how to communicate what it is we are trying to do; the word “Threshold” as in LTHR is from running, 40 years old and based on an arbitrary blood lactate mmol amount that has little if nothing to do with cycling; most amateurs are missing the forest through the trees.

Weber thinks zones/levels based from a % of FTP is problematic because peoples energy expenditure (carb consumption) is very different. Z2 for 1 hour is very different than Z2 for 5 hours or Z2 for 5 hours four days in a row. Coggan hit on this as well but used the words “muscular metabolic fitness” or glycogen utilization. So “FTP” and below is ruled by this energy expenditure/glycogen consumption and is a reason people do long rides…ie long rides improve this.

Seiler thinks zones should be based on physiology. 3 zone model is good for amateurs because they are “out of control” and can not contain how hard they go. Amateurs train well on hard days but, too hard on easy days. 3 zone model is sort of like a green, yellow, red model to keep it simple.

On point Pierce made I thought interesting was that while doing VO2max type work it’s important to feel (RPE) the effort even though the wattage may be low and it’s possible more adaptation is being done. I found this interesting as in one of the books Allen and Coggan wrote they talk about when to give up on an interval if you can’t maintain a certain power…


Did not listen to the podcast. Won’t listen to it. I find zones and percentages of an arbitrary metric irrelevant. I base all my training on absolute wattage and time@wattage from races. I see the appeal for mass marketed training plans, though.

However, I always liked this overlapping system:


Fully agree. The current trend for the majority to run their indoor workouts in ERG mode doesn’t help with this. Surely everyone would be better off running in resistance mode and using target power as a guide, rather than being fixed in to an exact power number.


Im just an average 54 year old cyclist who rides for fun and to challenge my mates.

I used to enjoy a lot of these Fast talk Pods, but thought that this one was ridiculous. I was on a long drive and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I wonder what the guests would have thought at the end because it went round in circles over semantics of whether riding at 55-65% of FTP was riding in a level or a zone. Given the caliber of the guests, there should have been so much more to learn.

What you call them doesn’t matter IMHO, zones/levels/percentage of FTP.

You can have a plan that says in 3 weeks do x ride at x watts for x minutes. If you feel bad that day, you can modify your plan.

Yes, we know every athlete is different, but we all can’t have individual testing in lab and a coach that checks in on us before we ride to make sure todays plan is still relevant. Most of us can think for ourselves.

TR and its calendar plans are about making me a better/faster cyclist. Due to work/fatigue etc, I cant follow the plan exactly, but its easy to slot in different workouts. I am a better cyclist for having a plan IMHO then not having a plan.

Obviously riding indoors using erg is easy to do, following Chad’s new outdoor rides seems easy to do as well.
My FTP is 270, here is my planned outdoor ride for tomorrow replacing 2 hour endurance ride Boarstone.

Warm Up:

  • Ride for 10 minutes gradually raising your power from 135 to 176.

Main Set:

  • Settle into 100 minutes between 176-202 watts.

Cool Down:

  • 10 minutes easy.

Now, Im smart enough to understand that this is my target for the day, but know that my bike or myself wont explode if i go over 202 watts at different times. :slight_smile:




I agree with a lot of what you say here, it seems such a wasted opportunity to have had the selection of guests on to have ended up with what they did. Coggan can be very prickly though.

As I mentioned above, I think Trevor is getting conflicted, he really connected with Seiler (as did I) but I think the practicalities of that stopped him from taking on board what todays guests wanted to talk about. There is no need to plant your flag in one camp or the other.

I want to like Trevor but I’m getting tired of the examples he keeps citing about “his athletes”, I don’t believe any of the quotes he makes around them, I think they are purely to fit what he wants to get across which is a shame. I could be wrong of course but it’s sounding more and more that way.

The podcast is still useful but I think they need to take a step back.


I don’t know about that. I got a smart trainer earlier this year and have run all my workouts in erg mode and I’ve found it really useful in actually holding a steady power level which appears to have been very beneficial now I’m out on the road. I seem to be able to hold power now more consistently for longer periods.

I’d like to keep ERG mode out of this discussion. It really has nothing to do with the context of the training zones that is the focus of this thread.

We already have a thread focused on ERG (and non-ERG) use that covers the wide range of considerations quite well. Please continue any ERG related discussion in that thread.

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listening to the podcast now… almost 8 minutes of intro. Insane.

Back in Nov/Dec I pre-ordered the 3rd edition of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and received my copy a week or two ago. Will update this post with my notes after listening.

my notes:

Fast Talk ep. 72

  • almost 8-min intro, like watching a 3-minute TV commercial break then saying “I want more” and switching channels for another 3-minute TV commercial break. SERIOUSLY WTF?
  • Coggan: zone based training originates with Heart Rate Monitoring
  • Coggan: for cycling with power I prefer to use the word “levels” to differentiate from earlier heartrate-based training zones
  • training in zones/levels should be taken as guidelines, don’t take exact targets as gospel

*** after 33 minutes its feeling like a huge waste of my time, and the guests time ***

  • blah blah blah
  • Seiler: (paraphrasing) recreational cyclists have no intensity control, they need green/yellow/red. Once they get that control, it is ok to get more nuanced.
  • blah blah blah


  • why so little time on iLevels? Back to WKO4 videos on YouTube…
  • would never accept invite from Fast Talk again, if I was Coggan/Allen/McGregor
  • I’m tired of hearing about polarized training, its quickly gone from gospel (“that’s how pros train”), to sheepishly admitting cycling pros train pyramidal, to being told on this podcast I can’t control myself. Ok.

The overall point–that strict adherence to zones/levels can be counter-productive–is a good one. Trevor uses this podcast as an opportunity to criticize athletes. “‘I’m going for a zone 2 ride.’ Well, what does that mean?” Trevor, we all know what that person is saying. The other coaches identify these zones as an easy way of communicating with athletes as to how to perform workouts, and Trevor seems to only want to use it as a way of suggesting athletes don’t understand what performing a ride within a power zone means. But that’s not an athlete’s job! It’s great that a lot of us want to learn more about this, but the point of these zones is to make training easy, by following a coach’s plan or a TR plan. The takeaway should be that athletes shouldn’t worry about hitting power targets so precisely; Trevor’s point is that the athletes are stupid for trying to do so.


Totally agree.

  • If Trevor would drop the hypercritical examples from his shtick, and simply focus on pure education, it would be so much better.
  • His continued criticism and condescending attitude is so disappointing and beyond tired at this point. I have lost track of how many times he has taken that tone in the nearly half-dozen or more shows covering training from various angles.
  • Then there is his repeated effort to get validation from the show’s guests, that his training direction and instructions to his athletes is justified and “right”.

As you mention, the knowledge of athletes runs a wide range.

  • Some (like many here) have a super deep knowledge about the background and reasoning to all of this training junk. That is great, but is not a requirement for someone to get appropriate training direction.
  • Others couldn’t find their FTP on a Zone chart, and that is totally fine. Their use of a coach to give that direction and review, is all that should be required for them to get targets. That communication of specific numeric targets or zone/level designations is the crux of the whole discussion.
  • Then there are likely a large number somewhere in the middle of those above. They have some info from reading, research or instruction via tools like TR. They are probably self-coached to a varying degree, and use these tools to learn and adjust their training to get the best they can from the combination.

This whole discussion is about:

  • COMMUNICATION: Pick a training model and related system, and work that on your own or with whomever you choose to include.
  • RECOGNITION: That there are more fuzzy distinctions between any of the areas within any model. Be happy to work around and close to the desired goal, but keep in mind that the hard fixation on precise values can distract from the real goal.

I agree with that point - and that point was also made by the Training and Racing book authors/coaches. Might stir up a hornets nest with forum members that are a little OCD with precisely hitting indoor training targets.

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Having been coached by Trevor in the past, i’ll chime in to give you some context of his “I’m going for a Zone 2 ride” schtick. Trevor’s primarily interested in the athlete training specific physiological systems. Whether that’s a Zone 2, Level X, who cares. What he’s getting at is that people arbitrarily “go for a Zone 2” ride without really understanding what physiological system they are stressing for that ride.

Trevor’s approach is not exclusively polarized by any means, while he has been a strong advocate for it. He is primarily focused on stressing physiological systems and moreso in approaching each week of training by your ability to recover. Weeks are planned with the intent to stress specific physiological systems and having the athlete achieve a specific recovery “RPE” at the end of the week.

It’s sometimes pretty complicated but overall he does know what he’s talking about and he can come across a bit too strict as a result of academic mindset. He wants you to understand why you’re doing this. If you don’t, then he can tag you as being an ignorant Fred who just thinks going for a Zone 2 ride is going to improve your race results.

I wish I could work with him again, but I moved to Europe and it got too challenging to keep it up.

  • That right there is my biggest problem with him and the associated superiority complex that is all too prevalent in cycling.
  • It’s completely unnecessary and does nothing but inflate egos at the expense of others.
  • Not everyone has or needs the same level of knowledge and understanding to take part in, and even gain benefits from, this massive world of training.
  • Looking down on someone with less (or even an incorrect) understanding is something I can’t tolerate. Either ignore it, or work to educate them if you think it is a worthwhile goal.
  • Admittedly, Trevor is doing this and has some good contributions and perspective. But that can be done without the repeated ‘bad’ examples.

There is a massive difference from being self-deprecating examples and associated learnings and take aways presented by the TR crew vs the external and critical examples most often shared by Trevor. He has touched on a few of his issues. But the majority shared in the FT casts are other riders, and have a hint (much more at times) of the roadie complex that stinks to me.

I don’t disagree that a level of tolerance and welcomeness to the cycling world would be always better if more of us were less roadie elitetist.

I will point out that Trevor is not an asshole nor is he ignorant. He means very well and has high expectations that people training to race are taking it seriously to learn the why of what they are doing. :+1:t2:

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I think it’s a bit unfair to blam TC for the way the podcast went. Deffo not one of their best. I think the guests played their part.

Came across as a bit of a love in between all 3, slightly pathetic really.

Too many different types of people. Either get an academic on and talk about their point of over, or a coach or an excersise physiologist or an athlete. Just all a bit messy.

Training really seems to be getting more and more complex. But it’s simple. Either train for a final sprint, a time trial or a long endurance ride. Cycling is very much an aerobic event, we would all improve by training this system primarily.