Endurance training basics

Hi there, before I get into my question I have two disclaimers. First please excuse my grammar as english is a secondary language for me. Second I am very new to this/any forum so also excuse if I put this in the wrong thread.
I am a triathlete with about 2 years of training experience as of now. Starting with the sport I did a lot of research on how to structure, organise, polarise, periodize, etc. your endurance training. I have to say all those different training models get me a fair bit confused. Some models work with 5 training Zones (one being Recovery and five being anaerobic work), some work with 3 Zones. Some models say stay away from Zone 3 and some say do a lot of “sweet spot” work.
Now, I am currently and have been doing it for these two years training with the concept of doing a long bike ride on the weekend +4 hours only endurance work (I really try and stay in Zone 2 for the entire ride). During the week I do different interval sessions on zwift (usually threshold intervals, VO2max intervals and sometimes some anaerobic intervals). I do see some gains in my FTP (from under 200 to 245 now) but I wonder, how am I supposed to perform in a long race if I only ever did long and slow or short but hard/fast ?
Second question: I understand that (following a periodized training approach) you do different blocks of training (base training, build and peak) and that your training will differ depending on what phase you are in. But wount I lose my base conditioning during lets say a building phase if I stop doing so much base workouts and focus on more intense workouts?
Am I still doing any Zone 2 workouts during higher intensity blocks? Will I not lose my high intensity gains during the off season as I will focus more on strenght, recovery and base training ?

Thanks in advance!!


Great questions. Welcome to the community.

There are really numerous questions and assumptions built into these questions, most of which are debatable. As such, you will likely get many answers that both enlighten and confuse you. Even the very non-controversial and extraordinarily helpful answer that follows :smile: will likely be debated.

Overall, you have two options:

  1. continue to ask questions and piece together training, make mistakes, enjoy some successes, and take a very long time getting to where you would like to be. This forum and the training approaches that TR offers can help, but they will not answer many of the questions you ask

  2. just get a coach. They are not cost-prohibitive like I thought when I first started. A good, reputable coach will save you so much time, misunderstanding, and money (yes, money!) in the long run. There is no reason you cannot continue to participate here or even use TR software to do your training

Good luck


I was afraid you might say that. But I guess there is no getting around that.
Thank you though :slight_smile:

Having said that, I will endeavor to start answering some of your question individually. Hopefully others will join in and get you on your way. Just recognize that discussions here go on tangents and down rabbit holes really easily and you have a mixture of high level experience, mixed with some fairly strange and ill-informed ideas. In that sense, it is not very newbie friendly.

You don’t have to have a coach for long (one training cycle) to learn a great deal.

Pick a model and stick with it for awhile. Training zones are a coaching concept, not a strict physiological one. They are primarily designed to aide coach-athlete communication. Don’t get hung up.

Don’t JUST do long and slow or short and hard/fast. You need both.

Also, training doesn’t have to be periodized. It’s common, but by no means necessary.

No. During a particular block of training, you might focus on a particular aspect of fitness, but still maintaining another.


No, you will still be putting in a lot of endurance miles. Maybe you prioritized saddle time during base and hit 12 hours per week. During some interval block, you might throttle it back to 10 hours per and include two interval sessions in the week. Interval sessions are going to be like 5-15-20-30-60 minutes of total interval time depending on the intensity. The rest of your training time will still be endurance.

I’d recommend that you get one of Joe Friel’s Training Bible books. That will give you a good over view of training periodization. I believe he has a triathlon version in the series.


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Thanks again for that insight. Ofc I dont do just one or the other. But f.e. I never do longish and hard. Like I said I only did hard and short (meaning interval sessions) and then longer but slower. I guess my question was more aiming at: how does the training I do during interval sessions translate into the effort I have to put out during a LD triathlon ? In my rational mind it does not make sense to not train like you race. How am I supposed to hold f.e. 220 wats for 180K if I only train at 170 wats on my long rides and 250-270 wats during my intervals but those are just 5-30 min long depending on the effort.

Thanks, I actually have the audio book of his triathlon book. Maybe I just listen again (more carfully)

I find audio difficult for books like that. Too many tables and charts to look at.

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This is common thinking, and is not entirely wrong. It is just a little too literalist.

So you cannot get good at triathlon by playing football. In that sense you are correct. Specificity of exercise.

On the other hand, you don’t have to train in exactly the same manner as you race. If you did, milers would only ever run a single mile as fast as they can….over and over. They don’t. Milers log >100km per week. Most of it slower than race pace out of necessity (common sense).

When you do interval training, you are creating physiological adaptations (stroke volume, increase mitochondrial size and density, increase capillary, etc) that are needed for races as short as one minute all the way up to numerous hours. Look up Coggan’s chart for an overview, but don’t fall into the trap of overly parsing it.

You are also creating those changes in your body with longer slower rides and runs. Finding the balance for you between base training and intensity is what we cannot answer. A coach can help you find it

Friel book is a good tip


I think Roger Bannister’s training plan was something like that. Actually, 440 repeats at 4 min/mile race pace over and over until he could run four in a row. Of course, training and coaching has improved a bit since he broke the 4 minute mile. :slight_smile:

I know. Imagine how much faster he would have been logging proper miles :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

And he trained at lunch time and after work while working a full time job! Lots of those gold medal runners worked jobs and trained morning, noon, and evening around work.

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I think it’s a gross misconception that you need to train fast to race fast, especially for triathlon where “fast” isn’t really all that fast.

Unless you’re a pro, the 140.6 bike is roughly mid Z2 and 70.3 is upper Z2. It’s only once you get down to sprints that you’re approaching threshold effort, but still well short of zones 4 & 5 (of 5).

The biggest impact in events lasting more than 10 minutes is volume. Just go ask any marathoner who’s raced a 5k in the taper or the WR holder in the 10k speed skate or an Olympic gold medalist and world record holding middle distance runner

Yes, these world champions have some intensity in they’re training, but the vast majority of their training is slow easy volume. In addition, their “intensity” is generally well below their race efforts.

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Hello and welcome to the forum! At first glance, cycling training can seem intricate, but let’s break it down:


  1. Power Zones: These are categorized as 1-3, 1-5, or 1-7, depending on who you ask.
  2. Energy Systems:
  • Aerobic: For endurance, like triathlons.
  • Anaerobic: Short, intense bursts lasting from 1s to 1min, helps you go brrrrrr.
  1. FTP (Functional Threshold Power): Workouts below your FTP primarily strengthen your aerobic system and should be prioritized.
  2. Volume: Simply put, the more you cycle, the better you become.
  3. VO2 Max: Consider this as your aerobic potential’s upper limit. A higher VO2 max means a potential for a better FTP and overall aerobic strength.

Training Guidelines:

  1. Consistency: Pedal often, but ensure you also recover adequately.
  2. Z2 Rides: Prioritize these long rides; they are foundational.
  3. Intensity: Incorporate two challenging workouts weekly, focusing on Sweet Spot (90% of FTP) or Threshold (95%-100% of FTP).
  4. Progressive Overload: Increase your training load gradually—be it volume, intensity, or time.
  5. Nutrition: Ensure you’re fueling up both during and after rides.
  6. Rest: Prioritize quality sleep for optimal recovery.
  7. Mindset: Aim for a stress-minimized lifestyle.
  8. Training Phases: Your primary focus will shift over time. While Z2 rides remain constant, start with SST, move to threshold, then VO2 max as you progress.
  9. VO2 Max Development: This can be achieved through intense training or sheer volume. Always aim to enhance it.
  10. Zone Importance: Lower zones aid in recovery and stamina. The gains in lower zones may be slower but are foundational for upper zone improvements.
  11. Improvement Rate: Rule of thumb is that thr higher the zone, the faster the gains but also faster losses. While VO2 max might show quicker results, FTP gains can be slower.
  12. Learning Resources: There’s a plethora of advice out there, but core principles remain consistent. For deeper insights, check out the WKO Education webinars on YouTube.

In Essence: Ride consistently, mix in threshold and SST sessions, and occasionally challenge your VO2 max. And yes, those anaerobic “brrrrr” moments? Embrace them once in a while!


Well guys first of all thank you so much for taking time out of your day and giving me all this valuable information. I did find a sport scientist in Berlin that offers single 60 min consultation as a coach is out of my reach (financially as a student) for the time being. From what you are describing I seem to have trained the right way. The reason I started doubting my training was that two days ago I joined a local group ride. We were heading down the country roads with 40 km/h ( ~24.8 mph) and all was good. I could keep up easily in the slipstream without having to pedal harder than upper Z2. When it was my time to ride in the wind though I had to come to see that to keep the groups speed I had to put out 300 wats. So after 5 min of holding on for dear life I rotated to the back of the pack but couldn’t keep up while these guys increased to 45 km/h (~28mph) up a hill. With other words I got dropped. That’s why I started thinking if maybe I am not training the right way. Btw what is the training benefit of a group ride: while in the slipstream pedaling is rather easy so max Z2 but up front you have to put out some heavy wats. Do you cyclist use this as some kind of interval training or more to train how to move in a group while the physiological training benefit is questionable? While doing those long endurance rides like I have been doing I would always make sure not to exceed my Z2 wats, even up a short hill. Is that the right approach or does it not matter if I occasionally push up the hill to keep a constant speed?


It all depends. Sometimes zone discipline is beneficial but sometimes just open the taps on the hills and treat that as your hard session. With efforts 1min or shorter you will see most benefits when being fresh and putting nearly maximal watts. The longer efforts that elicit vo2 max works great on hills.

From your description you have typial triathlete profile :wink: good aerobic eingine for long, steady riding and lack of top power, because you do not need it :slight_smile: Being droped with hard efforts is usually typical group ride, so do not bother. If you want to improve top end qnd high power on climbs, just train it.

Do vo2 max workouts and 1min power workouts if that’s you need. Doing more threshold or sst with 30s burts of power every 2-3 min has also good benefits for your short power.

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Yeah that’s what it felt like. These guys told me they were aiming at 30-35 km/h average and I thought „hey I ride 30 km/h average over 120km only zone 2 alone, while in a group I could probably do 35“. But when I ride alone I ride steady just like you said. No power peaking on hills but rather slowing down a bit for the hill to keep that zone 2“. So that 300wats interval up front in the group really crushed me. But it’s nice to hear that it is a common thing for triathletes, I guess that’s what separates cyclists from triathletes. On last question though, could you not argue that peaking power during a otherwise z2 ride would activate the anaerobic energy system so that after that peak you no longer are using that aerobic system for the next 20 min even if you slow down. I think I read something like that, which lead me to believe I should keep a slow ride slow but go hard when it’s time for it.

Not as simple as that when it comes to energy systems. Here’s the example chart of aerobic and anaerobic contributions to the efforts:

As you can see, even 1 min power is a 50% anaerobic and 50% aerobic contribution. Everything longer than 1 min relies heavily on aerobic power. When it comes to anaerobic power there is also a case of muscle fibers (fast twitch and slow twitch). And even fast twitch fibres (the ones that make you go brrrr on your bike) can behave similarly to slow twitch, more aerobic fibres. I believe listening Empiricalcycling podcast about substrate utilisation will help you greatly if you want a real deep dive. Doing sprints during Z2 rides can be beneficial from time to time, and there are some studies that support that - especially when you want to maintain your fitness.

So to conclude in short - you have to train everything with road racing, but you probably will not excel at all of them. There are diesel riders that can ride all day in front of a peloton (“El Tractor”) but they have no sprint at all in them.

In your case, and a case of almost all diesel cyclist (myself included) your fast twitch fibers are untrained (because you do not do any spriting in triathlong) or non existent. For example - my sprint is non-existent - I can barely do 900W when sprinting, that’s only 2x my best 5min power. So town signs sprinting is definitely not for me but give me a longer effort than 1 min and I will do well.


Most folk get dropped on a chaingang/paceline the first time they do it. I certainly did when I was young and fit. Although on one local paceline, which steps up in intensity over 3 laps, I’ve been dropped every time on the 3rd and final lap when it goes to an IF of >90% by the folks half my age, including last night. That 2min hill climb (126% whilst I can still hang on) gets me every time and I have to ease off for a few seconds and in those seconds they are gone :joy:

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Recently bought Hunter Allen’s VO2max intensive 8-week plan. One particularly brutal workout seems exactly what you need (see sample week’s Sat: after 2 hours 2x20min FTP + after 3 hours 6x3min VO2max) :slight_smile:

Haven’t tried myself yet, finishing TR POL Base with long suprathreshold first.