Musing on Levels

I thought I’d share a few thoughts with regard to workout levels having started a new block of training. But first a bit of background:

I’m in the military and last year while on a deployment was able to commit 6 months to structured TR training and managing my diet. I managed to increase FTP from about 260 to about 320 whilst shaving about 13lbs off my bodyweight. When I went home I was so much faster than when I left and had a nice shiny new Dogma F10 to spin around on. I spent the next 6 months doing a lot of outdoor riding, some structured outdoor workouts, a few indoor trainer sessions and quite a few fast group rides where I was able to hang comfortably with the hitters in my area. I felt extremely fit and thought I’d pushed my fitness on in the 6 months since I came home.

I’m now deployed again and started off with a ramp test to baseline, getting 319 so figured that made sense. But I am really surprised to find that I’m really struggling with the durations on the threshold workouts in SSBMV1 whilst I find that that I am comfortable in a couple of VO2max sessions that I did last week before I started the plan. I reduced the FTP to 305 as I knew the threshold work was killing me. Putting that in terms of levels, I’m finding that I can comfortably complete a 5.8 VO2max session at a FTP of 320 but really struggled with a 4.0 threshold workout even having reduced my FTP to 305. To me that’s a pretty significant difference.

So what? Well aside from the known fact that ramp tests can be over inflated by an anaerobic component, I just thought I’d add my N=1 experience into the knowledge well about levels to say that:

  1. riding around in an unstructured manner, no matter how much you think you’re putting in hard rides is not the same as structured training
  2. performance doesn’t degrade in a linear fashion across all energy systems. Levels now shows that in a very easy to understand fashion.
  3. linear performance across endurance, SS, threshold and VO2max is unlikely.

Interested in your opinions or if others are finding the same thing going back into structured training after a period of just having fun riding outside.


I envy your achievements. I am nothing in cycling: 6 months of structured training brought me to max 235ftp coming out of 180.
Maybe because I have never done weight training and cycling ever before I hit 43 years of age?

So congrats! That’s dedication and excellent genetic.

It is late and I can’t nevertheless to talk science but imo, your struggle is expected. Firstly, anyone could not achieve such a incredible increase in performance like you did continuously. There are riders that are doing your numbers after years and years of training.

2nd, you probably got the fast performance achieved by new comers, where the gain is huge and then stabilize.

3rd and final, as you are hitting bigger ftp now, you can’t continously train at such intensity, meaning that your training should fall into polirized rather than pyramidal or SS forever.

Yes, there’s a lot of talking about how the ramp test over estimates one’s ftp… And it is true.

These are my two cents, keep up the good work, it just need to be reorganized and accept that as you go higher so thus becomes harder and harder to gain any 3% increase in performance.


First thing I’ll note is that Nate mentioned a level 5 Threshold workout won’t be as equally challenging as a level 5 VO2 Max or level 5 Endurance workout. Each zone’s perceived difficulty is independent of the other zones, so you cannot really equate them laterally. Just because you can do a level 5.8 VO2 Max workout doesn’t necessarily mean you can do a 5.8 Threshold one at the same FTP. And that’s kinda the whole point. To challenge those systems independent of one another because of the shortcomings that exist with testing protocols.

Secondly, I will add that I experience the same thing as you. Sharper efforts are easier to do when I’ve been doing hard group rides and races. Those kinds of rides are all about the micro accelerations and micro power adjustments with micro rest in between. It’s rare that I am holding a steady level of power in the draft, so when I go back to doing those longer steady threshold and sweet spot efforts, they become quite challenging, namely because I am not getting those mini doses of low power or coasting to clear the legs so I can keep pushing.

For my personal experience, I always feel like my muscular endurance (which I associate with sweet spot and threshold) fades throughout specialty and I have to rebuild it again after specialty concludes. I just don’t feel like I can hold the power targets as high for as long once I leave build phase.


This makes a whole lot of sense! Have you been watching me ride - I’m the king of the draft!

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That’s just smart riding!

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There’s a couple of articles in the TR blog about detaining and workout levels. You will have seen or should see in your career page if you are on AT the levels you have achieved in each of the 7 metrics which will be at different values depending on which energy systems etc you’ve been working in your workouts and at what level.
My endurance is a much higher value than my threshold at the moment based on my last workouts. The idea is to progress through them in isolation. So you’d do say threshold 3 then 3.4, then maybe 4 point something but your sweetspot could already be at a much higher or lower level by comparison.

Try reading these and see if it makes any more sense. Detaining is simply not training so - unstructured riding. :grin: :+1:t2:

Edit - there’s also a thread on AT progression levels that’s worth reading…

Here - AT: Progression Levels


Thanks @Johnnyvee. Unfortunately I’m not in AT which is a shame as I’d be a great guinea pig whilst on deployment as I don’t have a regular schedule without the burdens of Dad life!

Don’t compare a VO2 5.0 to a Threshold 5.0. They aren’t the same. I’ve made the argument they should be relative, but TR has been adamant that they won’t be, so for now, avoid the comparison. Think of them as totally different scales.

I think to make the levels useful, TR needs to provide some rationale for what at a few levels for each power range means. For example, when the chose / set specific Sweet Spot workouts to be a level 5.0, why those? Does this mean that if your FTP is set “correctly” you should be able to do:

  • Sweet Spot 5.0
  • Threshold 4.0 or whatever

That is: what additional information is conveyed in the level? If it is just arbitrary, then I think this takes away a lot of meaning from the levels.

Or if the only point of the level is for AT to be able to rank workouts, then I would have hid them, and left them as something for AT.