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The Art of Zonal Training

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article by Anthony Walsh of A1 Coaching

We are all looking for a way to get more speed with less effort – a way to get more return on our hourly training investment. The answer isn’t to repeat the same preparatory steps from last season and hope for a different result.

Zonal training is the key to maximizing your training hours and allowing you to peak at the right time for your target event.

Zonal training is how we gauge intensity and prescribe structure. The zones you’ll use will differ depending on whether you own a heart rate monitor or a power meter. My personal preference is a power meter but the limitation is that it’s quite an expensive piece of kit. The body’s response to an effort is indicated by a heart rate monitor whereas a power meter actually measures the effort.

Power has a number of advantages over heart rate. Heart rate can be suppressed when we are fatigued, it can be affected by climate, hydration and nutrition, caffeine intake, stress, and many more external variables. Some days you’ll find that a Zone 3 effort, which is usually a 6 out of 10 perceived effort, feels more like a 10 out of 10 effort.

Setting your zones

In order for you to accurately determine your zones you will need to carry out a field test. The field test should be viewed as a race. You need to prepare for it as you would for any target race.

The day before the test you should look to get 90 minutes easy riding on the road where you include 2 x 10 minute intervals (with 10 minutes rest between intervals) at a perceived effort of 6/10. Also preform 2 x 1 minute efforts (5 minute rest between efforts). This ‘pre race’ session will prepare your body for the rigors of the test the following day.

Testing day

Today isn’t going to be a long session but it’s going to hurt like hell. Ensure you consume a well-balanced, low Glycemic Index meal around three hours before the test. Today I need you to get out on the bike for around 90 minutes again.

Duration: 90 minutes

Warm-up (WP): 45 minutes easy pedaling where you include 1 x 7 minute ramp. During this ramp aim to graduate your intensity from easy pedaling all the way up to target test pace.

Main set (MS): Find a quite stretch of road, without junctions or stop signs. My personal favorite is to carry this test out on a hill. I can always get a bit more power up a hill. Now you’re going to preform a 20 minute effort (25 minutes if using heart rate instead of power) full gas. Now when I say full gas I don’t mean you start out of the blocks like you are sprinting for the finish line. The effort needs to be paced. You are looking to get the maximal possible effort out across the duration so you are pacing this like you are riding a time trial. I cross my imaginary finish line on my hands and knees.

Warm-down (WD): 20 minutes easy pedaling to facilitate lactate clearance and allow your body to cool down.

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Working out my Zones

Once you have completed the test you’ll need to download the file. If you carried out the test on your power meter take the average power you held for the 20 minutes and use the table below to work out your new training zones. If you have carried out the test on a heart rate monitor again download the file. This time you’ll need to discount the first five minutes of the 25-minute test. So you’ll calculate your zones off an average of the last 20 minutes of your 25-minute test. The reason we don’t count the first five minutes is the lag that is presence when using heart rate.

Calculate the Zones as follows:

Based on Heart Rate
– Zone 1 Less than 81% of LTHR
– Zone 2 81% to 89% of LTHR
– Zone 3 90% to 93% of LTHR
– Zone 4 94% to 99% of LTHR
– Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
– Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
– Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

Based on Power
– Zone 1 Less than 55% of FTPw
– Zone 2 55% to 74% of FTPw
– Zone 3 75% to 89% of FTPw
– Zone 4 90% to 104% of FTPw
– Zone 5 105% to 120% of FTPw
– Zone 6 More than 120% of FTPw

anthony-walsh-bio-pic

Anthony Walsh is the founder and Director of A1 Coaching.

He grew up in a house enveloped by a love of cycling and it became a core part of his life from an early age. Anthony’s father was a bike mechanic and his apprenticeship began at an early age, working on bikes long into the night in a makeshift garage in the family home.

Anthony’s father was also a true fan of the sport and Anthony absorbed a love and appreciation for the sport that would one day turn into his profession.

Initially the bike was a tool of utility for transport. As a child, it allowed Anthony to explore beyond the boundaries of his local neighbourhood and expand his horizons. This, in time, led to summer-long romances and life-long friendships. The initial tool for transport would later morph into a means by which Anthony would earn his living.

Anthony took up cycling competitively in his early 20s as a student in University College Dublin (UCD) – a string of injuries had ended a long soccer career that included an All-Ireland Winners’ medal with Bohemians Football Club.

After a degree in Economics, Anthony’s academic career changed focus and he turned his attention to Law. He earned an MA in Law and a Barrister at Law Degree from The Honorable Society of Kings Inns.

Anthony excelled on the domestic cycling scene while balancing the demands of full-time study and his performances acted as the springboard to a professional career. He would go on to compete for the Irish National team and sign contracts in France withDivision Nationale Team, Super U; in Canada with Jet Fuel Coffee, and in the US with Astellas Oncology Pro Cycling.

Anthony’s academic background gave him a particular perspective which helped him to learn within the professional environment. He fostered relationships, worked with top coaches and respected directors, and interacted with some of the world’s top riders against whom he competed. He soaked up the knowledge gained from these experiences while also studying everything he could find on up-to-day scientific training methods.

The analysis of all this input, viewed through his academic lens, gave Anthony a unique perspective and insight into top athletes’ successful training and conditioning regimes.

By 2011 Anthony had begun to advise friends in a structured way on how to prepare for events. Word soon began to spread about the successes gained on the back of his advice. In this way Anthony had, unintentionally, made the first steps in establishing a professional coaching service.

As the demand for his services grew, Anthony envisioned a coaching and mentoring approach based on the best available scientific evidence, combined with a high-level of practical experience and common sense. This would be blended with sensitivity to the unique physiology, ambition and life circumstances of every individual, and also respect cycling’s rich heritage, culture and handed-down wisdoms.

When his professional career ended due to injury, Anthony set aside his legal career to establish A1 Coaching based on this vision, and to return to domestic racing with his old UCD club.

The results were nothing short of astounding: National Road Racing Champions and Triathlon Age Group Winners as examples. He has advanced the career of every athlete he has touched and riders in his stable are achieving their ambitions and winning races all over the world.

As the business grew, Anthony recruited a team of coaches which would bring as broad a spectrum of expertise and experience as possible. While each coach brings a particular perspective and unique experiences, each shares the vision and approach that Anthony articulates for A1 Coaching.

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