Test and zone setting in cycling

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Test and zone setting in cycling

Testing a cyclist is the first and most important step towards a well-designed training over the winter. Regardless of the successes in the past year, the test will clearly show us the degree of readiness - so we can adjust the training of basics, building-up, and preparation for potential matches in terms of time and content. And since many riders have not yet performed the test or are performing it in their way, we have joined forces with  Sašo Rupnik - NLS Coaching Sašo is well known in the world of professional cycling and triathlon, as with his unconventional approach he turned ordinary mortals into champions of. He worked with well-known athletes - Polona Batagelj, Kristjan Koren, Denis Šketako - and a number of recreation enthusiasts who believed that they were on the upper limit of their abilities. But Sašo showed them that it was not true, through testing, a regular adaptation of training, and nutrition and additives.


The training programmes that you find on our website is drawn up a bit more complex than you are accustomed to online. In order to set goals and then monitor your progress, we first need to perform a test with which we will determine the zones, and perform trainings only on the basis of the zones. The aim of our testing is to determine the zones in a way that is accessible to every cyclist. That is - at home. If we want to bring the matter to a higher level, it is also necessary to set limits. Here, an expert will guide you through various physiological tests that measure muscle oxygenation, lactate or oxygen consumption, and the limits will tell you more precisely which area needs to be added or changed.

In the table below, the manner of carrying out the test is presented.  

On the left side you can see how the test is structured and how many times you need to repeat a certain type of exercise in the test: 1x perform warming up, 2x high cadence, 2x regeneration, and 1x activation. Of course, the test is performed only once, followed by regeneration after it. The way to reach a certain level is also delimited - in the case of warming up, we slowly increase to the upper limit of the endurance intensity, while the intensity in activation is the highest possible. On the right, the zone of intensity and cadence are also set. Joint testing in the course of the entire training takes a bit over an hour. 


Another ambiguity is often caused by the zone - how it is determined, in which zone we will drive and what is the zone in the first place. The zone is driving in the target area which depends on our previous condition (the weight/muscle mass distribution ratio, heart rate and consequent power that can be constantly applied to the pedals.) Even if you are new to the family, you know at least by feeling where your "sweetspot" is and where your VO2max lies - now you will also observe the progress through calculation. When we know where we are, it is much easier to determine our goals - what we are lacking, how many intervals we will use for a certain exercise (desaturation, regeneration, pedaling technique, high cadence, power, etc.) and when we need to take a day of rest.

There are several systems that determine the calculation of zones, and we summarized the system of Dr. Andrew Coggan. For more accurate zoning, you can (mention that you have read our article) turn directly to Sašo who will also clarify all that you did not know - testing and measuring are not universal but are chosen based on the facts and data that a cyclist needs most.

Let's look at an example of how to calculate the threshold [100%]:
a) From the 30' test (the first table, the Test line) we take the average values of the last 20' from the 30 'interval.
b) Power [W] - multiply the average value by 0.95 - the value obtained represents 100%.
c) For the heart rate, we take an average value representing 100% of the value.

The day before the test you need to rest - you can make a 1-hour light training, with shorter sprints in between, but not more. The day after the test we rest and start with the first week - the test is performed either before the first basic training, when moving to the building-up or whenever we want to test our readiness and progress.


We need to provide an explanation of the very meaning of the term threshold. Due to the gap between theory and practice, there has been quite a lot of confusion here, which disappears when we start to test things. A method where, from certain values (usually FTP), all other zones are calculated, does not match the tests that actually measure individual thresholds based on points (thresholds) - here, capacity varies dynamically depending on the different efficiency of the supply of energy and the accustomed type of exercise. 

FTP is the highest power that a cycler is able to keep as constantly as possible without being exhausted. Under the term of FTP, a number of tests can be found on the web, including those that do not give the right results - the maximum capacity that we can keep for one hour or normalized capacity for one hour. Since the 1h test is extremely difficult to perform, we recommend 95% of the 20-minute maximum taken from the test. Thus, we deduct 5% from the 20' section and for the faster or more explosive cyclists it is better to take 7%, otherwise FTP will be set too high.

As we have mentioned earlier, depending on the differences in the metabolism of energy and the prevailing type of exercise throughout the year, we need to determine the other "thresholds". Let's mention at least the basic ones. Aerobic capacity (2) is a long-distance ride, all-day cycling, where we do not feel the typical pain in our feet and our attention falls just towards the end of the tour. Tempo (3) is known from the usual non-demanding rounds where the pace changes (fartlek). Sweetspot (4) is a drive where we drive a little below the lactate threshold; it can be kept up for a long time and we would not drop out of the well-prepared group during the round. The threshold - i.e., the FTP (functional threshold power) or lactate threshold (5), stands between 95 and 105% of the average heart rate, where we can only drive at intervals of 10 to 30 min. Due to deep, rapid breathing, there is no conversation, and regeneration requires one day of pause. The VO2max (6) is the penultimate stage which is used to increase the lung capacity in training exercises - during the test, the rider sustains 3-8 minute intervals, as the cardiovascular system does not allow him the higher oxygen transfer anymore. The anaerobic capacity (7) includes intervals between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, where the body is accustomed to extreme ascents and end sprints. The upper edge is called neuromuscular power.

The thresholds are set by different limits that vary from individual to individual - we can improve these limits with basic training and certain supplements. Some individuals achieve limit due to the maximum load of the cardiovascular system, others are stopped by the final respiratory capacity. Cardiovascular ability is dependent on saturation, hematocrit and the erythrocyte type itself - in some cases, it can be influenced by certain natural supplements and nutrition adjustment. The limit is also determined by the metabolism of energy conversion (different modes and capabilities) and, last but not least, neuromuscular connection. If too many complex hydrates or even fats are introduced during intensive training, the body will begin to burn our glycogen before it can break the bonds - that's why it is so highly recommended to use energy hydration drinks that have sugars and proteins broken down into the smallest units. The body is also stopped by metabolism products that accumulate in the nervous system itself - after a certain complex exercise, the nervous system does not perform its tasks optimally anymore. This is also helped by stress hormone, cortisol, which protects us from injury and extinguishes our performance. Therefore, during periods of great strain, we recommend a good adaptogenic formula, but we will write more about it during the strength training sessions.

The relationship between thresholds (zones) and limits can be detected from a well-structured test - based on this, the training plan in the base period is adjusted to eliminate specific limits. 


 Do I need to use certain supplements for the test? The answer is the same as for all training - supplements need to be adjusted to the type, duration, and intensity of the training. Of course, once, twice, five times you would be able to do it without them, but in the long run, you would experience poorer results and end the days tired and unregenerated. Sooner or later, you would need to drop a training or two, while you would not carry out the remaining ones with equal efficiency. Since it is a challenging test, but not a long-lasting training, it is enough to consume:

a) 1 measuring scoop of EFS drink 800g - the energy hydration drink will prevent cramping, improve muscle contraction, and provide the body with energy (put it in the bottle during the test and start to drink it at least 10min before the test, so it is drunk up 20 minutes after the start of the test).
b) 1/2 measuring scoop of Ultragen 1365g - regeneration drink with hydrates, whey hydrolysate, glutamine, BCAA, and electrolytes, because regeneration determines the progress in endurance (drink with water immediately after training).


For all cyclists who want to enter the new cycling season stronger, we have prepared a promotional blog10 code which gives you 10% off of the entire purchase, including the discounted products.