There are three types of "Endurance" Training workouts for cyclists. Each workout is intended to develop a particular energy system to meet the demands of a cycling event. They are: Aerobic Endurance, Muscular Endurance and Anaerobic Endurance workouts.
Aerobic Endurance workouts are normally long (2-3 hr.) continuous Tempo Level (L3) workouts. The purpose of the Aerobic Endurance workouts (at least the ones I prescribe) is to train your body to burn fat for energy (sparing carbs) and to establish a solid base/foundation for future hi-intensity workouts. Yes, I know that these traditional low-intensity "base miles", as they're normally referred to, may actually cause the muscle endurance fibers (Type I) to shrink and lose strength. But, that's only if you log a high volume of miles in the base/build phase of your Annual Training Plan (ATP) without incorporating any Anaerobic workouts. Besides, in the Northeast where I (and most of the athletes I coach) live..it's kind of hard to log a high volume of miles outdoors on the bike and/or indoors on the trainer in the December-January timeframe. The weather outside is just uncooperative at times and indoor training sucks...so the training time is minimized. That's right..I said indoor training "sucks". And, anyone that likes it ought to get their heads checked out. And, this is coming from a guy that has one of the best indoor virtual reality trainers money can buy.
The Muscular Endurance workouts are normally interval workouts where the interval lengths vary from 10-20 minutes long in the Threshold (L4) range. These workouts are conducted at near hi-intensity and normally commence in the January-February timeframe of the Annual Training Plan (ATP). These are great workouts that not only develop your Type I (slow-twitch) muscle fibers but start to recruit (and develop) your Type IIa (fast-twitch) muscle fibers as well. Race performance depends upon the quality of Type IIa muscle fibers. Because of their versatility, high force production, and resistance to fatigue, the Type IIa fibers are THE fibers to develop for bicycle racing. Now, for the athletes I coach, you know why I prescribe so many Muscular Endurance (and Power) workouts in your Annual Training Plan (ATP). The Power workouts, in the VO2max (L5) range, are normally 3-5 minutes in duration. At this intensity, the Type IIa muscle fibers are being fully recruited.
The Anaerobic Endurance workouts are interval workouts where the interval lengths normally range anywhere from 15s to 30s in duration in the Anaerobic (L6) range. These workouts are hi-intensity workouts that increase cycling performance through maximal muscle-fiber recruitment. I like to reserve these workouts for later in the season- like the beginning of March. Why? I'll tell you later in the blog. The Anaerobic Endurance workouts develop your Type IIb muscle fibers. Brief bursts of intense, powerful energy, such as the final sprint of a race, utilize Type IIb muscle fibers.
So, with all the benefits from the high-intensity Muscular and Anaerobic Endurance workouts...why don't we just do em all the time and forget about the low-intensity Aerobic Endurance workouts? I'll tell you why..because they suck...they hurt...they ARE Painful with a capital "P". And, even if you can SUCK IT UP (the pain that is)..you just can't jump into them right away or you risk injurying yourself. Remember, these are HIGH-intensity workouts with a lot of Force & Speed (which equals Power) applied to the bike pedals. I already told you that riding an indoor trainer sucks..try doing Anaerobic Capacity workouts (like Tabata Intervals) on an indoor trainer. It will bring new meaning to the word "SUCK". And, the only thing worse than doing a Tabata Interval workout is doing a couple of Tabata Interval workouts a week...mixed in with other workouts. You do these too soon, that is too early in the ATP, and you'll burn-out in a hearbeat. If you don't know what a Tabata Interval workout is- Google it or ask one of the athletes I coach who have already started them. Hey Jason, how do you like Tabata Intervals? Better yet, try a Tabata Interval yourself. Oh, I wouldn't recommend doing a Tabata Interval when you're out of shape unless you have an AED nearby and somebody that knows how to use it to jump start your heart when you fall off the bike. I'm serious. (AED= Automated External Defibrillator)
Before you conduct any hi-intensity workout..you better know (with pretty high accuracy) what your power zones/levels are...otherwise, you're wasting your time. You can find your zones/levels by conducting a Lab or Field Test with a Cycling Ergometer. If you're an athlete I coach..I offer these Lab Tests FREE (after your initial FTP test). Power Meters make it so much easier to produce the correct workload during hi-intensity interval workouts. If you don't have one, this may be a GOOD TIME to invest in one. You just can't measure your high power workload effectively/accurately using a Heart Rate monitor or by using RPE. Power ON! Coach Rob