tempoAim of Session

To build on the solid foundation of ‘base endurance’ by developing ‘quality endurance’

Session description

WARM UP: Start with 10 mins zone 2 if required, add this to the session duration

MAIN SET: Ride in mid range of zone 3

COOL DOWN: Ease off with 10 mins of zone 1/2


Zone 3 training delivers a higher stress endurance workout, as the athlete is now working above their lactate threshold. At these intensities, the body starts to increase lactic acid production since the work is completed using carbohydrate (both the body stores and 'exogenous' fuels like drinks, bars and gels). Training in this region elicits a response where the body has to manage the metabolic consequences of increased lactate production. The increased delivery of oxygen is needed to remove accumulated lactate, allowing exercise to continue. A primary adaptation in response to this training intensity is an increase in the volume and activity of mitochondrial enzymes. These enzymes enable the lactate produced to be oxidised (and removed) rather than accumulating in the muscle and interfering with muscle contractions. Other adaptations that help lactate removal through enhanced oxygen delivery include an increase in the number of capillaries, allowing for greater oxygen delivery to the muscle.

One of the biggest benefits of zone 3 training is its ability to trigger more storage of glycogen through accumulating hours of training - this is because we are now training above the lactate threshold, with higher rates of carbohydrate being used.

Application for the Rider

Previous training in zone 2 put the foundations in place, with zone 3 allowing the body to adapt to greater training intensities. Training in zone 3 should begin to feel difficult and require more focus than longer 2 sessions. This training is has similar aims to upper zone 2 training, increasing the lactate threshold; but this time via 'pulling up' the LT from above. Key to success when using zone 3 is to appreciate the extra reliance on carbohydrate at this training level - zone 3 is often underestimated in its difficulty, the most common error being to underfuel - because it doesn't feel hard while you are doing it, but it WILL catch up on you if unprepared!

Practicalities and tips!

  • Don't underestimate the stress of zone 3 riding. The key is to introduce it gradually (see the tempo blocks and tempo finale sessions)
  • Once riding whole rides in zone 3, make sure you hit mid zone with every pedal stroke
  • Going too hard and then not hard enough is training sub-optimally - remember this particularly on hillier routes. Zone 3 is successful because it maintains a high level of stress, but not so high you cannot repeat it day after day (go towards zone 4 and this will be the case)
  • Start your fuelling from time zero, as carbohydrate useage rates will be high - an athlete can be using in excess of 700kcal per hour at this intensity.
  • Often used as a high overload training cycle, 3 days back to back of 3h zone 3 is a goal you can aim for when experienced in using zone 3. Consider this will be over 2100kcal per day so needs wise feeding before, during and after the ride
  • Remember, it takes a good 24 hours to re-load your glycogen stores, and zone 3 rides of 3 to 4 hours will be close to wiping these stores to zero! 

Evaluation of the session

  • As with all endurance sessions, the key is time AT target intensity, not average power being equal to target.
  • Can you see the fatigue in the ride? Is your power in the final hour equal to the power in the first hour? Has HR changed across the session?
  • How much carbohydrate did you take on the ride?
  • Could you go out and do the same ride again tomorrow? The answer should be yes, even if that feels a stretch. If a firm "no" you have either pushed too hard, or not fuelled well during / post the ride!
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