Steady state intervals

Steady-state-intervalsAim of Session

Develop the ability to sustain riding at MLSS or 25 mile TT intensity 


Session description

WARM UP: Ensure a good progessive warm-up that puts you in the right place to accomplish the MS, not included in session duration
MAIN SET: Ride in mid range of zone 4, always on top of the cadence, for the durations and rest intervals prescribed in the pre-session comments
COOL DOWN: Ease off with 10 mins of zone 1/2, not included in session duration


Zone 4 encapsulates an area below and above your Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS, the highest intensity you can sustain without a marked increase in blood lactate). In other words this intensity is that which places your lactate clearance and buffering capacity under maximal stress - using the bath analogy, you are riding with a tub full of lactate! Being able to sustain this intensity is dependent on the ability of your muscles to contract in increased acidic conditions and to buffer the acidity using chemicals such as phosphate or bicarbonate. See the fact sheet entitled 'Training in Zone 4' for greater detail. 

Application for the Rider

Your power at MLSS is a clear predictor of succes in events lasting from 10 minutes to 2 hours+. This zone marks the the highest intensity you can sustain for relatively long time periods - therefore it's an important training intensity for athletes in many different situations:

  • For the time trialist, 25 mile and 50 mile events are ridden at zone 4 powers. For this athlete, zone 4 blocks may be included in their final training block before an event to increase their tolerance to riding at their target race power. For shorter distances this session may be used to prepare for the rigours of even higher intensity training.
  • This session is also useful for athletes involved in events requiring variable power such as road races, criteriums, track and mountain biking events. Zone 4 training is a great stimulus for improvements in glycogen utilisation and coping with the resultant lactate production and clearance. These aspects of your physiology are crucial to recovery from repeated high intensity efforts and so should be included in the preparation for such events.

A typical progression may see you increasing the interval duration from 8 minutes upto 20 minutes with 10 minutes recovery between blocks. As an introductory step, you may find it easier to complete shorter intervals with a greatly reduced rest interval, for example upto 8 repeats of 5 minute blocks with only 1 or 2 minute recovery intervals. Look for how your coach suggests you integrate this work in the 'Coach comments' of your workout.

Practicalities and tips!

  • A thorough warm up is important for sessions at this intensity and above - consider practising your race warm up to best prepare you for the session but also to help you perfect your warm up routine.
  • Take care with your hydration and carbohydrate intake - both to 'protect' the quality of the session and to minimise the subsequent recovery time.
  • This session is all about "sustaining" high intensity effort - therefore, make your focus the TIME of each interval, and get less caught up about hitting the target power. In otherwords, don't worry if power starts to drop, just get to the end of the block with as much power as you can hold on to!

Evaluation of the session

  • How close was your power in each interval to your most recent 25 mile TT or criterium performance? Given that hitting a race power in training is difficult mentally, reaching the same level is a solid effort; advancing it to a notch above is excellent and will see you progress your race power!
  • Were you able to sustain the effort across the block? and across sequential blocks?
  • Looking at your HR, is the profile increasing? Drift of HR is common at this intensity, and reflects the system trying to hold a 'steady state' - a slight rise is ideal, as it shows you are pushing the limits of balance
  • How was your cadence? Is it similar to race pace cadence? This will really help the transfer of race pace efficiency
  • Is your HR returning to baseline levels prior to each block?


More in this category: « Sweetspot plus Climbing repeats »