L2 vs. L3/4 workouts



marcovelo125

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Feb 1, 2012
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Hi all,

The training plan I have been following puts a strong emphasis on L3 workouts (so something like 3-4 workouts per week, ~90-120 mins @ 75-90% FTP) and only 1 L4 workout per week (2 x 20 mins @ 90-105%) and 1 L2 LSD workout. Also an L1 somewhere in there when needed.

This has worked reasonably well for me, but I'm looking for changes that might produce some FTP increase, especially as I get older (Been racing crits/rr/track since 1980, just turned 50).

Something I read on this forum suggested that if an athlete had lots of training time, shifting the emphasis to more/longer L2 training might produce similar/superior gains in FTP. It was suggested that this is what (some) professionals tend to do.

Relatedly, I guess I suspect my total training volume is low at ~10 hrs/wk. (although on the above plan I have no trouble getting 6 or more CTL pts. increase per week)

So I though I would just check the "common wisdom" around here: Is my current emphasis on L3 workouts reasonably close to optimal, or would it be better to shift emphasis on L2 training, even if that required more time to get same TSS bang for the week? Or is the path to improvement for me simply more training time on the above plan?

Thanks for any suggestions,

marco
 

daveryanwyoming

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Originally Posted by marcovelo125 .
...Relatedly, I guess I suspect my total training volume is low at ~10 hrs/wk. (although on the above plan I have no trouble getting 6 or more CTL pts. increase per week)
So I though I would just check the "common wisdom" around here: Is my current emphasis on L3 workouts reasonably close to optimal, or would it be better to shift emphasis on L2 training, even if that required more time to get same TSS bang for the week? Or is the path to improvement for me simply more training time on the above plan?
If you've been at the same fitness plateau for an extended time and have been doing the same basic training routine and holding similar workloads during that time then further progress will likely require some changes for additional workload, additional intensity or both.

There's no particular magic in building your base on L2 work, it can and does work with the caveat that you've got to do an awful lot of it and not just big rides on the weekends if you want to go that route. The best reason to drop down from your current L3/SST/L4 plan to L2 for your winter base building would be if you start riding a lot more hours on a regular basis and would struggle to recover from that many hours at your current workout intensities. But if you can ride fifteen to twenty or more hours per week, and you want to ride those kind of hours week in and week out over winter than it's a very good idea to back off on your intensity so that you can actually stay on a plan like that for long enough to see gains.

Basically to see further progress or the break long term fitness plateaus you want to find a way to raise the bar which could consist of:

- Additional training intensity as in swap one Tempo day to add another SST/L4 day
- Additional training volume as in extend the duration of your longer days or turn a current 2x20 day into a 3x20 or 2x30 day
- Add a lot more volume as in move towards a lot more hours on the bike each week in which case dropping intensity is a good idea

That's the basic concept behind Hunter Allen's Next Level article: http://www.hunterallenpowerblog.com/2010/12/next-level.html

But the big takeaway is to increase training stress if you've run into long term plateaus, don't take the article as an exact prescription of how everyone should train. What's described in that article is within the context of a seasoned higher category racer who can tolerate a lot more load and bumps up both volume and intensity. That may or may not describe you, but the big message is to continually and intelligently raise the training stress bar within the limits of what you can handle if you want to break through plateaus.

-Dave
 

marcovelo125

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Thanks, Dave. Yeah, that is pretty much what I suspected. The L2 route only works with lots and lots of time. I could probably handle it mentally etc. but here in Michigan, those kinds of hours are just not possible outside during the winter, and Equally impractical on the trainer, though for different reasons. Thanks for pointing me toward the Allen article. What I notice with his recommendation is that, in comparison with my current plan, he would advocate replacing my L3 tempo workouts with L4 workouts (3x per week). I'm willing to give that a shot. It is actually more attractive to do 3x10:00 or 3x20:00 @ L4 on the trainer than 90:00 or 120:00at tempo on the trainer. And that kind of addresses another question I had lingering in the back of my mind: whether more time @ L3 was more effective than less time @L4. As I read Allen's post, his answer would be no. Provided one does the long ride and at least one medium ride at near FTP per week. Please let me know if it looks like I have misunderstood and of the above. Thanks again. Marco
 

daveryanwyoming

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Originally Posted by marcovelo125 .

...: whether more time @ L3 was more effective than less time @L4. As I read Allen's post, his answer would be no. ..
Well, that's pretty subjective and depends in part on how much more at L3 vs how much less at L4. But for someone indoors on the trainer for the next few months, yeah I suspect more time at L4 or at least SST (high Tempo, low to mid Threshold range) makes more sense than trying for extra volume at low to mid Tempo or below.

I think the general ideas in Hunter's article are pretty solid, bump up your workload and or intensity if you want to break through plateaus. But if you follow his ideas literally those extra L4 midweek sessions would be balanced with some very long riding including some long kitchen sink style rides in the 5+ hour range. Since I doubt you're going to do too many of those on the trainer you might not want to follow the exact plans outlined but instead focus on the concepts. Can you bump up intensity a bit on your harder days and or stretch some of those indoor workouts on your longer days with the overall goal of doing more quality work this winter?

-Dave
 

frost

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In addition of what Dave has written above (and what you recognized by yourself that to break the plateau, something must be changed) I would consider trying a few weeks block of L5 in the middle of the off-season. That might require you to back up the volume a bit momentarily but one or two workouts per week doesn't necessarily compromise your recovery that much.
That could be argued by maintaining and stressing an aspect that at least somewhat is diminishing with aging, but the main thing is to break the routine.

Bumping up the intensity on L4 workouts probably does quite much the same but at least I find a few weeks block of high intensity easier to tolerate mentally than hitting hard threshold workouts on a trainer dungeon all winter.
 

marcovelo125

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Dave,

I take your point about focusing more on the concepts than on the specifics, every individual being different. However, that does leave me a bit sketchy about what specific changes to my training plan would be likely to most effective.

I suppose one general question would be: for masters athletes with a history of systematic training, what is a reasonable balance between L3 and L4 workouts per week? (So far, I have been devoting the majority of my training time to L3: i.e., doing 1 L4 and 3-4 L3s per week.) From reading a number of things, I am now getting a sense that 1 L4 per week is --in general-- not enough, and that more or less standard training doctrine recommends more time at/near FTP.

One additional thought that arises is the following. If I convert some L3 workouts to L4s, and add recovery days between (which will likely become necessary given the added intensity), it is going to be difficult to find places in the week to also increase volume. So I take it that points to the necessity of the quite long L2s: viz., that is practically the only place to increase weekly volume (given the relatively little room for increase in distance or time when dedicating so many workouts to at/near FTP). In Michigan, 5+ hour cross-country ski workouts are a pretty palatable way to get in that kind of training volume during the dark months.

Does it sound like this is headed in the right(ish) direction?

In any event, the prospect of a new training plan has my enthusiasm up.

Frost,
Thanks for the tip about the L5 blocks. What is it about the trainer that so many of us hate so much? Does it start with the fact that for the rest of the year we are so conspicuously being outside?

marco
 

Doublebiker

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Someteimes it seems to me that the more FT fibre gifted riders develop better on more L2 and the more ST gifted riders can handle more
intensity in their programs / think Zabel vs Boardman/ might be something to think of as well.
 

daveryanwyoming

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Originally Posted by Doublebiker .

Someteimes it seems to me that the more FT fibre gifted riders develop better on more L2 and the more ST gifted riders can handle more
intensity in their programs / think Zabel vs Boardman/ might be something to think of as well.
I've had similar thoughts. No science that I'm aware of to back it up, but it does seem like a 'train your weaknesses' sort of thing and that folks with some punch and anaerobic capacity seem to make a lot of progress with riding volume and sustained work and some folks with a lot of steady dieseling power seem to benefit from shorter more intense intervals. But I'd say that for most folks that haven't figured out their strengths the most bang for their buck lies in developing FTP and staying power. If they naturally lean that way they may make more rapid progress and then stall but even someone with slowtwitch leanings needs to develop that capability before shifting the other direction.

-Dave
 

daveryanwyoming

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Originally Posted by marcovelo125 .
...I am now getting a sense that 1 L4 per week is --in general-- not enough, and that more or less standard training doctrine recommends more time at/near FTP....
Yeah, it's not that a single L4 session is 'not enough' for everyone but if you're looking to raise the bar and work a bit harder this winter and you're mostly stuck indoors I'd start by moving to 2 Threshold days per week or at the very least move some of your Tempo work up a half notch into the SST/low L4 range. Whether that also requires additional rest depends on how well you recover from the added stress and how much you want to raise the bar. I'd probably start by moving one Tempo day up into at least SST range and not add another rest day and see how you deal with that workload for a few weeks.

These discussions always get sticky because we tend to focus in on the specific workouts and drop all discussion of periods and when in your annual cycle to do different things. That's a huge discussion in terms of winter build vs. race prep vs. actual racing periods but in terms of raising the bar this winter it might pay to think in terms of focused blocks. IOW, ideas like Frost proposed where you take a block and focus on one system as he suggested with a focused L5 block. Or it could be a focused L4 block where you work a solid 3 days a week on pure Threshold work or a block similar to last year's plan but bumped up a notch as suggested above. The point is you don't need to do exactly the same thing from now till spring and one approach is to pick a particular focus for a training block and really work that system again knowing that all this stuff is a continuum and the aerobic zones from L2 to L5 have a lot of overlap in terms of training each other. Focused blocks like that should be long enough to see progress but not so long you stagnate so each block is typically 4 to 8 weeks long with 6 weeks being the most common. So one approach is to sketch out your winter plan and break it into appropriate blocks of weeks, perhaps with a soft recovery week after harder blocks and pick a primary focus during each block so maybe something like:

- 6 weeks SST/L4 focus or IOW what you've done but bumping up one workout per week as described above
- 4-6 weeks of L5 focused work with 2 (maybe 3, but that's tough for a lot of folks) L5 sessions per week and Tempo to fill out the week
- Softer regrouping week after so much hard work
- 6 weeks L4 focused work with up to 3 Threshold sessions per week, filling out your week with easier riding

That should take you pretty close to warmer weather and outdoor riding and a transition to your spring plan which might be pre-season race prep if you're racing next season.

BTW, I also used a lot of classic and skate skiing as my longer Tempo work when I lived in the mountains and coupled it with L3 through L5 work on the trainer. Actually I also rather like skate skiing for five minute L5 intervals but of course it's not as sports specific as doing them on the bike. It's definitely a specificity tradeoff but I could skate or classic ski for four or more hours and that's something I just can't manage on the trainer.

-Dave
 

An old Guy

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Originally Posted by marcovelo125 .
Relatedly, I guess I suspect my total training volume is low at ~10 hrs/wk. (although on the above plan I have no trouble getting 6 or more CTL pts. increase per week)
So I though I would just check the "common wisdom" around here: Is my current emphasis on L3 workouts reasonably close to optimal, or would it be better to shift emphasis on L2 training, even if that required more time to get same TSS bang for the week? Or is the path to improvement for me simply more training time on the above plan?
I think your training time is low. While I think your emphasis on L3 is wrong, I think moving toward L4 is better than moving toward L2.

But you can have a lot of fun on the trainer. 3 minutes L5; 2 minutes L3; repeat for 60-90 minutes.

L2 and L3 are not going to help you - you are not doing enough volume for them to help.
 

marcovelo125

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Feb 1, 2012
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Dave and Frost,
Yeah, no kidding about periodization: So, I started to map out a plan which included three L4 workouts per week, shooting for the 90 mins at FTP Allen recommends as a target in the blog post Dave cited. Keeping the weekly increase in TSS reasonable, turns out it going to take something like three months of a pretty much nothing but L4s separated by recovery days. I'm pretty certain that would result in some kind of irreversible brain damage in my case. So, yeah: periodization! Good tip.

marco
 

frost

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This maybe obvious for some but in addition to periodisation of workouts to target different physiological systems it is worth while considering a periodical change of your workout routine in any case.

I've had some motivational problems in recent years (read: lay on the sofa and gain 10kg over the winter) so I got a coach some time ago and that has done real miracles to my training. At first I was sceptical when I got a training prescription that included a workout with varying cadence, thinking what is this why should I do this kind of a workout knowing that it doesn't make me any faster than just riding. For that reason with my own planning (or better lack of plan) I ended up grinding same workouts day in day out which no doubt were very effective but also very boring (I am especially talking about winter training now, living in a country which isn't exactly made for riding a bike).

It's not that there are any great secrets what comes to the physiological adaptations but simple things like eg. varying your cadence during SST/Tempo workout on a trainer, modifying interval and recovery length and varying power (over-under, "Hour of Power", ramps, steps, etc) which don't necessarily make you a better rider itself can make you work harder or more often. Sometimes when we concentrate too much on the physiological side and scientific evidence of what works and what not we might just forget that there are other aspects to workout planning and coaching (whether someone else or yourself) than just that.
 

fluro2au

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Originally Posted by frost .

This maybe obvious for some but in addition to periodisation of workouts to target different physiological systems it is worth while considering a periodical change of your workout routine in any case.

I've had some motivational problems in recent years (read: lay on the sofa and gain 10kg over the winter) so I got a coach some time ago and that has done real miracles to my training. At first I was sceptical when I got a training prescription that included a workout with varying cadence, thinking what is this why should I do this kind of a workout knowing that it doesn't make me any faster than just riding. For that reason with my own planning (or better lack of plan) I ended up grinding same workouts day in day out which no doubt were very effective but also very boring (I am especially talking about winter training now, living in a country which isn't exactly made for riding a bike).

It's not that there are any great secrets what comes to the physiological adaptations but simple things like eg. varying your cadence during SST/Tempo workout on a trainer, modifying interval and recovery length and varying power (over-under, "Hour of Power", ramps, steps, etc) which don't necessarily make you a better rider itself can make you work harder or more often. Sometimes when we concentrate too much on the physiological side and scientific evidence of what works and what not we might just forget that there are other aspects to workout planning and coaching (whether someone else or yourself) than just that.
Well said,

I've been coaching for about 8 years now, and the single biggest factor that separates those that succeed and those that don't is consistency....A key component of coaching is being able to keep the athlete motivated with a vareity of sessions that brings out the motivation and drive to succeed.

Taping into what motivates an athlete is the key.

We can all train hard, it's just how often and how long for, is what separates individuals.

Paul
 

marcovelo125

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Okay, so here's a related question:

Can anyone come up with a meaningful difference between, say, 2 x 20:00 @ 91% FTP and 3 x 10:00 @ 100% FTP?

In other words, is there any clear trade off between duration in the zone versus intensity? Or: is there any basis on which one might choose between one workout versus the other in terms of resulting physiological adaptation or perhaps efficiency with respect to FTP development?

I suppose event specificity might be a factor, but I can't think of events in either of those two duration ranges on the road or the track.

Or is this kind of distinction getting too fine, in the sense that no scientific studies point to a meaningful difference?

Thoughts?

Marco
 

gudujarlson

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Originally Posted by marcovelo125 .

Okay, so here's a related question:

Can anyone come up with a meaningful difference between, say, 2 x 20:00 @ 91% FTP and 3 x 10:00 @ 100% FTP?

In other words, is there any clear trade off between duration in the zone versus intensity? Or: is there any basis on which one might choose between one workout versus the other in terms of resulting physiological adaptation or perhaps efficiency with respect to FTP development?

I suppose event specificity might be a factor, but I can't think of events in either of those two duration ranges on the road or the track.

Or is this kind of distinction getting too fine, in the sense that no scientific studies point to a meaningful difference?

Thoughts?

Marco
I'm not aware of any science, but I think there is a general belief held by many that backing off just a little from 100% and adding a bit more volume is more bang for the buck and/or is easier to do consistently over the long haul. I think people are generally talking about the winter-spring base period in these discussions, which is the longest period in linear periodization and thus consistency can be the most challenging. Once you get into the 8-12 week pre-event build period, you start to hear less talk about 90% 20min efforts and more talk about 100-105% 10min efforts.

The other thing I read into this is that traditional linear periodization called for large volumes of L2 work during the base period. Most people don't have enough time on their hands to make that work well, so they raise the intensity up but still try to do as much volume as they can. Even though the intensity is higher than in a traditional base period, the focus is still on volume. Later in the build period they might lower volume and raise intensity.
 

daveryanwyoming

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Originally Posted by marcovelo125 ....Can anyone come up with a meaningful difference between, say, 2 x 20:00 @ 91% FTP and 3 x 10:00 @ 100% FTP?...
IME, the biggest difference is that many riders can hammer a bit harder in 10 minute efforts relying more heavily on their AWC to sustain more power but in the end not doing as much focused work on sustained metabolic power (FTP). And that applies for the same workout totals as in comparing 2x20 to 4x10, in your example I strongly prefer 2x20 or even 1x40 to a 3x10 set a higher intensity.

A few years back I did a six week stint where I moved my normal 2x20 flat ride to a hill that took just about 10 minutes to climb. I hammered out some big numbers on that climb and typically did a set of five repeats for 50 minutes of Threshold or above Threshold work but my FTP and performance during longer efforts didn't improve. I went back to my longer sustained efforts at slightly lower intensity and my FTP began climbing again. I've seen the same in riders I've worked with as well to the point where I try not to schedule L4 work that's less than at least 12 minutes long and I much prefer longer efforts like: 2x20s, 3x20s, 2x30s, 1x40s or even 1x60s as opposed to something like 4x10s.

One way to think about this is in terms of exhaustion times for higher end systems. IOW, very fit and reasonably fresh riders can sustain full out VO2 Max efforts for 6 to 8 minutes. Longer than that and they have to drop down to more sustainable systems to continue to supply energy to their efforts. Turn that around and you can think of the first 8 minutes or so of a solid L4 effort as exhausting the AWC contribution or that the really focused L4 work begins at that point. So in a 10 minute L4 effort first you'll get a substantial power boost from anaerobic processes and AWC and secondly you can think of that as roughly two minutes where you were really focused on sustainable metabolic processes proceeded by 8 minutes of pre-exhaustion. Turn that into a 15 minute effort and almost half of the work is relying on the system you're trying to focus on. Make those efforts longer but still hard for the duration and you're getting even more quality training time out of each effort. Take it up to a full hour and you pay the price of entry in the first eight minutes or so and get a solid 50+ minutes of really focused effort.

No real science to back this up but it's been discussed a fair amount on the Wattage List and many folks report the same thing, it pays to make individual Threshold efforts a bit longer even if the intensity has to drop a bit. I think there can be a time for the shorter more intense work such as specific event peaking or if you happen to have hills of just that length but ideally normal weekly L4 training will use longer efforts.

YMMV,
-Dave
 

gudujarlson

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Originally Posted by daveryanwyoming .

One way to think about this is in terms of exhaustion times for higher end systems. IOW, very fit and reasonably fresh riders can sustain full out VO2 Max efforts for 6 to 8 minutes. Longer than that and they have to drop down to more sustainable systems to continue to supply energy to their efforts. Turn that around and you can think of the first 8 minutes or so of a solid L4 effort as exhausting the AWC contribution or that the really focused L4 work begins at that point. So in a 10 minute L4 effort first you'll get a substantial power boost from anaerobic processes and AWC and secondly you can think of that as roughly two minutes where you were really focused on sustainable metabolic processes proceeded by 8 minutes of pre-exhaustion. Turn that into a 15 minute effort and almost half of the work is relying on the system you're trying to focus on. Make those efforts longer but still hard for the duration and you're getting even more quality training time out of each effort. Take it up to a full hour and you pay the price of entry in the first eight minutes or so and get a solid 50+ minutes of really focused effort.
This seems contrary to the concept described in Howe's paper (which I am currently reading) and elsewhere that you draw on your AWC when above threshold and recover it when below threshold. Do you ride above FTP for the first 8 minutes of your SST intervals?

I try to ride my SST intervals under FTP all the way through, but I definitely experience a fatigue that sets in a few minutes into the interval and stopping at stop light allows this to recover. So it definitely feels like I am drawing on my AWC (or some other energy reservoir) during sub-FTP intervals.

I've many times wondered if the same thing is true of longer L2/L3 rides. Is there a minimum duration to see any gains? Do all the gains from a long L2/L3 workout come in the last X minutes? If its true, then it would suggest that you must ride when fatigued to get gains. But then this would be contrary to the often heard wisdom to get enough rest so that you can do "quality" work, i.e. do work when fresh.
 

RapDaddyo

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Originally Posted by gudujarlson .


This seems contrary to the concept described in Howe's paper (which I am currently reading) and elsewhere that you draw on your AWC when above threshold and recover it when below threshold.
Note that only part of your AWC recovers when you drop intensity below your aerobic power threshold (FTP). That part recovers with a half-life of 30sec, so it is essentially fully recovered after 5mins and in fact is largely recovered after only about 3mins. The other part recovers only hours later, even overnight. Try doing a series of 120%FTP efforts to exhaustion with 5min recovery. You will experience a progressively declining duration for each successive effort.
 

dominikk85

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I think the common approach with pros is starting with a lot of miles at a low intensity and then as the races near they will shorten the intervalls and increase the intensity. that is called periodization.

I would say if you don't have time those L4 rides are a lot more specific and will give you more gains than long and moderate rides. on the flip side doing a high intensity over a long time can lead to stagnation or even burn out. the gains will come quickly with intense intervalls but then you might hit a plateau on which you will need more volume to progress more.

so if you have the time doing a base aerobic endurance phase before the intervalls might be the best thing. but as a rec rider doing a high intensity near FTP might give you the biggest bang for the buck (a pro won't do that in the winter just for the reason that he is doing so many hard miles that he just needs to give his body and nervous system some recreation time while staying in shape).
 

daveryanwyoming

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Originally Posted by gudujarlson .
... Do you ride above FTP for the first 8 minutes of your SST intervals?...
By definition, No of course not but the better question might be: do folks ride well above their FTP when they shorten their intervals to the bare minimum of 10 minutes and are they stressing the desired systems or are they hitting relatively high power numbers for shorter durations by relying on AWC contributions.

Once again you fail to pick up on the subtlety of:

...One way to think about this...
This is not a literal description of physiological processes and as I clearly stated there is no real science to back this up. You really seem to have a reading comprehension problem and view things unbelievably literally even when they are clearly not offered as literal scientific descriptions.

-Dave