Cycling Endurance Rides Deserve More Respect

What Is An Endurance Ride In Cycling?

It seems like an endurance, or Zone 2 ride, would be the ride that athletes have the easiest time nailing down. It doesn’t have any specific intervals that one has to remember, it doesn’t have different wattage targets that you have to be able to recall when your eyes are popping out of your socket like in Zone 5, and it’s a really fun ride. An endurance ride is, simply put, just going out and riding your bike.

After coaching athletes for over 10 years, I’ve seen that this has been one of the hardest portions for people to nail, and it’s one of the most important in becoming a great endurance athlete. Whether the entire ride is an endurance ride, or there are intervals followed by the rest of the ride at endurance, athletes seem to struggle with this. So, I wrote a blog on it.

What Is The Endurance Zone?

While the point of this article is to focus on endurance, this is a great time to go through and really define each zone. At Collaborative Coaching Group, almost 95% of our athletes use power, so we are going to focus on those zones. If you don’t have a power meter, contact us and we can get you a sweet deal on a SRAM Quarq, which many of our athletes use, including Brendan. The main benefit over heart rate is that you will have an exact second by second diary of every ride that you complete, with second by second data! The data from a heart rate monitor lags, and really cannot capture the stop and go efforts within cycling. The difference in coaching an athlete with power, versus only heart rate, is night and day.

Power Zones for Cycling

Zone 1, Active Recovery: less than 55% FTP

Zone 2, Endurance: 56-75% FTP

Zone 3, Tempo: 76-88% FTP

Zone 4a, Sweet Spot: 88-97% FTP

Zone 4b, Threshold: 95-105% FTP

Okay, now this is where things get a little tricky. If you’re coaching yourself, or, not to be rude, your coach is antiquated, you’ll have two more zones.

Zone 5, VO2Max, 106-120% FTP

Zone 6, Neuromuscular, 121% FTP or more

If your coach is utilizing the most advanced data analysis software that is out, WKO4, you’ll be working with 9 zones, but he probably won’t get into all of that with you. It’s a deeper dive, and really not that important to know all of the time, because your coach should be specifying the exact wattages you’re aiming for in each workout, with 30watt buckets.

Extensive Aerobic – for all intensive purposes, this is threshold that you can hold for long periods of time, like 35 minutes or more

Intensive Aerobic – for all intensive purposes, this is the threshold region for watts that you can hold for about 20 minutes

Max Aerobic: VO2Max type efforts

Extensive Anaerobic the low end of your traditional Zone 6 (125% FTP)

Intensive Anaerobic: even harder Zone 6, around 30s in duration

PMax: an all out sprint, durations 10s or less

Examples of an Endurance Ride

It amazes me when I look into an athlete’s account to ensure that they did an endurance ride and this is what I see:

This is not endurance.
This one is better, but there’s still 10% at Zone 4 or higher.

The first one is really nothing near an endurance ride, and many times the endurance ride gets sabotaged by their friends. I get it. You’re out riding with your friends, and people that are either on a free ride or don’t seriously train, are going after every townline sprint and Strava KOM/QOM. You stick to your guns for the first few surges, but then you figure, “A few hard efforts won’t KILL me”, and that looks fun, so you join in. Instead of sticking to the endurance ride, you end up with what are just some half assed sprint efforts and maybe a KOM. You’re tired, so it feels like a great workout. In reality, you’re just tired. Your coach had the endurance ride down for a reason, or he simply wanted to keep your legs fresh to really crush the next hard intervals later in the week.

If you want to get better, you have to go easy sometimes. Sometimes that easy means NOT riding at all, or sometimes it means riding endurance. Here’s the thing, sometimes endurance feels hard, because you’ve trained a lot and you’ve really squeezed the last bit out of every interval during the week. On those days, you’ll gladly stick to endurance, and it may even be hard to HOLD endurance for 2-3 hours. Those days make gains!

Here is what your endurance ride should look like. I’ve included screen shots from WKO, Strava, and Training Peaks, so whatever cycling software you are using, you can take a peek.

Zone 2 Ride in WKO4
Zone 2 Ride in Training Peaks
Zone 2 Ride in Strava

Power Distribution Charts for Endurance Rides

Another thing that you’ll want to take note of is the amount of time that you spent in zone 2. Another mistake that athletes make when going out for an “endurance ride” is that they totally miss zone 2 and spend a massive amount of time in zone 1; oftentimes over 30%! They see “endurance” on their calendar and they don’t give it the respect it deserves. Go out and ride endurance for 2 hours straight. It’s not that easy. Try to keep your zone 1 watts to about 10% of your total ride time. I recommend aiming for the higher end of your zone 2, so you will get some tempo (zone 3) wattage in there. Since most of us only have a max of 2 hours per weekday to train, I’m okay with an athlete throwing more tempo in if they don’t have a big race coming up. You’ll get many of the same physiological adaptations, but be careful, because too much tempo is a recipe for cracking. I call tempo the silent killer, but it’s an effective training tool.

 Great Endurance Ride: Very little time in Zone 1, All of it in Zone 2

Tempo Ride in WKO4

Give endurance rides the respect that they deserve and you will continue to build up your aerobic engine and become a faster and stronger cyclist whose body can handle harder and harder intense training sessions as you mature as an athlete. You shouldn’t feel wrecked after EVERY workout! 

Do you want to get stronger on the bike? Do you want to come out next spring and drop your friends that are currently faster than you? I can make that happen for you, as I’ve done for a hundred others. Contact me today.

Brendan Housler is one of three coaches for Collaborative Coaching, based in Tennessee. We coach athletes of all levels, so whether you are hitting your first gran fondo next year, just trying to finally drop your neighbor on the weekend ride, or winning a national championship, contact him today to learn more about how you can get faster! Check out his links below:

Strava mega rides
Personal Blog, aka Sasqwatts
Racing Palmarès
Send me a message on Messenger, or email me at heyobrendan@gmail.com
I rarely Tweet