Easy? Mellow? Endurance? Trying to clear up some of the confusion!

As coaches we often receive a myriad of questions when prescribing workouts to our athletes.  Recently, one of our clients emailed us these questions in regards to his training plan where there were both very easy 2 hour recovery type spins and longer “mellow” endurance rides prescribed.  Some really good information was exchanged that is certainly worth posting.

  • I’ve always been under the impression that endurance riding was a little harder then just spinning around. Kind of that zone where you just start to feel resistance and it affects the heart rate a bit.  Maybe for me, endurance heart rate varies in the mid 140s to low 150s area.  What’s the idea behind going easier still? Are there different benefits?  Do you get the same benefit or better from going slower?
  • Are long mellow rides supposed to be done at the same pace as a 2 hour easy spin?  Is one easier/harder then the other?

Here is Coach Ecker’s Response:
Let me see if I can help explain some of this.   Easy spinning is easier than a “mellow” ride.  Most folks will ride a bit too hard too often and then are a bit tired when they need to be fresh for hard interval work.  Easy spinning is meant to be just that – super easy small ring stuff – keeps the legs loose, physiological systems working, blood flowing, etc

The long endurance rides are a bit different.  Most folks that don’t have a power meter have no clue what their endurance rides look like on an output graph.  Most will have high spikes on every roller and then sections where they are riding a pretty hard tempo without knowing it.  Then later in the ride their power will often decay to a point below ideal as fatigue sets in.  The ride should be conversational pace and the analogy I always use is that you should pretend as if you are riding with someone that is not very fit and you need to nurse them along. (This is the exact opposite to riding with someone that half wheels you the entire ride – in both scenarios you are doing a mellow ride however they just land on slightly different sides of spectrum.

For long endurance rides, my philosophy is that there is HUGE benefit in many direct and indirect ways to doing longer rides during the season.  The problem is how to implement them without fatiguing the athlete and still fitting in  harder workouts and races (an the recovery necessary).  Almost all studies on training focus on the effects of different types of interval training and there really isn’t much out there on lower intensity training (endurance pace) when combined with an interval routine.  My argument is that by riding harder during your endurance ride it is not producing any added benefit (because the intensity level is well below any threshold zones).  My logic then continues, if it is not producing an added benefit then why do it especially when it does have a negative impact in terms of fatigue (both mentally and physically.)

There is also a component of what your body is utilizing as fuel during these rides and how that interfaces with really trying to be as lean as is possible.  Slower endurance rides typically mean burning more fat and less carbohydrates which is of benefit when trying to both reduce body mass and not completely deplete glycogen stores needed for harder efforts like interval days and racing.

I have done a TON of analysis on my own training as well as others I have coached and I can show you a pretty consistent pattern around what happens if your endurance activities are kept mellow versus a tad higher pace still in the “endurance” range.  Again, the primary benefit of endurance riding is the aerobic component of building efficiency in form (mechanical) and physiological systems. Which is different than the primary benefit of intervals which is increase lactate threshold and cardiovascular outputs (ie VO 2 max).

While there are many training theories and ideas out there I have seen this work with many people and can say that the bigger difference between your “easy” or “mellow” days and your “hard” interval days the better.

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