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Training is fundamentally about changing homeostasis to elicit a specific response. The response we want is improved or “optimized” fitness with minimal fatigue on race day. When training consists of repeated bouts of maximal stimulus, the organism either adapts or breaks down. Over long periods of time, repeating the same stimulus leads to a non-responsive system.As coaches and riders, we are frequently confused about how to distribute load within a workout and within a block of training. I recently had a discussion with a client about this topic. One important point is that the aerobic system should be trained differently than the anaerobic system (broadly speaking).

As coaches and riders, we are frequently confused about how to distribute load within a workout and within a block of training. I recently had a discussion with a client about this topic. One important point is that the aerobic system should be trained differently than the anaerobic system (broadly speaking).

The fact that you were totally blown the next day is a great indicator that enough, or possibly too much, work was done. We (as athletes) tend to think of workouts in the traditional “go until you fail” paradigm:  4 sets of 12 reps of bicep curls at the gym, with the last rep in each set being “to failure”. In this line of thought, only if you barely complete the last rep of the last set has the mission objective been completed.

In endurance sports, and in particular in cycling, it is not always constructive to think of workouts in this respect. We cannot have workouts that are maximal stimulus all the time, even if they are countered with easy rest days; the training becomes too polarized. This training technique can and does work well at certain points in an athlete’s training calendar, but it is not desirable or constructive to train like this all the time.

When training aerobic pathways, there is no “final rep”, because as long as you kept eating and drinking, its theoretically possible to keep riding in Z2 forever. Does this mean we want you to do 12 hour rides to “maximally stimulate the aerobic system”? There is a rate of return on the positive stimulus an athlete will respond to versus the damage that training causes. Think of every workout as a return on investment.

Of course, there are times to have maximal load on the bike in workouts. We have to define what failure is: for the purposes of pursuit work, this could mean no longer riding at target race pace. Generally speaking, when a rider cannot maintain race pace or higher on the track, the set should be done. This should be seen as the “last rep”.