Your training questions answered with Dig Deep Coaching: part four

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Over the past few months we’ve been working with the team at Dig Deep Coaching to help answer your questions about training, nutrition and more. In this fourth instalment Stephen Gallagher and Dan Fleeman from Dig Deep answer another bunch of your questions, providing insight that everyone can benefit from.

I’m starting to train with a heart rate monitor and wondered the best way to work out and train in each of my zones. My long term aim is to become stronger and faster.

Nick Gayle

Hi Nick,

I would suggest doing a 20-minute test to establish your threshold heart rate. With heart rate in general there are lots of variables so this might not be an exact science but should be fine for establishing your zones.

I would do a good warm up of around 20 minutes easy pedalling then a 10-minute ramp slowly increasing the pace so the last minute is all out. Then do another five minutes easy pedalling before starting the test.

Set a lap on your heartrate monitor. The aim is to average the highest figure you can over the entire 20 minutes. It important not to start too fast as this could mean you fall away before the end.

Note down the average recorded for the 20 minutes then do a 15-20 cool down.

There are various zone calculators online but I would suggest using the Andy Coggan one.

Hope this helps and good luck.

Answer by Dan Fleeman.


I would like to maximize my strength, especially on hills, but I have never and may never do structured training – I prefer just to ride and I dislike the trainer.

To give you some context, a heartrate zone analysis from a recent ride showed that I spent 2% of the ride in zone 1 (endurance), 23% at zone 2 (moderate intensity), 46% at zone 3 (tempo), 29% at zone 4 (threshold) and no time in zone 5 (anaerobic). I’m not sure that I can put in much more effort than this. My max heartrate is 154, about five above the age formula.

Here is my question: what benefit am I missing because I’m not doing any structured training?

Don Macrae

Hi Don,
Thanks for your question and the detail provided. Firstly I would look at re-evaluating your training zones. If this is a normal weekend ride I can see that you spent a considerable amount of time in threshold which, for a normal ‘steady’ ride, looks a bit excessive. It would lead me to believe that your zones are ranged a bit low.

I would not advise estimating your max heartrate based on your age — from experience the zones given from this formula are extremely variable.


Secondly I would always advise using some sort of basic structure to your own personal training. This does not have to be overly scientific or detailed but it must have some sort of method behind it to allow you to improve in the areas which you wish to gain in.

For example, if you wish to improve on hills then you need to see where you are weak and build specific ways to improve into your own training. So perhaps your power/weight is not what it should be to perform on longer hills, so increasing this ratio will be critical. Also look at specific hill reps and performing efforts at different cadences so you are adapted to producing power at a different torque.

Making it progressive will also help you enhance and improve towards a goal. By simply ‘riding your bike’ it is a great way to be generally fit and aerobically adequate to perform at a good level but you lose the edge that you might have from not making your training specific. In this way you might never reach your true potential.

I hope this helps and that perhaps adding some structure to your training will assist you with future goals.

Answer by Stephen Gallagher.

Hi coaches,

What is the best way to use heartrate to get time-trialling/ hill-climbing fitness fast. I commute 30km each way 4-5 times per week. I was a very fit recreational cyclist before a traffic accident smashed my right lateral tibial plateau and fractured the medial tibial plateau resulting in almost complete loss of fitness over 18 months.

I’m not interested in racing other than for a bit of fun. I want to be strong and be able to go hard for 3-4 hours. My resting heartrate is 37bpm and my max heartrate is 195 (running or riding). I’ve been doing sub-80% riding with one day of flat out. The only tech I have is a Suunto Ambit 2.

Cheers, James

Hi James,

A 30km-each-way commute is great and gives you plenty of time to get in some good quality training.

I would focus on doing lots of Z3 or ‘sweet-spot’ (SS) work, where sweet-spot refers to 95-98% of your FTP (Functional Threshold Power). You could start with 10-15 minutes of easy riding then a 20-minute SS block, followed by another 10-15-minute cool down which should get you most of the way to work. Over time I would increase the SS up to 40 minutes.


Another session could be a simple five-minute warm up then ride Z3 tempo effort all the way, apart from the final five minutes which is a cool down.

The third session is again a good warm up of 15-20 minutes then five minutes at Z4 threshold, five minutes easy and repeat x 4 then 10-15 minutes cool down. Again you can add more reps over time.

I would cycle these sessions to keep things interesting and slowly ramp up the time in each zone and number of reps. Try doing two days on, one day off with the off day either an easy recover ride or no riding at all.

Hope this helps.

Answer by Dan Fleeman.


I am structuring an off-season training plan with a focus on peaking in March 2015. My wife is expecting (twins!) in April so I basically have two weekends of racing next year before I go on baby duty. I will be going into my second year of racing so my body has a long way to go to get it where I would like to be.

We are going into the Fall/Winter months here in the northwest USA so a majority of my training will be done inside coupled with a weekend team ride (80-120 km) and commuting (20km each way) when weather cooperates. In addition to adding power I would also like to lose 6-7kg in five month to get me down to 81kg by the start of race season.

My current training schedule is as follows:

Monday – an hour on the trainer with DVD coach and a focus on sprinting
Tuesday – an hour on the trainer with two 20-minute efforts, one at high cadence (100-115rpm), one at 85. The second 20-minute effort is at zone 4.
Wednesday or Thursday – an hour on the trainer with DVD coach and a focus on strength
Saturday – Club ride

Is this adequate to achieve my goals? The races I will be doing in March are short (less than 60km) but I am worried that the time on the trainer might not be enough to achieve my weight loss/endurance goals.

Thank you,
Gordon Tangen

Hi Gordon,

Thanks for your email. Firstly with the weight loss I think you need to focus a lot on your day-to-day habits and eating patterns rather than trying to change/increase your training volume/frequency. You need to make good choices in your eating while maintaining adequate calorie intake if you want to perform your training to the best of your ability.

Looking at your current plan I think for the current time of year you are hitting many areas which needs to be worked on, so well done with that.

What I would recommend is that you make it progressive and that you plan specific rest periods as your training cycle progress. For example, every three weeks have three days off back-to-back or build in five days of reduced training volume. A lot of people neglect the necessity of building rest days into their plans and always focus on training days. Just make sure you have this in check.

Don't underestimate the importance of rest when it comes to improving your fitness.
Don’t underestimate the importance of rest when it comes to improving your fitness.

I would also adapt different sessions into the plan every three to five weeks (depending on how you progress and adapt) so as to continue your development in specific areas. Doing this, along with increasing your time spent in Z4 and reducing the strength work after the New Year and replacing this with lactate tolerance efforts or specific VO2 work, will help towards hitting a peak come March.

We wish you all the best with the new arrivals in April and enjoy the training.

Answer by Stephen Gallagher.


I’m a 35-year-old amateur cyclist, nothing special, local level rider (local rides and races). Winter is coming and I’m willing to prepare better for next season.

I would like to build a good base during the winter on the cyclotrainer. So my major question is how or when will I know that I have decent base? When am I ready to start building strength, speed etc?

Thanks, Vlad.

Hi Vlad,

Thanks for the question and I hope you are ready and motivated for the 2015 season. To build your ‘base’ can mean a few things. Typically its meaning is developing your endurance fitness before adding your top-end efforts which are more race specific.

To build an endurance base on an indoor cyclotrainer means that you will normally have less total hours to spend to develop this base as riding indoors for 3-4 hours can be a lot more mentally and sometimes physically laborious than riding outdoors. So I am presuming that you have a shorter amount of time to spend on the turbo — i.e one-to-two-hour sessions.

My advice is to spend the majority of your time in the ‘tempo’ zone. This is normally around 80-90% of your functional threshold heartrate, or 75-85% of functional threshold power. This is generally a higher effort than your traditional endurance ride which you would normally perform outside either with a group or solo at this time of year.

Spending blocks of time in this zone — i.e from 30 minutes up to one hour — during these indoor sessions will be a great way to build base and you can alternate cadences to help with leg speed/strength development.

You will be able to see adaptations when you find that your cardiac drift starts to flat line and not begin to gradually rise over the duration of the effort or overall session. This is very easily seen when using a powermeter as you can make sure that your effort is constant — e.g. riding at 230-250 watts for tempo effort — and that your heartrate starts to reduce the upward drift as you maintain a solid effort.

This begins to show that your body is adapting to riding at a constant effort and your aerobic system is beginning to adapt and not fatiguing or working as hard to keep this intensity. After you see this I would begin to start building the higher intensity work — threshold, VO2, anaerobic efforts but still maintaining this base fitness with solid rides in the tempo zone.

I hope this helps and good luck with the preparation.

Question answered by Stephen Gallagher.


Do you have questions you’d like to ask of the Dig Deep Coaching team? Simply send an email to with the subject line “Dig Deep Coaching question” and we’ll forward it on to the appropriate person at Dig Deep. The team will select some questions to answer in the next instalment in this series.

For further information on Dig Deep Coaching and useful tips on all aspects of performance please head to their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow the links below to read previous instalments in this series:

To listen to and watch a webinar we recorded with the Dig Deep team in September, click here.

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