Cyclists train in many different ways depending on their goals, time restraints and fitness levels. Often this training consists of riding in certain predefined zones that a rider measures based on a power meter, heart rate monitor or perceived exertion. Each training zone is designed to work on different aspects of a cyclist's fitness. One of those zones is the tempo zone, also known as tempo riding.
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Most cycling coaches define heart rate and training zones in the form of five or six different categories. Of these categories, tempo riding tends to fall right in the middle. It's just above pure aerobic training and just below working at lactate threshold. Therefore, tempo riding is not without effort and would be difficult to sustain the required pace for hours, but it doesn't require so much effort that it quickly tires you out. In a bicycle race, the peloton -- or group of riders -- often works at this steady pace, performing tempo riding until there is an attack or until they need to bridge a gap.
Tempo training is often performed in the off-season toward the end of a cyclist's base training. This is the time when cyclists are accumulating miles, conditioning their systems for riding and working to improve their aerobic systems. A strong aerobic base allows a cyclist to pedal for hours without tiring and increases endurance. Tempo work also helps cyclists maintain their lactate threshold by working in the top end of their aerobic zone.
A tempo workout should be performed at about 15 beats below your lactate threshold. To determine your lactate threshold, use a heart-rate monitor with an average function and set the timer on your stopwatch for 20 minutes. Ride at full speed for five minutes and then maintain an easy pace for 10 minutes and then cool down for five. Your average power, minus five percent will be your lactate threshold. This number is different for every rider. Use a heart rate monitor to find and then stay in this zone. Tempo work can be performed on a trainer or outside. The key is to stay in the correct heart rate zone for the allotted amount of time.
Begin with an easy warmup for 10 to 20 minutes. Then increase your effort until you are in the tempo zone. Stay there for 10 minutes, then cool down for three minutes. Then return to your tempo zone for 10 more minutes, and cool down. Advanced riders can do three to five 10-minute efforts or two 15- to 20-minute intervals.
Some coaches refer to tempo training as riding in "no man's land" because you're working between the aerobic and endurance zones. For this reason, it's important to set specific goals for each ride to avoid always defaulting to the comfortable but fast pace that tempo riding offers. Push yourself to ride harder, just below lactate threshold, or set aside a block of two or more hours to ride at a slower aerobic pace. Mixing up your training can result in better fitness and keep you from getting bored during long workouts.