Before you start exercising vigorously, there might be some basics you should familiarize yourself with. This article will get you up to speed with some of the most essential of these.

The principles
First, let me explain the principle of getting better by training. Maybe you have heard of the effect of supercompensation. It is quite a well-known principle, but even in the pro ranks it is still not always applied properly. The bottomline is, you don’t get better while exercising, you get better by resting afterwards. That means a workout fatigues the body, after which your body realizes it should be better prepared the next time you decide to pull a stunt like that.

That also means that if your body is still recovering from the last blow, you shouldn’t start exercising yet. If you apply this rule properly, you should start exercising every time at the very moment your body has not only recovered but is also even slightly better than before your last workout. Also, if you wait too long the training effect will already have faded away. The moment your body is at this peak depends on how fast your body recovers and how hard the last workout was. The better you get, the faster you recover, and so the more training your body can handle and by that the better you get. Et voila, you are in an upward circle on your way to the pro ranks.

Continuity
Secondly, the most scientifically proven concept of training is continuity. So, before you start with intensity distributions, tapering or periodization, first make sure you just keep on training. After a long training period, one week of rest can allow the body to recover and get even better. But training one week and taking a week of rest afterwards will bring you nothing. So, first and foremost, try to create fixed training possibilities during the week and stick to them, instead of training one week for 10 hours and the next for only two.

I have just touched on intensity distribution here about intensity distribution and to be honest you could write a book about this topic. I would actually estimate about fifty authors already did. So, let’s not get too deep into the specifics.

Train specific
However, one very important rule is that you have to train specific. That means if you are training to become a better cyclist it makes no sense to start ski jumping. To put it differently, if you train for a cyclo like La Marmotte, you need to break down the specifics you need for this challenge and train with those ingredients. For example, for this one you will need a lot of endurance, so you just need to train long distances. And before anyone tells you that a certain exercise or workout is really good, please realize there is no such thing as a good workout. There is only a good combination of workouts (or a bad one) depending on what level you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are and what you are training for. And when you know this you can train on it specifically and therefore at the right intensity.

Heart rate or power zones
Zones can be really helpful in finding this right intensity. You can either work with heartrate zones or power zones, but if you can choose please go for the latter. Both are actually composed around the idea that you have a certain heart rate or wattage that you can just barely sustain for one hour. This is what we call your heart rate threshold and functional threshold power (FTP). You can have yourself tested at a sports facility to find out these numbers, but you could also do a 20-minute FTP exercise test and by taking 95% of this value you would have a pretty fair estimation of what your FTP should be. This threshold heartrate or FTP is the 100% on which we calculate your zones. The way these zones are set is actually quite arbitrary, but for heart rate zones recovery (60-75%), D1 (75-85%), D2 (85-95%), D3 (95-100%) and resistance (100%-max) is quite common. For power zones there are a lot of different approaches, but the one we work with is recovery (0-60%), extensive (60-75%), intensive (75-85%), tempo (85-95%), threshold (95-105%), VO2-max (105-120%), anaerobic (120-200%) and sprint (200%-max).

As you can see, the heart rate zones and power zones don’t match one on one. And please do not try to match both anyway. Heart rate is highly influenced by the former workouts you have done, amounts of sleep, stress, fatigue, caffeine, dehydration and much more. Also, power doesn’t always work like clockwork, because sometimes you have a good day and sometimes you just don’t. But, to put it short, if heart rate was a valid and reliable intensity indicator for how hard the intensity is for your body, then the power meter would be never invented.

So, if one day your heart rate is lower for a certain power output than the week before, don’t start celebrating just yet but take into consideration that other factors could be in play. If you see a trend over multiple workouts you are probably progressing. Hurray!

Also, the power zones differentiate more above 100%. The reason for that is that the heart rate response is just very slow. It takes a while to get your heart rate at its peak. So, if you are sprinting your lungs out, your heart is probably still half way D3. Looking at a heart rate monitor to see how good you are sprinting isn’t such a good idea.

So, with these basics there should be nothing in your way to pick a goal, identify the ingredients, make a plan and stick to it.