Zones, rides and reality

Ok here is what I am trying to figure out:

Let’s say we have a zone system, (choose one) they all fall into variations on the theme but Seiler’s 3 zone is pretty simple and the 5 zone a bit more complicated but understandable, etc.

You ride outside in the real world.

Say you are prescribed an endurance ride, where endurance is set as a ceiling of 80% of TP.

You live or ride in an area where it is hilly, so it is hard to stay at less than 80% TP because unless you walk it is not possible to crank the bike up the hill to home, or to go any distance without cranking up a hill.

So you look at the ride and see that your time in zones does not match you goal.

I understand in a basic way the Seiler concept of easy vs hard and trying to stay away from the middle but it seems I just end up spending way too much time in the wrong zones. I appreciate any guidance.


On the bike you can use your gears to stay in the right zone. Just accept that you are very slow uphill during your ‘long SLOW rides’. The distribution is not about speed, but time in zone.

Other challenges like traffic lights, traffic, wild animals etc etc will keep you from 100% adherence to the target zones. Thankfully your body is not a swiss watch. As long your session was clearly ‘slow’ or ‘fast’, you probably get the expected results of your training.

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I agree - I dont think there are too many situations where you cant crawl up hills if you leave your ego at the door, accept you’ll barely be moving forward sometimes and get a big cassette!

I know there are exceptions of course, but when the goal is a steady z2 endurance ride at low’ish power then try and deliberately plan the least hilly route possible and just focus on easy pedalling. The hardest part is probably letting the grandma on her shopping bike pass you up the hill… If its really not possible because you live in the hilliest place in the world, then try and go up in the lowest tempo effort you can and get back to endurance on the flats etc.

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MTB is an exception. My local single track trails are steep enough (and technical) that the lowest HR achievable is tempo zone while climbing, even in my 51T cog. I haven’t quite figured out a way around this, other than factoring in a bit more recovery. Long MTB rides will have a much higher stress score than long road ride for me where it’s easier to keep the HR down.

I’m a mtber and initially found the same, HR and power too high for Z1 (Seiler model). But as you keep on doing them you’ll find that your HR will come down into zone. It may take a few weeks/month but it will happen. I have a hill on my commute home with a 1:4 section that I set a goal of climbing in Z1, and know that when I can consistently do this and not in my lowest gear my aerobic fitness is where I need it to be. I also then find that my off-road loops become manageable at HR Z1 so LSD rides can be moved off-road and hence more enjoyable.

Stick at it and it’ll work, just like the starting off at 12 mph on the road with a z1 HR, which rises to nearly 20 mph on the same sections but a lower HR after 6 weeks or so - not slow distance anymore but more like long, steady distance


kjeldbontenbal is on the right track in my opinion. It’s a mistake to ascribe too much precision to the human body. If you go above/below your targets for the ride for a few minutes - no big deal. You didn’t “ruin” your ride.

Close enough is close enough. Enjoy your ride.

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I realize in one way or other you are right but I guess my question may not have been well worded. For nice easy math let us say I went out and was supposed to be in zone 1 Seiler or Less than Zone 3 (ie avoid zone 3…) in 5 zone model, however as is one such case I had a change and climbed up to home a back way that caused me to be 110-120 % Tp just to keep moving and for argument it took 10 minutes to ride… that is 20% of the ride way outside the plan so to speak. In the micro picture this violated the plan but in the Macro scale does it really matter? Another thing is if one knows it is going to mess the plan is it better to just go all in and really go to zone 5 for a shorter period of time>? in the end the stress is probably the same? just higher stress shorter duration… then back to z1. I think maybe I just went down the rabbit hole here :slightly_smiling_face:

Those 10 minutes are not ideal for an endurance ride.
A) get yourself a higher gear, or
B) work on your endurance by making your rides longer at low intensity, or
C) buy a house in the valley, or
D) try B again

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A lot of cyclist around here have been asking me why I’m going so slow these days, and now that I have improved dramatically, even more so. In explaining it I get a lot of ( ill fall over if I go that easy) so I did a test.
On a flat road I can go 10km/h and still go in a straight line up a hill 4km/h is still manageable.

I only own one bike a XC (MTB) and guess what it rides perfectly well on any road gravel or tar.

Is any of this fun no not at all but if you want to have fun on every ride that is great and you should go for it, nothing wrong with that.

But if you want to perform at your best then you wil have to do a lot of boring ours for a long time.

@scooter, great question. There were some excellent suggestions so far from the community! I wouldn’t have much more to add to this. Here’s my take…
You identified the problem and solution(s) in your recent post, so my addition would be that it doesn’t really matter. Pick one and go with it. Next time, do it differently just for fun! :grin:

Your point about just going Z5 if you know it’s going to be hard is definitely one approach. If you’re going against the plan anyway and building fatigue, why not shorten the time and just get it done faster. If nothing else, you’ll have a range, maybe 7-10 minutes, where you can feed the power-duration curve if you’re into that sort of thing. Then you can have some efforts in that range that may be useful for your long-term tracking and analysis.

On the other hand, my first reaction to this problem is pretty much what @kjeldbontenbal suggested. Get a higher gear on the bike, or get out of the saddle, let the cadence drop to whatever your lowest manageable rate is, and work on keeping HR as low as possible. You’ll probably spend more than 10 mins on that section, but it will get easier over time. And you’ll feel like a boss on that climb when you ride in the same gear with a lower RPE or even in a higher gear a few months down the road!

@scooter I agree with Ryan… great question and not sure I have much to add. This is one of the biggest challenges and something not only my athletes struggle with, but I struggle with myself living by the mountains.

The one thing I can add is to mention our recent conversation with Dr Seiler where we pointed out that when you analyze cyclists’ training data it tends to be more pyramidal than polarized. He pointed out that one big reason for that is because cyclists do have to get over climbs where they have no choice but to go into that middle zone 2. So yes, to a degree, you just have to deal with it.

That said, while I think while this has all been covered in this conversation, here’s what I do:

  1. Go really slow and put a really big cassette on my bike (I have a 32-12 for the winter) - last week I was going up a climb called Lee Hill on my road race bike and a guy passed me on a clunker of a mountain bike. I did not chase him.

  2. I personally avoid routes in the base season that have really tough climbs.

  3. To further that - most days I stick to the easier routes and stick to the rules, but I let myself have a periodic day to hit something “fun” and break the rules. It’s the “if you’re eating vegetables most of the time, it’s alright to have a periodic treat.”

Hope that helps!