Learning how to better execute your workouts: Calibrating your legs and feeling your training zones

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

How you execute a workout is just as important as the design of it. Simply reading the details and understanding what the goal is won’t make you fitter, faster, and stronger. You actually have to do it! (duh ;-) The better you get at how you do the details of your daily prescriptions, the more effective your training will be.

ERG mode is a helpful tool to guide you through the process of learning how to DO your workouts in three main ways. First, ERG will create high and low power boundaries that keep you in the target zone. This is often difficult for four categories of riders:

  1. Those who have never trained with power; this is a completely new idea

  2. The rabbit chaser, someone who easily gets sucked into riding too hard; you see people, you chase people

  3. Those with the mindset that harder is better; every time you ride, you feel like you haven't trained unless you've destroyed yourself

  4. The drifter who struggles with concentration; instead of riding too hard, you're constantly dropping out of the prescribed zone

ERG mode will help all these categories of riders practice the SKILL of staying in a training zone. (And I did say practice. I did not say flip a light switch!)

The second way ERG can be extremely helpful is to calibrate the feel in your legs to your power number. When you have your FTP set correctly, ERG defines the power range for the zone and traps you into this prescribed zone. As ERG forces you to ride the correct power for the zone, your legs FEEL this power. At the same time, your brain is recognizing and connecting this power range to your legs. This creates an excellent biofeedback mechanism and allows you to CALIBRATE your feel to the power.

Third is pedaling. The ability to make steady pressure as you pedal is important for outside riding. I’m definitely not talking about a perfect 360 degree pedal stroke (watch me pedal sometime ;-), but the consistent left to right power drive and rhythm. When riding outside, this skill of producing steady power within the targeted power zone will give you the best stimulus for the desired physiological training response. It will also help you maximize your training time. Additionally, since there is no soft pedaling on the ERG without being eaten by the ERG Monster, ERG riding also reinforces the mental discipline to pedal.

Why is all this important?

First, when you go outside to ride, you are no longer in a laboratory type environment (aka your pain cave.) The mental skills of always pedaling- of not losing focus and riding too easy or too hard- get put into practice. Also outside, you must deal with the constantly changing terrain, wind, and road surface. Adjusting your power to stay in the right zone requires the right FEEL of that zone. For example, trying to do a zone 2 ride on a hilly route means you will have to adjust your power output lower as you climb, while focusing on pedaling harder to make enough power as you go downhill. Your speed will not stay the same, but the steady pressure “feel” in your legs should. The better you get at flattening out your route ‘by feel’ the more of your time will be spent in Z2 or the prescribed zone.

Second, this idea of “FEEL” becomes extremely important as your fitness begins to change. The numbers are important in the beginning. However, as you gain the right ‘feel’ for the different zones, you don’t have to be caged in by a power range. You can allow your power to drift upwards by feel. This is not intentionally riding harder! It is a gradual increase that happens by maintaining the same ‘feel’ as you have been riding and not by any added effort. Don’t go looking for this. Instead, focus on finding your ‘feel’ in the zones at the beginning of each cycle or new type of work. Then let the drift happen organically as your fitness changes. On the flip side, when you are having a bad day (yes that happens and is normal,) riding by feel will get you through the day.

SO as you ERG right now, learn the skills of staying in the zone and pedaling consistently and then calibrate the FEEL of the zone to your body! Then, if your power meter doesn’t work in your “world championship,” you can still be Golden!


About the Author

Amber Neben is a BaseCamp coach, USAC II coach, 2x USA Olympian, world champion TT (2X) and TTT, author of the book When Shmack Happens, founder/president of the Dare To Be Project, Embracing Adversity expert, melanoma survivor, and 2021 USA Olympic long team member. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook!

PX4 | Perseverance, Patience, Perspective, Power®

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