Tempo Training Cycling Guide: How To Perform A Tempo Ride

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Tempo training cycling is a great alternative to Zone 2 training and an excellent way to improve your aerobic performance.

Zone 2 rides are long rides at low intensity, which are pretty easy going on your body while going a long way to improving your fitness. These endurance rides have their place, but you can get similar results by going on shorter rides with higher intensity using tempo training.

Tempo training (also known as sweet spot training) is a great thing to do after you have built up a base level of fitness. This can help fast-track your fitness to the next level.

In this article, we will cover:

  • What Is Tempo Training Cycling?
  • The Benefits Of Tempo Training
  • When You Should Add Tempo Training Cycling To Your Routine
  • How To Make The Most Of Your Tempo Training

Let’s look at improving fitness in less time!

Tempo Training Cycling

What Is Tempo Training Cycling?

When tempo training cycling, you ride somewhere between 76 and 90% of your FTP (Functional Threshold Power). If you do an FTP test and have a power meter, you can accurately stay at the correct intensity.

If you don’t have a power meter, try to ride at a pace that would allow you to talk to someone riding alongside you while your pedaling is slightly labored.

At this intensity, you will need to catch your breath now and then, but an easy conversation should be possible.

Tempo training cycling is commonly substituted for zone 2 riding, which sits between 50 and 75% of your FTP. Both tempo and zone 2 training improve the same areas of your body, including your aerobic fitness.

However, zone 2 training is better when low-intensity is required – for example, if you’ve been training hard and just need to keep your legs spinning or if you’re recovering from an injury.

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The Benefits Of Tempo Training

Most tempo training cycling takes place during the off-season and after the rider has built up a base fitness level. This is when you will be clocking up the miles to acclimatize your system for the more intense rides to come and to improve your aerobic fitness.

The advantage of having good aerobic fitness is that you can ride for many hours before getting tired, boosting your endurance. Tempo training cycling also helps you to maintain your lactate threshold as you work at the top of your aerobic zone.

Most people consider cycling to be an endurance sport, so they naturally want to be able to ride for longer. But you can’t ride at 100% for hours every time you go out on your bike; you’ll burn out!

This is where tempo training cycling comes in, as it has the additional benefit of improving your aerobic fitness in less time than endurance training does. However, bear in mind that it’s much more fatiguing!

It is common for people who use exercise bikes during the winter to get bored of pedaling at 75% every ride. Therefore, they crank up the effort to ride in the tempo training zone. This creates improvements in their aerobic fitness, so they’ll often keep doing it throughout winter. 

However, these riders sometimes find that they’ve overtrained before the winter is over. This can leave them demotivated for the cycling season, especially if they’re injured or have fallen ill a couple of times.

Therefore, you need to know when to rein it in and not go overboard with your tempo training cycling, even though it has its benefits.

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When You Should Add Tempo Training Cycling To Your Routine

There are a few scenarios when tempo training cycling is the ideal way to work out. Here are a few suggestions:

#1: When You’re Stuck Inside

If you have a long endurance ride planned but the weather is keeping you shut indoors, tempo training cycling on a stationary bike is ideal.

You can substitute your 3 to 5-hour ride for a much shorter workout without leaving home!

Do 3 intervals, each one 20 minutes long, but make sure you ride at 86 to 90% of your FTP. Or, if you’re feeling extra energetic, do one 60 minute ride at the same intensity.

#2: When You’re Building Your Base Fitness

When you are just beginning to build your base fitness and starting to exercise regularly, you have a choice when it comes to improving your aerobic fitness.

At this stage, you can use either zone 2 or tempo training. By going tempo training cycling or riding for longer durations, you will enhance your aerobic capabilities.

You will also want to improve your ability to ride for longer at higher intensities. This is another benefit of tempo training cycling – but as we mentioned earlier, you can get similar results in a fraction of the time required for zone 2 training!

#3: During A Big Build Phase

When you are in a big build phase, you need to keep the intensity of your training high. Tempo training cycling is an excellent way to do it.

Let’s assume you’ve had a day off exercising on Monday after a weekend of hard riding, but you’ve got another high-intensity training session scheduled for Tuesday. 

If you add a tempo ride in on Wednesday, you can ride for longer, so you can focus on riding harder and for a longer duration.

#4: When Time Is Tight

These days, many of us have tight schedules that don’t allow us to spend hours riding bikes. If this is you, do a couple of tempo rides per week in between your more intense rides.

This tempo training cycling will put you on a par with riders who cycle for 2 to 3 hours. However, you need to ensure that you give yourself adequate time to recover, as you’ll be riding at a higher intensity.

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3 Tips For Making The Most Of Your Tempo Training

#1. Take Small Steps With Your Intervals

Don’t go all out straight away. It’s best to ease yourself into tempo training cycling, especially if you’re new to a formalized training schedule.

It’s best to begin with 10-minute intervals. Do these intervals 3 times, but increase the time to 15 minutes per interval when you feel like you are progressing. Then start to do 4 intervals of 20 minutes as you get fitter, and so on.

Your goal is to extend the intervals until you can push for 120 minutes. This will take a couple of cycling seasons, but you will eventually find it doable as long as you take baby steps.

#2. Be Patient

Don’t expect overnight results, even though tempo training cycling is quicker than zone 2 training. You are playing the long game, and you won’t want to do it all the time anyway, as you would have no time for your higher intensity rides or anything that will get you race-ready.

Your workout schedule will have lots of hard sessions included, but your body can only do so much. Therefore, you also need to add easier sessions that improve your aerobic fitness.

When you work on endurance, the improvements can take a while to become apparent. Tempo cycling training should produce results in around 3 to 6 months.

You will notice your average heart rate decrease on easier rides, and you’ll be able to ride further at the same consistent effort.

#3. Set Yourself Goals For Your Cycling

Setting yourself goals is a great motivational tactic for just about any training style, and tempo training is no different.

Giving yourself targets to work for helps you measure your progress, and the satisfaction of feeling your cycling improve will help you drive you on through the rest of your training!

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Now You Know All About Tempo Training Cycling

It’s time to put your tempo training knowledge to use in your own cycling workouts!

Mix up your routine to include rides that put you just below your lactate threshold and ones that are longer at a slower pace.

This helps keep your workouts varied, preventing you from getting bored while resulting in better cycling fitness!

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Tom is an experienced freelance cycling journalist and mountain biking expert who competed nationally in the junior ranks. Now based in the world-famous mountain biking destination of Morzine in the French Alps, Tom spends his summers shredding off-road trails by bike and his winters on the same mountains on a snowboard.

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