Why Endurance Athletes Should Spend Time in the Steady State Zone

Health & Fitness

  • Author Rob Martin
  • Published September 22, 2022
  • Word count 620

What’s a great way to increase my max sustainable power asks the gravel racer? Gravel and road cyclists need to be able to sustain a high power output for a long time, and one of the best ways to build on that power is through steady state intervals or what some call sweet spot intervals.

These intervals are great for building up the maximum sustainable power because the intensity is high, almost to threshold but not quite. During these efforts your body has more lactate in the system than Tempo intervals, and this causes the body to have to up its game to keep processing it. For more on Tempo see previous article.

It is important for these intervals to have no interruptions and no big hills. Stopping is not good for getting what you want out of these intervals so make sure you find an area that provides no stop signs, traffic lights, or high traffic bike paths. You need to stay in the range of this zone. That brings up the other point, big climbs. If you have a big hill in the interval, more than likely you will go to threshold or above. Try and keep the terrain as flat as you can. If you live in an area that doesn’t provide you with this dynamic, then it may be best to do this type of interval on an indoor trainer or treadmill.

Adaptations that occur during this interval format include everything that has previously happened in zone 2 and the tempo intervals, except it will happen faster. This is the highest form of aerobic exercise that you can perform and the highest interval you can do without accumulating lactate. It’s pretty simple to know if you have gone into a higher interval because your body will stop being able to keep up with the lactate, which will build up, and you will feel that burning feeling in your legs.

For these workouts on the bike, I would maintain a normal cadence around 90 RPM, again no stopping, and no big hills. Most of the time these intervals go from 10 minutes up to 90 minutes. I prescribe different kinds of workouts using SS intervals. One way is straight SS intervals and look like this: 120 min zone 2 ride with 3 x 15 min SS and 7 min RBI (rest between intervals) and 15 min active recovery to finish. Depending on the level of the athlete, all those numbers may be higher or lower, the total time of 120 minutes is the total time of the workout which includes the intervals and AR (active recovery or zone 1). I also may just prescribe one long interval for a more seasoned athlete.

Another way I like to mix in SS intervals is in an over-under fashion, where we do an interval just over threshold, and then recover in the SS zone to get the body to learn to clear a lot of lactate while maintaining a high aerobic output. This workout would maybe look like this: 105 min zone 2 ride with 2 x 15 min YOU’s (2 min O, 1 min U) with 5 min RBI and 15 min AR. For the first interval, you would run the cycle 5 times of 2 minutes above threshold and one minute below threshold in SS to recover for a total of 15 minutes, then you would recover 5 minutes in the AR zone, and then repeat another 15 minute YOU interval. I like to call these YOU intervals as they stand for ‘YES! Over Unders!’. I’m trying to keep it positive! Depending on the athlete, this type of interval can change a lot!

These are just examples, they will vary in length depending on your fitness level. If you have questions you can always reach out to me!

Rob Martin is a CSCS through the NSCA and is TRX certified. He also was involved in athletics throughout high school and ran at a division I college. He currently races mountain bikes at the elite level and coaches cycling athletes. He also has a podcast called Unpacking the Athlete available on most major podcast platforms. Improve your level of fitness and/or level of cycling with his success, knowledge, experience, & 4 year degree. Visit his website www.bikelifewithrob.com

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