Q&A on Time-Crunched Athletes, Zone 1 Rides, and Unstructured Intervals, with Hannah Finchamp

Pro mountain biker and coach Hannah Finchamp helps us field questions on time-crunched training, zone 1, interval design, and more.

Hannah Finchamp Orange Seal Off-Road gravel racing
Photo: J. Vargus

Welcome to 2021. And what better way to kick off the new year than to answer some questions from our devoted listeners.

Today we start with a series of questions that deal with a dilemma many athletes face: deciding which rides or workouts to sacrifice when you’re short on time.

From Sylvia G. in Auckland, New Zealand:

“Given work life and responsibilities as a mom of two, I always feel like I’m falling behind in training due to a simple lack of time to fit it all in. I only have six to eight hours a week to train. I would like to commit to the polarized training model, but each time it comes to sacrificing a ride type when time is tight, it’s the easy rides I feel best about scrapping. So, it begs the question, am I sacrificing the right rides? Do I still need recovery/easy rides? How many? If I should be getting them, what are ways you can suggest I squeeze them in?”

We tackle a question about zone 1 rides and whether you get them on the mountain bike. Steve H. writes:

“As an off-road focused athlete, I really feel the need to incorporate MTB into my base training. It’s less boring, not as cold in the winter, and I get some skills work at the same time. But the fundamental principle of aerobic base rides is having a steady effort which is very difficult to manage on singletrack; between the turns and keeping momentum over terrain, MTB is inherently stochastic in its power demands. While I can easily keep a very low heart rate on the road, for a similar feeling ride, my heart rate will be easily 10-15 bpm higher on the MTB. Is the LSD impossible on the MTB trail? Is the higher heartrate relative to road a problem or simply a result of the greater contribution of the upper body in MTB?”

We also discuss how to change the type of rider you are, and if it can be done, based on a question from Nathan R. in Helena, Montana who wants to become a punchy rider:

“I’ve been getting back into competitive cycling the last few years after taking some time off and having a young family. I usually consider myself more of a rouleur type rider due to my size (I’m 6’4” 186lbs) but have found in the higher race categories, my lack of anaerobic power became both a weakness and a limiter. On climbs under five minutes I found myself spit out the back and would have to burn a ton of energy to claw myself back to the group. I’m excited to use a more polarized training model considering I love nothing more than long four-hour rides and threshold intervals. I am curious about your thoughts on also using the base and build period to focus on my anaerobic energy systems as well. Maybe a Zwift race once a week? I would love to become more of a punchy racer, but have had a tough time finding gains in this short power duration energy system. Any hope or am I destined for the solo breakaways and gravel events?”

Finally, we field a question about the differences between structured and unstructured intervals:

“If I understand Dr. Seiler’s research correctly, the most important predictor for adaptation for intensity workouts is the time of ‘work’ near or above LT2 (the ‘red zone’). Most coaches seem to have a strong preference for structured intervals. However, I find it much more fun and motivating to chase Strava segments on my mountain bike, or ride in Zwift races. Assuming one is mindful of progressive load, stress, and recovery, is there any down side to using unstructured intensity if the time spent near LT2 is similar?”

Our guest coach today is Hannah Finchamp. You may know her as a member of the Orange Seal Off-Road Team, but she is also a board-certified athletic trainer and a certified USA Cycling coach. She has degrees in both athletic training, focused on injury prevention, and in exercise science.

Let’s dive into the discussion. Let’s make you fast!

Episode Transcript

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