The Big Picture—The Three Types of Rides You Should Do

We're breaking down the three rides you should do - long rides, high-intensity rides, and recovery rides.

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Two cyclists ride up Boulder Sunshine Canyon bike ride

In this episode we’re taking a step back — way back — to see the forest for the trees. Let me explain: Many of you have been fascinated by our recordings with scientists and coaches like Stephen SeilerJohn HawleyIñigo San Millan, and Joe Friel. We’ve received a stack of questions about polarized training, the two thresholds, how to execute long rides, and many more. They’ve been great questions, and they’ve made us think about how we can answer all of them.

The complex concepts we’ve discussed in our deeper science episodes were developed by far smarter people than us. Still, that science is only valuable if it’s communicated to our listeners in a way that makes it approachable and applicable to you. After all, what good is any of this if you can’t use it to improve your performances.

So, in this episode, we want to play the humble role of science communicators, to make sure we get the message right. We’ve also sifted through hours of Fast Talk recordings with our many distinguished guests to bring context to what we hope is a simplified, unified message about the fundamental principles of these previous shows: there are just three types of rides. Yes, that’s a simplification. Yes, you’re getting our bias. Yes, you’re going to listen to this episode and think, “Well, what about the…” Fill in the blank. And you’re right. If you want that level of detail and scrutiny, please return to those past episodes. In this episode, we’re talking about the forest. We’re hoping to give you a framework to understand all that scientific detail. And we’re going to keep it simple.

We’ll discuss:

  • First, when you take away the complexity, training boils down to three ride types in most training models.
  • We’ll give a simple zone system, based on physiology, and explain why that’s important.
  • We’ll define the long ride: why it’s important, how to execute it, and why there are no shortcuts.
  • We’ll define the high-intensity ride: why less is more with this type of ride and why executing it with quality is so critical. Dr. Seiler actually divides these rides into two categories — threshold rides and high-intensity work. For this podcast, we’re lumping them together, but we will hear from Dr. Seiler about why we shouldn’t neglect threshold work despite the current popularity of one-minute intervals and Tabata work.
  • We’ll discuss the recovery ride. Ironically, for most of us, this is the hardest to execute. When we’re time-crunched, we might think that spending an hour spinning easy on the trainer is not time well spent. We’ll discuss why that philosophy is dangerous to take.
  • Finally, we’ll talk about some of the exceptions, including sweet spot work and training races.

We’ve included excerpts from Dr. San Millan, once the exercise physiologist for the Garmin-Slipstream WorldTour team, among others. We’ll hear several times from Dr. Stephen Seiler, who is often credited with defining the polarized training model, which developed from his research with some of the best endurance athletes in the world. Dr. John Hawley will address both long rides and high-intensity work. Dr. Hawley has been one of the leading researchers in sports science for several decades and is a big proponent of interval work and carbohydrate feeding, but even he feels there’s a limit. Grant Holicky, formerly of Apex Coaching in Boulder, Colorado, has worked with some of the best cyclists in the world. He sees undirected training, those “sort of hard” rides, as one of the biggest mistakes athletes can make. He’ll explain why. And finally, we’ll hear from legendary coach Joe Friel about sweet spot work and why it does have a place… even though technically it’s not one of our three rides.

Now, to the forest! Let’s make you fast.

Episode Transcript

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