Cycling workout of the week #8: Tempo - steady, sustainable, comfortably hard [1hr 15mins]

Do if…you want to build up fatigue resistance or just go out and do an hour of speed

Image shows riders completing tempo workouts.
(Image credit: Future)

Hard, but not too hard, yet still fatiguing - that’s what this cycling workout is all about. Both scratching that itch of riding at a hard enough pace to feel that we’ve worked out, and also helping us towards certain riding goals.

Consisting of a short five-minute progressive warm up followed by an hour at tempo (yes - a solid block with no breaks), this is not a session that needs to be done too often -  it is more for psychological resistance rather than physiological training benefits. 

This cycling workout is above Lactate Threshold 1 (LT1) so will generate some fatigue as the workout progresses. 

It’s particularly useful for those wanting to get out and do just a solid hard hour of continuous training, or those wanting to build up resistance to long lasting fatigue without working maximally for an entire hour. 

The workout

To download the session click on the embedded graph above. If you’re not already set up on TrainerDay it’ll ask you to register for an account - it’s free to do so and it’s free to download the session.  

Simply explained

Sometimes, it just feels good to go and ride at a solidly hard pace on the lanes outside, just building up a sweat and knowing you’ve worked hard. 

For others, this cycling workout is about building up fatigue resistance to an intensity that is sustainable for a very long period of time, but it is still a fair bit more fatiguing than working at below LT1. 

This cycling workout is helpful to racers who may have to spend a long time at this intensity while sitting in the bunch in road races.

Let’s geek out

Image shows a rider completing a tempo cycling workout.

(Image credit: Future)

LT1 is the level at which lactate starts to accumulate more and at which we start burning more carbohydrates than fat. We can measure it via lactate testing, or we can use the rule of thumb that in most people it falls between 70-80% Critical Power (CP). Critical Power is an alternative to FTP for setting training zones, find out how to get your numbers and use them in our explainer on Critical Power here.

Another way to test it is to monitor cardiac drift throughout the ride. Basically - if well ventilated - a ride at LT1 or below will show no cardiac drift after an hour, but beyond LT1 there will be cardiac drift as HR increases due to increased oxygen demands and build-up of metabolites that require clearing.

Physiologically, this cycling workout is not the most useful. It elicits similar training benefits to Zone 2 work (mitochondrial biogenesis and angiogenesis) but you accumulate more fatigue for very little, if any, additional gains. But it can be useful for pushing up our carbohydrate consumption tolerance though, as longer Tempo rides burn more carbs and we can trial consuming up to 120 grams of carbs per hour.

Another area where these do benefit is psychologically, pain threshold tolerance in particular. In races we sometimes experience long periods riding within the Tempo training zones (Zone 3 or the Heavy Intensity Domain). Or for those wanting to cycle fast with a high average speed on 100 km or 100 miles, the intensity that they can generally maintain for that duration would be Tempo, so feeling comfortable at that intensity is important for them. Alternatively if we just want to go out for an hour and do a smash fest to clear our head or give ourselves a solid workout, these sessions can really do that for us. 

Golden rule

Fuel well. This cycling workout will use up your carb stores. For an indoor cycling session when you’re on the turbo for under 90 minutes, as long as you’ve had a decent meal beforehand, you won’t need additional fuelling. 

If you’re progressing this session with the aim of doing longer tempo rides, you will need around 60 grams of carbohydrates every hour - the best energy drinks or best energy gels are easy to consume on the go and so are ideal for this, or you could have a go at making Superspeed Flapjacks or Veggie Rice Balls at home if you prefer something more solid or natural.

As this cycling workout is more fatiguing than Z2, don’t do it too often or in place of Z2 work.

Sunny out? How about…

This cycling workout can be a lot of fun over rolling terrain where you can just keep pressure on the pedals constantly. Feel free to push more towards the upper zone on the up hills and try to maintain power on the descents, but of course be careful and don’t push it too hard on the downhills. You can extend these rides to 90-120 minutes but be sure to fuel well.

Looking for another? How about...

- Cycling workout of the week #1: 20/40s [50 mins]

- Cycling workout of the week #4: Rev outs [1hr] 

- Cycling workout of the week #6: 1 min on, 1 min off [45 mins]

- Cycling workout of the week #7: Pick ‘n’ Mix [1hr 1min]

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