The Value of Tempo Rides


Posted by Coach Mark Sortino

Over the years I've come to value the zone in training often called “tempo” for the bike. For Team MPI, we call this zone 3 and define it as 76%-90% of Lactate Threshold. If an athlete doesn’t have power or heart rate information, then this zone would be 5-6 on a scale of 1-10 for Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). I have, oddly enough, both heard and read some coaches state that training in this zone is training in “no man’s land” - that is, it’s a waste of time. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, training in Zone 3, or the Tempo zone can be hugely beneficial to athletes in many ways as it:

  • Increases muscle glycogen storage *
  • Helps adapt Type IIb to Type IIa (fast twitch) muscle fibers to take on roles of slow twitch muscles
  • Increases muscle mitochondria density
  • Increases lactate threshold
  • Increases blood plasma volume
  • Increases stroke volume/maximal cardiac output of your heart
  • Increases VO2 max
  • Hypertrophy of slow twitch muscle fibers

* achieved better in zone 3 than any other training zone


Training in this zone can be very effective from 20 to 50 minutes and longer. We often break up time in the zone to ensure that the athlete stays focused and stays in the zone the entire required amount. For example, 2 x 20min with 5min EASY in between or 3 x 15min with 5min in between. This zone is challenging in that it’s not too difficult, but requires concentration for continuous effort or else the athlete can easily slip into the easier zones of 1 and 2.

In the traditional periodization flow of training, training in this zone works well in the middle or tail end of the Prep or Base phase. However, I often write these sessions for Elite athletes throughout the year as they reset their training after a big race and enter another build phase. We then can move on to Threshold, VO2 Max and Anaerobic Capacity zones or any combination thereof.

So spend time in the “Tempo” zone - you will absolutely benefit from doing so!

~ Coach Mark Sortino

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