The Best of Both Worlds

It’s likely that those of you that train with us regularly have been exposed to the new PerfPRO Studio software that VQ is using for indoor workouts. One common workout you’ll encounter is “Time and Grade”. It fills a special little niche for us and helps us to better address one of the major challenges we’ve had with some of our past workouts.

First, what is a Time and Grade, or TNG, workout? Depending on the workout, the format may not look much different than the traditional controlled load, or MRC, format workouts. The quickest way to recognize the difference is by taking a glance at the left-hand vertical axis. If the percentages you see listed there are small (<10%), you’re dealing with TNG. If you see percentages >50%, then the workout will be a controlled load session. The major advantage of TNG is that it provides simulated terrain for a definite time period, yet leaves the athlete in control of the workload through changes in cadence and gearing.

Controlled load workouts can be useful at times. They are an excellent way to approach low-cadence training since the resistance is dynamically adjusted as cadence decreases without the need for gearing changes. They can also be helpful in showing athletes how hard to push for different durations. The shortfall with controlled load workouts is that they don’t allow athletes to push their limits or develop a sense for appropriate pacing.

In the past, purpose-made courses have been used to allow athletes to make the small micro-adjustments that better simulate real-world riding conditions. But, there is a wide disparity in completion time for athletes of different power-to-weight ratios. At the end of the climb, a weaker athlete may have had to spend nearly twice as much time at intensity as a stronger athlete, which makes it difficult to hold the target workloads.

TNG workouts solve this problem nicely by allowing everyone to work hard for the same duration, regardless of power. It’s important to note that the grade itself is a very small part of the workout. In some cases, steep grades are used to simulate climbing intervals, but many workouts could be effectively completed on a flat course through shifting. However, the simulated terrain variations provide a useful visual representation of when you should be working hard and when it’s time to recover.

While the workout layout shows you when to go hard and when to go easy, there are two other factors you should keep in mind. The first is the general power guidelines provided by your instructor for each workout. These guidelines are based on the ranges we’ve seen with thousands of athletes over the years. However, each person will have a slightly different profile and sustain different power for a given interval duration. But the best guideline is always past experience.

We talk frequently about knowing your reference points, and this is why it is so important to have workouts where you’re in control of your own workload. They enable you to work too hard and feel the consequences, to start off easy and build to maximum effort, and ideally to find the perfect, sustainable power for an entire set of intervals. All of this is useful information that can enhance future training and provide additional benchmarks for comparing changes in fitness over time.