Understanding Training Terms

Brushing up on indoor-cycling terms can help you get more out of your rides.


When you immerse yourself in the indoor-cycling culture, there’s a learning curve, not just in terms of the skills and techniques that you’re trying to develop but in the language, too. There’s a whole vocabulary that comes with these workouts, some of which may be foreign to you. But there are some key terms and phrases you’ll want to learn because applying them to your efforts will help you get the most out of your indoor-cycling sessions.

Think of this as your guide to assuming power and control over your rides: 

Active recovery: After a series of sprints or a challenging hill climb, you’ll want to catch your breath and recover from the high-intensity work you’ve done. Rather than stopping altogether, a better approach is to dial down the intensity—whether it’s with a single track (or song) or an easy “recovery ride”, in which your resistance is light and your cadence is steady. This gives your body a chance to adapt to the work you just did and recoup energy for the next challenge.

Average power: A measure of the average amount of power, measured in watts (which is determined by multiplying your resistance times your cadence or RPM rate), that a cyclist can sustain during a 1- or 5-minute challenge. (Watts are often displayed on cycle computers.) Knowing your average power can be useful for determining what your baseline effort should be and for setting training goals.

Functional threshold: This refers to the highest power that a cyclist can sustain for 60 minutes at a steady pace or cadence. (Insider tip: A 20-minute test of average power can provide a strong approximation of your 60-minute functional threshold.) Finding out what your functional threshold is can help you train with greater precision in various power zones.

Hammering: A drill aimed at increasing a cyclist’s muscle power in the saddle, hammering involves pedaling at a moderate resistance while seated then essentially jamming on the pedals as hard as possible for 15 to 20 seconds; this is followed by a recovery break before the next round. The goal is to improve pedaling efficiency throughout your rides.

Isolation training: With this type of drill, you focus on simultaneously using the down stroke of one leg and the upstroke of the other leg to create smooth, efficient pedal strokes; after a set period of repetitions, you’ll switch legs. Do this training regularly, and you’ll increase strength and coordination in each leg and improve your pedaling power.

Peak power: This is the maximum power output (in watts) that a cyclist can achieve; it's an objective measure of power and effort, whereas your perceived level of exertion is a subjective one. Peak power is usually determined during a 15-second interval, in which the gear and RPMs are manipulated to find that highly challenging sweet spot.

Because it’s a measure of maximum power output, it’s difficult to sustain peak power for long, especially at certain times of day.

Periodization: Johnny G, the founder of Spinning®, calls it “the art of varied training.” Periodization is an approach that divides training into different types and intensities over a period of weeks or months, to help you develop greater power, endurance, and cardio capacity. Progression usually moves from developing basic form and skills to building a strong aerobic base to developing the greater strength to enhancing anaerobic capacity (by working at a high intensity) over a preplanned period. 

Steady state: The term usually applies to heart rate but it can also apply to effort. Simply put, steady state means maintaining a steady heart rate (usually 65 to 75 of your maximum heart rate or MHR) or a steady pace in order to build endurance.

Training zone: This refers to the intensity of your cycling workout or segment of a workout. Depending on the program, these can include endurance, strength, interval, recovery, and other high-intensity zones. Using watts as a measure of power and effort, riders can move from one training zone to another. 

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