Steve Neal tempo training thoughts

Has anyone tried tempo training such as Steve Neal outlined in the interview below?

The example given is 3x20 tempo intervals with a HR ceiling set at about 83% of cycling max HR. If you go over the HR ceiling during the workout then you are to reduce the power.

I’m a recreational cycling (not a racer) and am targeting getting better at longer rides. I have a FTP of 195 and find that I fade in the 3rd/4th hour of rides. Getting better at tempo style efforts would help my riding out a lot.

I’ve tried a 2x20 version of this twice so far, this week on Tuesday and Thursday. The first time I used 80% of FTP and was able to finish at 81% of max HR. The second time I used 82% of FTP and had to back off the 2nd interval.

I’m going to try a block of similar workouts probably twice a week.


To me the idea sounds really good. I am 80/20 guy that believes in tempo, which should be against the rules. :slight_smile:

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Hi Dave, Coach Robert here.

First of all, what a great video. Thank you for sharing. There is a lot of good info in here.
He makes the best point that all riders are different. They have different capabilities and, therefore, different strengths and weaknesses. This thinking leads to a different approach in training individual cyclists.

Your problem is that you fade in in the 3rd/ 4th hour of your rides. As you heard in the video, this can happen for a number of reasons. Maybe your breathing gets shallower which means your body can’t provide enough oxygen anymore. Maybe you are just low on carbs, so your body doesn’t have the energy anymore. Finally, maybe your tempo is too high to begin with.

The last one is easy to check: review your last rides and check your power. If you ride at or close to Powerzone 4 for more than one hour, you are demanding more than your body can handle.

Next, check how many carbs you are eating. Not just during your ride but also during the week. If you are on a low-carb diet, this is all you can do. You need a balanced diet with fat, protein, and carbs. High-quality food with lots of fibers, vitamins, and minerals. Think natural food. No packages.

It also depends on your base. Did you start riding (or even training) last year, or have you been training all your life? Do you focus on the intervals, or do you have a balance with a good aerobic base?

A good aerobic base means that you spend most of your time at your aerobic threshold on low-speed, easy rides.

Finally, check your breathing and your body when you are in your 3rd/4th hour. Are you still relaxed? Or are your jaws jammed together and your shoulders near your ears in an effort to keep ramping up the power?

Take some time to go over these points. Correct them if you need to.

Now, back to your intervals. There are a lot of ways you can do these intervals. The whole principle of intervals is that you break things down into smaller portions so the body can adjust in steps that will give you more progress in a way that the body can handle better.

So, instead of starting with the 2x 20, you can also start with 3x 15. Please note that this will be easier to finish and give you 5 minutes of extra time in zone. You could also start with 10 minutes.

Just keep the intervals steady. There is really no advantage in doing the second interval at 82%. However, there is a big downside: You burn out before you can finish it.

My point is that if you are seeing the right effect (80% FTP at 81% of max HR) in your first interval, then you are close enough.

It is not an exact science, meaning that the 83% HRmax might be 81% in your body. HR is also influenced by many other factors, like fluids in the body, room or outside temperature, what options for cooling the body are you using, etc.

My last piece of advice is to mix your intervals up. So make this one of your intervals for the next four weeks, but choose another one in another zone together. Just as with food, variation is key, and it will help you grow as a cyclist.

Keep watching these kind of video’s. Did you know that Alex posts videos on yo tube too!? Great way to get better.

Have lots of fun

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Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

In 2020 most of my sports activities were golfing. I am 5’10", ate whatever I wanted including a lot of junk, and weighed about 190 lbs. I got into cycling that summer, still ate the same junk, and stayed about the same weight.

I went low carb January 2021 eating mostly whole foods and have lost weight, normally now I am in the low 150 lb range. I’m still low carb today, not for cycling performance reasons but because it is better for my overall lifestyle and happiness.

I rode 3,055 miles in 2022 and 3,610 miles in 2023, so not a large workload, but ok for a working guy.

It is possible the diet is holding me back on the longer rides, but I’m skeptical as I’m not experiencing bonking symptoms, I think my limiter is muscular endurance.

I’ve been working on longer weekend rides this year. Last Sunday I rode 42 miles on a reasonably windy day. This ride was difficult enough that I didn’t sleep great that night. The power profile from it is below:


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I have a low carb friend that does back to back 12 hour days. Day 2 he is slower than day 1 but the point is 6 hours is no problem for him at about 60% of FTP. As Robert said each person is individual but low carb does not necessarily cause this, but can.

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First of all Dave, Great work on improving your fitness so much.

Of course you can ride on a low carb diet. But for the higher intensities you definetly need carbs. There is not a pro in the peloton that rides and wins races on a low carb diet.

Zone 2 is usually not a problem. Zone 3 is the zone where you can eat what you burn, but at he intensity of zone 4 you are burning carbs at a rate that is bigger than you can fuel them.

It is like the coach in your video said: you can do lower intensities all day, and that is fine for triatlon, but in a road rae you’ll get dropped on the first climb.

There is so much scientific evidence backing up carbs in your diet as long as you choose the right sources at the right times:

  • You can train more intense
  • You recover faster
  • You can ride faster for a longer period

But don’t focus to much on the carbs. It was only one of the possibilities I gave you. And in the end there is no point in debating this. If you really want to know if something works: try it, test it, and draw your own conclusions.

This works both ways. Even if it works you can still choose not to use it because you don’t think it’s worth it. Quitting your job and riding 4 hours a day will definetly make you better, but is it worth it? Probably not. :wink:

I see you are using, good. If you want ot know more about your ride, you better look at the ride itself. This doesn’t tell the whole story. It is far more interesting to see when and where you put certain power into your ride than just the power.

For instance, you rode an hour in zone 1. Was that at the beginning as a warm up or the last hour because it was the only pace you ould get home with? Or was this devided over downhill sections after three climbs you did?

Those are three different stories. I could take a look if you want me too. I’ll help you indentify why you fatigue after 3-4 hours. You can either post your ride here or find me there as Robert van der Wulp.

have a great weekend.

This is a better export.

Part of the zone 1 was coasting (13.1%) mostly after downhills or stopping for intersections. I think the rest of it was roughly evenly distributed throughout the ride.

The breaks with the X’s at the start/end were to ride to a place to sunblock. The breaks with the T’s were because we were tired, my wife was suffering quite a bit at the end of the ride. I don’t remember the others.


Thank you for sharing. This was a hard ride. You spend almost the whole ride in zone 3 with regular spikes in zones 4, 5, and 6.

If my profile would look like this, I would feel tired, too. The main goal of this ride isn’t improving your aerobic fitness. It improves muscular endurance.

I hardly do these rides. Maybe once or twice a month. Most of the time, I ride slower or much harder. Now, that is easy for me to say because I don’t live in a hilly area like you do. I can ride 100km with 10 altitude meters. :joy:

So, in the end, I think the feeling of being spent at the end of this ride is not out of the ordinary.

It is always good to know why you are doing certain training. Your body has a double engine. Actually, it is a triple one, but we are not aiming for sprints as endurance athletes.

There is the engine that runs on fat. Your body has so much fat stored that you won’t be able to empty this storage, even if you wanted. This will provide you with energy forever, but the process of burning fat is complex, so the delivery is slow, and so is your pace.

The other engine runs on carbs. The delivery of energy from carbs is fast, which is why it can unleash great power. However, the storage is very limited, so you will run out in 1 to 3 hours, depending on your pace.

It is important to know that no matter what pace you are riding at, there is always a mix between these two.

Riding slow will provide you with a lot of benefits that will enhance both engines, but especially the fat engine. Riding fast will enhance the carb engine.

Last thing that is important to understand is that lactate is always formed, even at slow speeds (or no speeds). But when lactate levels rise they, because you attacked a climb, it will take the body 20-45 minutes to get back in the slow-mode were zone 2 training will be beneficial.

So, if you ride with friends, and you take turns riding up front of your group 10 minutes of zone 4 every hour, you will almost eliminate your 50 minutes of zone 2 training, because your body is using that lactate as a source of energy instead of fat.

That is why polarised training is so popular. It divides your training and addresses the right zone at the right time.

Does this mean you shouldn’t do the intervals you set out to do? No, absolutely not. Training is a fun way to discover and there is not one solution.

So, in the end, I think you have the right to be tired at the end of the ride you did. :wink:
I would suggest to aim for 60-90 grams of carbs per hour. That will make rides like these a lot more comfortable, and you will recover a lot faster.

Remember: carbs are not the enemy. Low-quality food and poor planning are. A good alternative for low carb is intermitted fasting. This way, you can still benefit from the ketones, but also get the carbs in. A 16-8 or 18-6 will do. Meaning you fast for 16-18 hours and eat in 6-8 hours.

I use this most of the time. I only skip this routine when I train in the evening. :wink:

Take four weeks to do the training and start with smaller intervals. Work your way up to 3x20.

Do not change anything else. That way you can properly monitor the result. This goes for food and training. One thing at a time. See where you stand in four weeks.

Have a great weekend

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Thanks Robert, I appreciate the follow up.

I thought about sending a more detailed dietary write up, but decided not. In short I’ve been doing this 3 1/2 years, am happy, and am not willing to make a substantial change.

Most studies repetitively study those whose body runs off a high % of carbs and then they take away the carbs, predictable performance is terrible. This happened to me too when I first started.

There are fewer studies that look at long-term fat adapted athletes.
I understand some people object to Volek, Phinney, etc…, but there is evidence that the body does change.

I don’t have anything else to say regarding the nutrition and will respectfully bow out now.



Always glad to help. Advice from my side is never a must to follow. And nutrition was only a part of what could be going on. Stressing the word could.

In the end, you need to go with what makes you feel good.

Have fun because that’s what it’s all about.


I’ve kept plugging away at this and now in my 5th week completing a total of 7 tempo workouts at 85% of FTP so far.

I started with 2x20 and did that workout 4X and completed a 3x20 this afternoon with HR reaching an average of 77% of max in the 3rd interval and peaking at 80% max. HR decoupling was about 2.9%.

I’m not used to longer intervals like this and I find mentally I’m not there yet. I wanted to quit, but stuck it out and finished the workout.

I don’t do well with ramp style FTP tests and haven’t gone through a longer time trial FTP test so I’ve triangulated my FTP as an estimate and backed it off from 190 to 185.

My game plan is to continue with this until maybe 2x30 or 1x60 at 85% then do a similar TTE build at 90%. I think these have the potential to improve my outdoor riding quite a bit.


Great to hear it feels like it is working for you. I don’t like long intervals so this would be hard for me as well but likely a benefit. I would say after you are warmed up instead of testing FTP you could also compare a consistent effort for HR vs power and you should see hr dropping relative to doing the same power if you are improving your aerobic capabilities. That way you don’t need to suffer through a test and can still monitor improvement. You might just be getting a mental improvement but I would guess you are actually improving. It’s not so different from the sweet spot training which many people do get benefits from but I just see that as a temporary period, for example you could have an easy base, this Neal tempo for build and then transition into more variety and anaerobic during a peak period unless your goal is TT performance.

I would also say I and Andrea are both fully of the belief that there is always other options than sustained un-pleasurable suffering for performance improvements. But this style of training tends to be good for some more rapid short term gains.

But also each person has a weakness and the right training for the right person could be perfect at any point in time. We are all about the trying to save all your suffering for when it is fun. Pros tend to save their real suffering for races. They hate testing (and the total waste of suffering energy) so getting them to do a 20 minute FTP test is nearly impossible.

I am up for the not suffering part, but am skeptical it would actually work. I’ve been trying to get 6-7 hrs consistently, but find it difficult to go beyond this.

I am confident that if I had 15 hours I would improve dramatically, but I can’t make that happen so I’m using Steve Neal tempo concept / Tim Cusick webinar type materials to design my own workouts.

What would you recommend?


Let’s see what @Robert_UCL thinks, to hear his opinion (his is similar to mine in this regard) He is on vacation right now.

Generally all you need is incremental improvement that happens over a period of time rather than quickly. If you start easy but just keep increasing the durations of your intervals gradually you will see adaptions but they will be more invisible and minimally or even not painful but from the beginning to the end of the plan you will feel different.

Secondly something important is how you feel at the beginning of your peak season which for most people is now. If you do sustained discomfort you end up feeling tired and possibly burned out.

Yes obviously riding more helps. I am of the belief lots of short sessions even helps so multiple 30-45 minute sessions a day can really help but that requires more complicated planning to make sure you are getting the right recovery. One long ride a week can be enough to augment the short sessions, 90% of them could be z2hr. I would say there is very limited information regarding the effectiveness of this but I have read about lots of one off cases that people feels this helped them to get more weekly volume and better results.

I think even 6-7 hours a week is fine but it could be your limiter. There are a million opinions on this stuff, and each situation is different. If it is working for you and you are happy then it’s fine. It sounds as though you felt you had peaked in your abilities so that means at that point you typically will see seasonal improvements not consistent improvements. So your current plan might work for X number of weeks and then you need to shift up your plan anyway. If you get tired of suffering Robert is a very affordable coach and he can likely help you. But he will also give free suggestions here as well. I personally have zero interest in un-fun suffering so I always try to find a fun version. Start doing some local gravel “races” once a month or something :slight_smile: I would search hard for a fun solution.

What I’ve started working towards is the chart below from the wk04 webinar.

I’m a recreational cyclist so my targets would be 60 min of tempo, 45 minutes of sweet spot, and 40 minutes of threshold per session before moving on to a vo2 block.

60 minutes of tempo I would describe as somewhat uncomfortable, but should get easier as I get used to pushing myself more. Honestly right now I lack mental toughness.


Yes Gravel racing is recreational for most. :slight_smile: Or a weekly group ride. As I said I would also benefit from this suffering but would just try to be patient and minimize the suffering so it’s more by feel, just suffering a little each day and assume you can increase the intervals a minute each day for example. Just trying to provide an alternative but we each do what we do.

I am just returning to regular cycling after years of good/mostly valid excuses. So I am doing 7 days a week of 45-85 minutes a day, + 1 long ride a week. But keeping the intensity very low. So my plan is very non-traditional. Once I get through the base period I will start adding intervals with fun focused suffering.

I should point out that Frank Overton is the main first proponent of sweet spot training (Coggan was more the scientist and Frank the coach), we could call Frank the “father of sweet spot.” He defines sweet spot starting at 84% so I would say any where from 80-90% is similar training effect. I also would say 90 and 100% are very similar :slight_smile:
This is why I don’t really like talking in terms of zones as it is all just a continuum other than our physiological changes that occur at about LT1 and LT2. Seiler’s 3 zones make much more sense. But putting names on stuff gives us an idea of what we are talking about :slight_smile: But yes trying to improve your 60-90 minute power makes sense. I would prefer to improve my 4 hour power but first I need to be able to do 4 hours and still be moving the next day.

First of all, let me compliment you with your persisntance. You say you lack mental toughness. I say, you are doing great. These rides are always hard and you are sticking with it.

The fun thing about endurance is that clients always start with small goals. They want to finish 50km. Than 80km, 100km, 120km, etc.

They grow into this. The reason why I’m not a big fan of long hard trainings is that they are the opposite of this approach. It makes it very hard to complete schedules like this, unless you love to suffer.

Sometimes, a group approach can help.

The other donwside, besides draining you mentally, is that these intervals bring you to the edge of overtraining. They are very hard on the body. Not just physiologically, but also physically.

There are a lot of studies that have proven the effect of shorter intervals. The main benefit of shorter intervals is that you can keep up the intensity higher for that short period of time and therefore do more than during the same time under pressure with longer intervals.

I train all my clients with a polarised training. I give them a little bit of freedom so they can also do rides they like. This gives them an optimal trainingload, both physically and mentally.

As Alex said, right now I’m on vacation. This gives me more time to do extra training, but since I’m in hte mountains I want to ride the big ones too. So my trainingload is bigger than it should be, but the fun is there and that makes it okee.

I wouldn’t do this when I’m home. Than it is back to polarised schedules and a wilde ride accasionally.

I hope this gives you some new ideas.

And don’t forget to have fun

I just watched a Dylan Johnson video very clearly describing a very traditional approach to training. This is the same as Joe Friel would recommend from cycling bible or other sources and the same as Andrea and I believe. The key point relative to your discussion is progressive overload which Dylan mentions multiple times.

So the point is all about where do you you start. We suggest you start some where that feels moderate to easy and slowly increase and by the end of a training block should feel moderate to hard. When you start by 2X20 even if it is upper tempo you don’t have far to go or your won’t progress very quickly. If you start with a 2X8 and build to a 2X20 or even a 2X30 then you are likely going to feel fine along your journey.

Roberts suggests are always so down to earth and backed with a lot of experience is why I love them :slight_smile: