Understanding Your TrainingPeaks.com Structured Workout Plan

By Matt Fitzgerald and David Warden

The 80/20 Training Plans for triathletes and runners are the first major offerings to use the TrainingPeaks Structured Workout format, which makes correct workout execution easier than ever. This article will walk you through some simple steps to get the most out of your structured workout plan. 

Step 1: Establish your 80/20 Zones

Review our documents Intensity Guidelines for Running or Triathlon to determine your individual 80/20 zones.

Step 2: Change Your Existing TP.com Thresholds and Zones to 80/20 Thresholds and Zones

The advantages of the structured workout format begin within your TrainingPeaks training calendar, where your custom 80/20 intensity zones are displayed in the Workout Details instead of generic zone names. When your workout calls for Zone 2, for example, you will see a specific pace, power, or heart rate range in the Workout Details rather than merely seeing “Zone 2”—but only after you’ve completed the following actions. Please note the difference between the Workout Description and the Workout Details. The Workout Description is static and will always present the workout segment with the generic Zone 1, Zone 2, etc. Once you complete the steps below, The Workout Details will change to reflect your custom zones, and the generic Zone 1, Zone 2 will be replaced with your individual values for that workout segment. For example, if you have a workout that uses heart rate to measure intensity, the Workout Details would display your custom Zone 2 intensity for a segment, such as 130-145bpm, but the Workout Description would remain unchanged.

With your 80/20 thresholds now established from Step 1, log in to TrainingPeaks.com and select your name in the upper right corner, choose Settings, and then Zones. Note that the default TrainingPeaks zones are similar to but not the same as your 80/20 Zones.

The 80/20 method is one of the auto-calculations provided within TrainingPeaks, so updating to the 80/20 method is easy. For example, your current Run Heart Rate Zones might appear similar as they do in Figure 1, below. To change your current Run Heart Rate zones to 80/20 Zones:

  • In most cases you will need to click on the “Add Activity” button and specifically add Run (or Swim or Bike) zones and not use the Default zones. If you already have Run (or Swim or Bike) zones specified, “Add Activity” is not necessary.
  • Enter your LTHR discovered from Step 1 in the “Threshold Heart Rate” field (Max and Resting Heart Rate are not used in 80/20 calculations and do not need to be changed)
  • Under “Auto Calculation” choose “Lactate Threshold” as the Type and “80/20 Running” as the Method
  • Click on “Calculate,” “Apply,” and then “Save.”

Repeat these steps for each intensity metric you will be using in your plan (Swim Speed/Pace, Bike Heart Rate, Bike Power, etc…) Technically, you only have to modify the intensity types you will actually use. For example, if you have a Run Pace structured workout plan, you don’t have to modify the Run Heart Rate fields. However, modifying the zones for all intensity metrics (if you know them) is recommended, as this gives you the flexibility to use other metrics later on. Refer to Figure 3 for help on which Type and Method to choose for each sport and intensity type.

Be sure that you don’t only update the TrainingPeaks Default zones at the top of each section, as Default zones aren’t used by your Workout Details, nor pass custom data to your device. You must update the specific Swim, Bike, and Run zones that you will be using in your plan by clicking on the “Add Activity” button and specifying zones for each individual (not Default) sport and intensity type. For example, your zones must include a “Run Heart Rate” not just “Default Heart Rate” listed at the top left of the zone setup.

Figures 1, and 2 below are examples of what your TrainingPeaks zones might look like before and after they are modified in the manner just described, based on an LTHR of 170bpm.

Figure 1: TrainingPeaks zones (before)

Figure 2: New 80/20 Zones (after)

Figure 3: Method and Type for 80/20 Zones

Completing Step 2 will allow the TrainingPeaks Workout Details to match the Workout Description and your custom 80/20 Zones, as well as pass your custom zones to compatible devices when exported.

Once you have completed these steps, you may have to log out of TrainingPeaks and then log back in to see the changes in the Workout Details. Also, if you use the TrainingPeaks smartphone or tablet app, you may have to repeat these steps separately within the app on your device in order to have the Workout Details match your 80/20 Zones there.

We also recommend while you are setting up your zones to disable the options “Notify me of suggested threshold changes via email” and  “Automatically apply new threshold changes” at the very bottom of the TrainingPeaks Zones setup page. The thresholds discovered and proposed by TrainingPeaks are not compatible with the 80/20 zones.

Step 3: Manually Export Your Structured Workout to Your Device

One of best features of the structured workout plans is the ability to export a workout to a device that then guides you through the workout step by step. Instead of having to remember details such as the number, length, and intensity of intervals, with this feature you simply do what your device tells you to do from the start of the warm-up to the end of the cool-down.

To export a workout, click on the workout in your TrainingPeaks calendar, then click on the “export” button in the upper right, highlighted below.

The next step is to select the format you want the workout exported in. The options available to you will depend on the workout and structured plan type. After you’ve chosen a format, your web browser will download the structured workout file, which you will then export to your device per the instructions from TrainingPeaks and use during your workout. Once the export is complete, the workout will appear in your Training/My Workouts menu on your device (this location varies by product, see your device’s user guide for the precise location of exported workouts).

Note that TrainingPeaks does not yet allow for the export of swim workouts, and that a solution is coming. In the meantime, we have manually created 80/20 swim workouts for you to export and use on your device with our 80/20 Workout Library.

Step 4 (optional): Automatically Syncing Daily Workouts To Your (Compatible) Device

Be sure to complete steps 1-3 before activating Garmin Connect Sync or incorrect intensity zones may be delivered to your device. Garmin Connect Sync allows owners of certain compatible Garmin devices to download daily 80/20 plan workouts directly to their device wirelessly through their phone. If you do not own such a device, you can still manually export your 80/20 workouts to most other devices.

Step 5: Read the Structured Workout FAQ Below

Q: Why can’t I export swim workouts?

A: TrainingPeaks reports that this is a limitation on current swim devices and that a solution is coming. In the meantime, we have manually created 80/20 swim workouts for you to export and use on your device in our 80/20 Workout Library.

Q: My thresholds recently changed, and I updated my 80/20 zones in TrainingPeaks using the instructions in this document. The workouts on my device still display the old zones. Why?

A: Depending on the device, Garmin Connect Sync will sync up to several weeks of workouts to your device at a time. Those workouts contain your custom 80/20 zones at the time the sync took place. Updating zones in TrainingPeaks does not trigger a new sync, so the old zones remain on your device. To force a new sync, the workouts must be removed and re-added using one of the following methods:

– Use the Shift feature in the TrainingPeaks calendar (click on the triple horizontal lines found by hovering over a given day or week in the calendar and choose Shift) and shift your plan from today forward by one week. Wait for that change to reflect in the Garmin Connect calendar, then shift the workouts back to their original dates in TrainingPeaks.

– Cut a given workout(s) off of the calendar, wait for that change to reflect in the Garmin Connect calendar, then paste the workouts back to their original dates in TrainingPeaks.

– Unapply the entire plan in TrainingPeaks, wait for that change to reflect in the Garmin Connect calendar, then reapply the entire plan.

These actions lead TrainingPeaks to consider the affected workouts to be “new” workouts and force a re-sync to Garmin Connect, which then sends your updated zones to your device.

Q: Why do the intensity zones on my device not match my zones specified in TrainingPeaks?

A: This is likely caused by the same issue listed immediately above: the workouts on your device need to be re-synced with TrainingPeaks. Use the same steps to resolve.

Q: Can I export run workouts in more than just FIT format?

Yes. Power-based run workouts can be exported to ZWO, ERG, and MRC, as well as in FIT format. HR and Pace-based workouts can only be exported to FIT format.

Q: Why does the Workout Details section sometimes list more than one zone, such as “Zone 4 – Zone 5”?

A: In order to avoid gaps between zones, TrainingPeaks requires the 80/20 zones to overlap. Therefore, occasionally the custom intensity values presented by TrainingPeaks in the Workout Details will span more than one zone. Note that the zone range values presented in the Workout Details are still precise, and you should use those range values as your primary target. However, if you are presented with more than one zone in the Workout Details, use the zones listed in the Workout Description or the guidelines below. Again, you can ignore the zones and focus on the actual intensity range values provided, which are accurate if you have followed the instructions in this document.

  • If presented with a span of two zones (i.e. Zone X – Zone 3) the higher of the two zones presented is the correct zone (in this example, Zone 3)
  • If presented with a span of three zones (i.e. Zone 1 – Zone X) the middle of the range of zones presented is the correct zone (in this example, Zone 2)

Q: The predicted CTL, TSS or pace seems really off in TrainingPeaks. Why?

A: Two reasons:

1) This is a known problem in TrainingPeaks for HR-based workouts. The auto-calculation for predicted CTL or TSS for HR-based workouts has two main issues. First, the predicted TSS value will only increase in units of 10. If you have one run that would should have a TSS of 41 and another run that should have a TSS of 49, TrainingPeaks will calculate both as a predicted TSS of 40. Second, for a given amount of planned workout time, and regardless of the planned intensity, TrainingPeaks uses a minimum value. For example, if there are two runs of 30 minutes, one performed at 75% of LTHR and the other performed at 90% of LTHR, both will have a predicted TSS of 40. Thus, TrainingPeaks systematically miscalculates predicted TSS and predicted CTL for HR-based structured workout plans.

This particular issue is limited to the predicted TSS and predicted CTL for HR-based plans only, and does not impact TSS or CTL for completed workouts, nor Pace or Power-based workouts. TrainingPeaks reports they are looking into the issue.

2) Even with Pace and Power-based workouts, TrainingPeaks assumes that you will be running in the upper quartile of the zone range when predicting average Pace or Power (and therefore TSS). For example, if your Zone 2 run pace was 7:00 to 9:00 minute per mile, TrainingPeaks will assume that you will run an average of 7:30 per mile for a Zone 2 segment when predicting pace, when in reality you could be running as slow as 8:55 per mile and still be following the workout correctly. The inevitable result of Zone training is that your intensity for the day could fall anywhere within a broad range, therefore, the predicted TSS will almost always be incorrect.

Q: When I review the Heart Rate by Zones chart in TrainingPeaks, the sum of all zones is greater than the workout time. Why?

A: TrainingPeaks restricts the workout author to specify a whole number when specifying a range. That means, for example, if “Zone X” starts at 90%, we can either say “Zone 2” is 80-89% or 80-90%.  If we use 80-89%, what happens to intensity at 89.01% to 89.99%? The workout author “loses” 1% for each zone. This results in the dashboard displaying the sum of all zones less than the total workout time (the exact opposite problem). This missing 1% per zone also causes problems with the workout being sent to devices, predicted TSS, and with the Workout Details. Overall, we find that overlapping zones has more advantages and less disadvantages than the 1% gap.

This issue is mitigated by using Pace or Power. When using HR, you must “pass through” each zone when traversing from one zone to another. For example, If you are in Zone 1 recovering, but then perform a Zone 5 interval, your HR must go from 134, to 135, to 137… in other words it must pass through Zone 2, Zone X, Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone Y and then Zone 5. And, in doing so, it will spend time at every single shared point climbing and then descending that HR ladder, thus adding duplicate time to your zones totals. That’s the nature of HR. Pace and Power, however, are virtually instant. You would go from 170 watts to 320 watts virtually instantly, without having to pass through the other zones. Therefore, switching to Pace or Power minimizes this issue. TrainingPeaks would only include time in both zones if you happen to spend significant time at the exact point at which two zones share a data point, which would be rare.