Cycling Threshold Explained ~ Kevin Livingston, Pedal Hard

Threshold in the cycling community might just well be the close relative of ‘core’ in the strength training world. There are no shortages of opinions on it, descriptions, and the frequent threshold name dropping in the coaching and training world of cycling. Don’t believe me? Count the number of times you hear-think-breathe ‘threshold’ during your next workout. I explain to my athletes that the term threshold loosely used is essentially what you can do for any given time period – period. For this article I’m speaking in terms of power output so you would need a power meter to determine your output in watts. Want to know your 5 minute threshold? Then go do a 5 minute effort. 10 minute threshold? Go hammer 10 minutes… At Pedal Hard, we use a 20 minute threshold test or lactate threshold test to establish an athlete’s zones to then build workouts and analyze performance. Quick note: if you’re referring to lactate threshold then the test involved testing blood lactate, anaerobic threshold then testing involved ventilatory measurements with a VO2 cart, and poor old plain threshold was done in ‘real world’ testing without either. You would want to use heart rate and power in all instances to gather some data for training. Now how to use this data is where it gets a little tricky and approaches may vary a little. At Pedal Hard we begin by either doing an LT (lactate threshold) test or a 20 minute time trial…and even better…both! We would do them on different days. The 20 minute time trial is a bit of a feared effort among our seasoned athletes. And rightfully so as it requires a lot of motivation and high tolerance for physical and mental pain. Put frankly- it hurts! Important for both tests that you come into them rested. I recommend 1-2 lighter days of training beforehand. This is so you’re up for the effort and to also limit excuses.

We have done over 700 lactate threshold tests over the last 10 years and even more 20 minute time trial tests. Athletes are often disappointed in their ‘lactate threshold’ results. I’ve found that the majority of our athletes’ lactate thresholds fall about 8-10% below their ‘threshold’ or 20 minutes all-out effort. This should not trigger an emotional response. It is simply additional data to use that is just a part – yes just a part – of a lot of factors contributing to going fast on a bike and feeling strong. Highly trained athletes and professionals will have less of a gap between their lactate threshold and max 20mins effort but that’s for a different article. If you were to visit our training center during any given session you would find everyone referencing a chart in front of them for their individual zones (again in power). Their LT which stands for lactate threshold or what I also call your training threshold, because maybe you didn’t determine this via an ‘LT (lactate threshold)” test but a 20 minute time trial test, will be at the top of their chart and below will be their zones. Here is an example of an athlete with an LT/Training threshold of 250 watts.


LT: 250
Zone 1: RECOVERY <139
Zone 3: MEDIUM / TEMPO 190-227
Zone 4: THRESHOLD 228-264
Zone 5: AT (above Threshold) / VO2 MAX 265-302
Zone 6: VO2 MAX 303+


This would mean your 20 minute threshold (all-out effort) should fall around 270-275 watts. Of course there are always exceptions to these calculations but this is the formula we have had good success with in training cyclists and multi-sport athletes and is based on our observations and patterns of testing and training athletes over the years.

If you are interested in figuring out your threshold then find a coach, training facility, or university that does testing or put yourself through a 20 minute effort. I’d be more than happy to shout you through your test in our Pedal Hard facility. The above zones are just percentages of your plugged in threshold – don’t forget to adjust your results if using the 20 minute test method by minus 8-10% to create your training zones.

Zone 1: <55%

Zone 2: 56%-75%

Zone 3: 76%-90%

Zone 4: 91%-107%

Zone 5: 108%-120%

Zone 6: 121% +

Thank you for reading! And hey I kept the use of threshold under 25x…well that might’ve put me over my threshold…see it’s not easy!