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.com (TP.com) 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.


Update Your TP.com Threshold and Zones to Match Your 80/20 Threshold and Zones

The advantages of the structured workout format begin within your TP.com 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 steps.

After reviewing the Intensity Guidelines for Running or Triathlon document, visit the 80/20 Zone Calculator and enter your thresholds in order to establish your zones.

With your 80/20 thresholds and zones now established, log in to TP.com and select your name in the upper right corner, then choose Settings, and then Zones. Note that the default TP.com zones are similar to but not the same as your 80/20 Zones. In order for your custom 80/20 Zones to display properly in TP.com, they must be modified to the 80/20 standard.

Enter your 80/20 thresholds and change both the names and values of the zones for each intensity metric you will be using in your plan (heart rate, power, and speed/pace), including the default intensity fields. 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 heart rate fields. However, modifying the zones for all intensity metrics is recommended, as this gives you the flexibility to use other metrics later on.

Note: Due to an error in TP.com, it is recommended that the top end (higher intensity end) of your Zone 3 and the bottom end of your Zone Y be modified to be 1 unit faster/higher than your actual threshold. This is because TP.com has trouble displaying your Workout Details correctly if your Zone 3 limit precisely matches 100% of your threshold. Since the top end of Zone 3 is by definition 100% of threshold in the 80/20 system, this display error can occur often unless you make our recommended adjustment.

For example, if your threshold run pace is 8:00 per mile, the top end of your Zone 3 is 8:00. In this case, it is recommended that you set the top end of your Zone 3 to 7:59. But you’re not done yet. To complete the adjustment, you must also make the bottom end of your Zone Y one second faster so that it doesn’t overlap with Zone 3. In this example, you will need to change the bottom end of your Zone Y from 7:59 to 7:58.

The same adjustments must be made for heart rate and power if you use these metrics. For example, if your lactate threshold heart rate is 165, set the top end of your Zone 3 to 166 and the bottom end of your Zone Y to 167. Do not change the actual threshold field; you are only changing the top end of Zone 3 and the bottom end of Zone Y. This step is not necessary for successful execution of your plan; it only affects the Workout details display of workouts that use Zone 3.

Below is an example of what your TP.com zones will look like before and after they are modified in the manner just described, based on an 8:00 per mile threshold pace:

Figure 1: Default TP.com zones (before)

Figure 2: 80/20 Zone Calculator run pace results. These must then be manually replicated into your TP.com zones.

Figure 3: New TP.com 80/20 Zones (after) with Zone 3/Y modification. Note that the Threshold remains at 8:00, but the top end of Zone 3 and bottom end of Zone Y have been increased by 1 unit (second).

This synchronization will allow the TP.com Workout Details to match the Workout Description and your custom 80/20 Zones.

Once you have completed these steps, you may have to log out of TP.com and then log back in to see the changes. Also, if you use the TP.com 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.

Exporting 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 TP.com calendar, then click on the 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 import into your device per the instructions from TP.com and use during your workout.


Syncing Daily Workouts Automatically To Your Device

The TrainingPeaks Daily Workout Garmin Connect IQ App 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.


Structured Workout FAQ

Q: Why can’t I export swim workouts?

A: TP.com reports that this is a limitation on current swim devices and that a solution is coming.

Q: Why does my Garmin device display a different zone range than the TP.com Workout Details or the 80/20 Zone Calculator?

A: Regrettably, once a structured workout is imported to Garmin, the device takes over and uses proprietary zone ranges. While you still enjoy the benefit of being guided by the device through the structure of the workout, the displayed zone ranges will not precisely match the 80/20 Zones. Here’s why:

When using heart rate as an intensity metric, Garmin keys off the lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) specified in Garmin Connect (either GarminConnect.com or the Garmin Connect app). So it’s important that your Garmin LTHR match your TP.com LTHR. But this will not prevent discrepancies from occurring. Let’s say that your LTHR is 165 BPM and it is set at this value both on TP.com and in Garmin Connect. On the 80/20 heart rate scale, Zone 2 tops out at 89% of LTHR, which in this case would be 147 BPM. But Garmin does something different. Suppose you export and execute a workout that contains a Zone 2 segment. Your Garmin device will automatically define this zone as 147 +/- 4 BPM, or 143 to 151 BPM, allowing you to exceed your true Zone 2.

When using pace as an intensity metric, Garmin employs a similar process. Inexplicably, Garmin does not allow for the setting of threshold pace in Garmin Connect. Instead, it keys off the threshold pace set in TP.com and then applies a +/- 10% convention to create a range that is displayed on the device. For example, let’s say your threshold pace is 8:00 per mile, or 7.5 miles per hour. Now suppose again that you export and execute a workout that includes a Zone 2 segment. On the 80/20 pace scale, Zone 2 tops out at 86% of your threshold pace, or 6.45 miles per hour in this case. Garmin will add 10% to and subtract 10% from this value to create a “Zone 2” of 5.8 to 7.1 miles per hour (or 10:20 to 8:27 per mile) on the device display, again allowing you to exceed your true Zone 2.

Garmin performs the same manipulation on the device with power, resulting in power zones on the device that do not match the 80/20 zones. For example, if your FTP (running or cycling) is 300 watts, Garmin again applies +/- 10% to make your Zone 3 270 to 330 watts, well outside the actual 80/20 Zones.

Q: That kind of sucks. One of the advantages of exporting a workout to the device is that it helps me stay within my 80/20 Zones. The way Garmin modifies the zones, I am at risk of drifting into Zone X. Is there a workaround?

A: Until TP.com and Garmin allow for the exporting and importing of a zone range, and not just a static % of LTHR, FTP, or Threshold Pace, and/or Garmin accepts the values passed to it by TP.com, this will remain an issue. If it sounds like we are throwing TP.com and Garmin under the bus… we are.

An imperfect workaround is to set your LTHR and FTP in Garmin lower by 4-6 units than your actual LTHR and FTP. This way, when Garmin applies its +/- convention, the upper end of the manipulated number won’t exceed the top end of your 80/20 zones. If you wish to do this with pace, you’ll have to set your threshold pace lower in TP.com, since you can’t set a threshold pace in Garmin Connect, a measure that has other consequences for the correct display of the Workout Details.

In the meantime, we believe the best way to avoid being led astray by your Garmin device is to memorize your 80/20 zones and self-monitor intensity, while still taking advantage of the device’s guidance on workout structure.

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: What if I want a structured plan combination not offered, such as Bike Heart Rate and Run Pace?

A: We have a hack for that, but it takes some tweaking. Purchase one of the structured workouts plans, such as the Heart Rate plan, then contact us to get a complimentary copy of the Run Pace and Bike Power plan. Load both plans at once, with the same start or end date. Remove the unwanted and duplicate workouts and—presto!—you have your own custom Bike Heart Rate and Run Pace structured workout plan.

Q: Why is the planned TSS always higher than my actual TSS?

A: TSS is not required for successful execution of the structured workout plans, but it has been included as a courtesy for athletes who use a PMC.

The TSS values in your structured workouts are automatically calculated by TP.com, with the exception of swim TSS, which is just an estimate on our part. The reason for this exception is that the swim workouts are prescribed by distance and TSS calculations are based on time.

Projected TSS is always higher than the actual TSS because TP.com only allows for a static % of threshold, not a range, within each workout segment, requiring the plan author (us) to set the % for the workout segment as the upper level of the relevant zone. For example, Zone 2 is given a fixed value of 89% of LTHR even though it actually ranges from 81 to 89% of LTHR. In projecting the TSS for the Zone 2 segment of a workout, TP.com will assume you spend that entire segment at 89% of LTHR, whereas in reality you will spend most of the time at slightly lower points within the Zone 2 range. In this way, TP.com systematically overestimates TSS.