Quick Profile: Ebb and Flow, A Tempo Ride

I often hear from instructors that “endurance” profiles are the hardest to teach. The claim is that they are too easy, or boring, or require too much time in the saddle. 

This profile will hopefully challenge that thinking.

First, I hesitate to use the term “endurance,” because to be truly considered aerobic endurance, you would need to spend longer than an hour at an even lower intensity. But alas, the industry has been conditioned to think any aerobic work, even 10–20 minutes, is considered “endurance.” There is also a misconception that the intensity needs to be in Zone 2. That might be the case for a ride that extends to a few hours or more, but not for an hour or less.

This profile ebbs and flows from the low end of Zone 3 to the upper end. The cadence alternates from slower to higher, and the playlist draws from many genres. This profile is a great way to teach your riders that “endurance” or aerobic rides don’t have to mean easy…but they are easier than HIT rides. The key here is sustainable effort. 

You can teach this profile using power, heart rate, or perceived exertion.

I know when I ride at sustainable mid-aerobic intensities, I sweat way more than I do in HIT classes. Let me know if you are similar!

Download the profile PDF below. 


  1. Hi Jennifer, I have heard and read that you typically want to avoid zone 3. That most people spend too much time in that grey zone and that the easy should be easy and the hard hard. So typically I have read and understood that 80% of our training should be in zone 1/2, 10% at threshold ( zone 4) and 10% doing HIIT training or anaerobic ( zone 5, 6 and 7 ) ( assuming a zone 7 system. Just wondering if this has changed? Thanks for your time

    1. Author

      It’s important to look at the context of what you are reading and who it applies to. Any training advice is fairly specific.

      In this case, reducing the amount of time spent in Zone 3 might be the training advice for an athlete preparing for a high-intensity event who is getting to the end of periodized program. The closer you get to the event, the closer your intensity (and duration) should match the event. So in the case of a high-intensity event, you need really high intensity followed by low intensity recoveries. Zone 3 isn’t high enough to give you the anaerobic benefits you are looking for, and it’s too high to get you the recovery benefits you are looking for.

      But our typical indoor cycling class riders? It’s a magic zone. It’s harder than many imagine, but it’s sustainable, hence there’s no need for low intensity recovery.

      Like anything, you don’t want to do it all the time because then you get mediocre results. When you do a HIT class, you want to make sure they get plenty of Zone1/2 recovery, not in zone 3. This ride should be a part of a balanced program that includes a wide variety of intensities. For periodized programs, I would put plenty of this work in the early stages, but not much in the final weeks.

      Does that make sense?

      Great question! I think I’ll turn it into an Ask the Expert!

  2. I love rides like this! I create similar rides like this all the time and my members love them. Jennifer, your ride inspired me to create a new one with a different playlist. In case this would be of interest to others here at ICA, these are the songs I used for a 45 min ride (below). The first 2 songs are for the warm up and the last song is for the cool down; the rest of the songs alternate between slower and faster cadences. cheers! Liz

    Join Together – Kormac – 85 rpm
    Human (Rudimental Remix) – Rag’n’Bone Man – 80 rpm
    High – Sir Sly – 122 rpm
    Heart – Kid Karate – 88 rpm
    Trouble – Cage the Elephant – 76 rpm
    &Run – Sir Sly – 92 rpm
    Say It Ain’t So – Weezer – 75 rpm
    Ways To Go – Grouplove – 101 rpm
    You Haunt Me – Sir Sly – 142 rpm
    Gold – Sir Sly – 91 rpm
    More Than Anything – Rudimental (feat. Emeli Sandé) – 77 rpm
    Kiss Me Slowly – Parachute – 88 rpm

    1. Author

      thank you for these suggestions. I love the Human remix by Rag’n’Bone Man and Trouble by CTE. I can’t wait to look the rest of them up!

      1. I’m gonna swap out High (too slow). 🙂

  3. Since most well trained athletes can maintain a Coggan Level 3 for 2.5 to 3 hours in a competitive situation, I don’t consider a 50 minute Level 3 ride a challenging ride. If I trained the same students 4, 5, or 6 days a week, I would use a Level 3 ride. It seems incongruent to me to ask a student to do a to 50 minute Race Day one week and do a 50 minute Level 3 ride the next week.

    1. Author

      I did it this morning in a private session with a training client. He is what I would consider a typical indoor cycling rider who might come 2X a week. He is 62, rides outdoors in the summer, 30-45 miles 2X a week.

      Halfway through, he asked if I was going to give him any recovery!

      In my own training, I love these types of rides. They are the perfect balance for higher intensity rides.

  4. Great profile. I do a lot of work in Zone 3. For a time, people may have misunderstood the benefits of training there but runners have been doing tempo runs (Zone 3) for ages.

    Interesting playlist. Do you remember where you may have first heard of TWOD’s An Ocean In Between the Waves? It was featured in the initial SOYMB article – indie music – and remains one of my favorites for a long-ish Zone 3 / 4 push.

    1. Author

      It’s certainly possible I heard about TWOD from you. I really really like a lot of their songs and many of them work well for tempo rides at mid-cadence. Red Eyes is another favorite that works so well.

      I did this profile with a private client this morning…we got a little more than halfway through and he said, “hey! Don’t we get a recovery?!” He acknowledged that even though it wasn’t higher intensity, it was quite challenging. =)

        1. All of those songs are from their 2014 release, Lost in the Dream. It was an outstanding album and gave the band the notoriety that they were just starting to gain after Slave Ambient. I suggest that you listen to their 2017 album, A Deeper Understanding. It’s as good, perhaps better, than Lost in the Dream. There are at least half a dozen really strong songs, although nothing as good for indoor cycling as An Ocean in Between the Waves.

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