Five Lessons Power Zone Training Taught Me About Meditation

It’s a running joke that Peloton users like to tell everyone about how much they love their bike, but there’s a subset of Peloton users who are even more intense about this: the Power Zone Pack. As a member of the Power Zone Pack, I cannot help myself from commandeering what should be a post about mindfulness to discuss my Peloton instead. Bear with me, though, because I plan to offer some useful insights about meditation practice.

Power Zone rides on Peloton provide interval training in seven targeted effort zones, measured by your output which visually display on your screen during rides. While you can (and I did) do Power Zone rides on your own and make progress, the Power Zone program offers regular challenges which structure the rides by week to help you build capacity in each zone over time. In the final week of the challenge, riders take a 20-minute FTP (“functional threshold power”) test to measure performance. Ideally, your FTP will increase, but if it doesn’t, your zones will adjust and you can work on growth in the next challenge based on where you are.

I started doing Power Zone rides soon after I got my bike in late 2019, but I didn’t try a challenge until May of 2021. Though I had been afraid to commit to the challenge initially, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it and how much sense the challenge structure made. As someone fascinated by mindfulness, it was hard not to think about how the same approach might help those new to meditation establish a practice that works for them. Here are the lessons that I learned.

1. Moderate but consistent effort is enough to make progress.

The reason that I was afraid to do the challenge is that I had been accustomed to working hard but not smart. When I did the Power Zone rides on my own, I did several regular Power Zone rides (in zones 3, 4, and 5) and only 1 Endurance ride (in the moderate zones 2 and 3) a week. When I started the challenge, however, I noticed that all the rides in the initial weeks were Power Zone Endurance rides and that those rides persisted throughout the program. Thus, when I did the challenge, I did more of the “easier” rides and fewer of the “harder” ones. Nonetheless, my FTP increased at the end of the challenge.

The lesson from this, of course, is that training doesn’t have to be painful to be effective. It can be really easy for type A people like lawyers to fall into the trap of thinking that working excessively hard or enduring punishment is the only way to rewards. If you are new to meditation, be watchful of this tendency. The practice isn’t easy, of course, but it shouldn’t be a constant source of irritation or pain. If you are struggling with your practice, consider if there are ways to make your approach or structure more supportive so that you can make progress without so much struggle.

2. Build skills first.

Why was I able to work “less hard” and still make progress in my first Power Zone challenge? Because the program was structured to help me build the skills at the beginning that I would need to power through the FTP test at the end. All those “easy” Power Zone Endurance rides in the early weeks helped change my experience in zones 2 and 3 from moderate to (comparatively) easy. In turn, that changed my experience in zones 4 and 5 to moderate instead of “no friggin’ way” and made brief spirts in zones 6 and 7 a possibility. Thus, the Power Zone challenge was structured to help me expand peak performance by building a solid foundation in endurance zones.

New meditators could learn a lot from this approach. In the beginning, meditation is most effective when meditators understand that they are building skills. Quite often, instead, meditators are impatient or have unrealistic expectations about themselves and the practice. They look for instant calm, life-changing insights, or bliss experiences and feel defeated or dejected if they don’t find them or those experiences don’t last. The more sustainable and practical approach is to use the initial experiences with meditation to build the skills of focus and compassion and to increase one’s tolerance for being with life, rather than unconsciously and habitually fleeing from it. Once you can do this, it is far more likely that you will experience more calm, insights, and bliss in your life and not merely in a few minutes of your meditation practice.

3. Community helps.

Though most Peloton users ride alone at home, a wide variety of Peloton communities have sprung up online. The Power Zone Pack has a massive group on Facebook, and I was fortunate to have found the Peloton Law Moms group even before I owned a Peloton. That group had a subgroup of lawyer mom Power Zone riders (shout out to #ProbableClaws) and their enthusiasm ultimately pushed me to join the challenge myself. The high fives from Power Zone riders are motivating, and during challenges tons of other Power Zone riders are there to ride along with you. In addition, the team names are hilarious and seeing them on the leaderboard is a source of amusement during long intervals. I made progress doing Power Zone rides on my own, but I had fun doing them as part of a team during the challenge. As in all things, community makes a difference.

Technology has opened up so many doors to busy people who are interested in meditation, but the downside is that most people’s experience with meditation is on their own. It is perfectly acceptable to meditate on your own and, for practical reasons, that’s what most of us will have to do most of the time. However, to the extent that you can incorporate support from others, your practice will benefit from it. Whether you find a social media group, attend a retreat, or just chat with a friend, community can support a meditation practice and make it more vibrant and even fun.

4. A compassionate teacher helps.

As a general rule, Peloton instructors are pretty positive, but the Power Zone instructors aren’t just there to entertain and motivate. They also instruct and are always focused on the long game. Matt Wilpers and Christine D’Ercole, as champion athletes, deeply understand that a growth mindset is critical to long-term success and they constantly remind riders not to focus on the numbers from one ride or interval, but instead to look for the trends over time. Denis, Olivia, and now Ben may kill you with a long Zone 5 interval, but they’ll encourage you for every second of it. The instructors don’t just want you to do well in the program, they want you to feel good about yourself so you can face the challenges in the ride and beyond.  

New meditators can benefit their practice by learning to be their own teachers, or at least cheerleaders. Whether you use guided meditations or not, it will help to pay attention to your inner voice. Notice whether your tone is critical or encouraging, focused on perfection or progress, or spends more time dwelling on errors than redirecting back to the present moment. If you’re anything like me, it may take some time until you are as compassionate with yourself as a Power Zone instructor is with the Pack, but if you give yourself time and grace your meditation practice and life will drastically improve.

5. You can learn from discomfort.

Just in case my first point made you think Power Zone training is easy, let me disabuse you of that notion right now. While the early weeks are comprised of many more moderate endurance rides, the later weeks include increasing efforts in zones 4 through 7 and culminate with the FTP test. I’m not going to lie: the FTP test is painful. It’s about testing your capacity, so it’s intended to be painful. Though these experiences are hard, they teach you (a) that you can handle hard things; and (b) how to handle hard things. In other words, the tough intervals and the FTP are where you put those skills you learned in the early weeks to the test. When you do, you not only experience the satisfaction and confidence of surviving an ordeal, but you learn what works and what doesn’t work for you as you deal with difficult things.

New meditators are often thrown off balance when they find calm and focus initially very hard to attain. They may struggle with copious thoughts, the tendency to fidget, self-judgment, boredom, or even physical or emotional pain. While it is not my advice to always “power through” all of those situations, it is my experience that discomfort of that nature can teach you a lot if you stay present with it. You can learn to stop fighting it. You can learn to care for yourself through it. You may even notice that the discomfort goes away on its own after a while. More fundamentally, you may finally and fully appreciate the fact that discomfort is a normal part of life and not something to be feared, pushed away, and avoided at all costs. Thus, while new meditators are encouraged to treat themselves gently as they face challenges that may arise during practice, it helps to remember that difficulties during practice are potential learning experiences.

To be sure, there are distinct differences between Power Zone training and a meditation practice. I don’t advocate treating your practice exactly like a data-based physical fitness regimen because one of the best gifts a meditation practice can offer for us lawyers is letting go of all our constant striving. But, I offer these lessons as an analytical tool to help you understand that, like Power Zone training, meditation starts exactly where you are and focuses on the long game. It’s about building skills by doing daily work, rather than quick gains borne from bursts of effort. For that reason, the Power Zone program offers a great workout and even some helpful life lessons. Best of luck in your practice and if you see #BrilntLegalMind on the leaderboard don’t hesitate to high five.