Vitfor’s online training program uses zones as a way to set and measure your training program. We detail in a separate blog (a quick guide to training zones) exactly how to recognise what each zone feels like, and here we outline just how training works to improve your cycling or running performance.

Training is an overload or stress applied to the body with the aim of triggering a response or ‘adaptation’. For endurance sports, such as cycling or running, we’re aiming to maintain a greater speed or power for longer and, to truly get the most out of your time spent training, we need to be focused.

steady state zone three to four running

When we exercise, the subtleties in adaptation are different depending on how hard we work and this is where training zones come in. A training zone is a level of work that can be quantified (either subjectively or better yet, objectively) and is associated with a specific adaptation or set of adaptations.

We like to use a gym analogy to help get the point across: imagine each muscle group were a different training zone. If you went to the gym and did a little bit of everything – arms, legs, shoulders, back – you might have a great workout but no specific area would develop that impressively. What’s more, when you get up the next day, you’ll ache all over so your next training session may not be possible or if it were, it would almost certainly be compromised.

Now, if you alternate muscle groups on different days, each group will have a much greater workout (more time and energy available to focus). This more focused training load combined with recovery periods will also allow effective next-day training as you can train another area while one is recovering. Although physiologically different, this is a way to think about training zones when cycling or running.

running with a heart rate monitor

By training at specific intensities for specific durations, your training can be far more effective. You can estimate your training zones subjectively by using an RPE (Relative Perceived Exertion) scale such as 2=Fairly light, 3=Moderate, and so on. It’s a method that is free and accessible to all, but does have its limitations. Your level of fatigue, your motivation, the style of session, the terrain and even the weather can affect how hard you perceive the effort to be, which results in a lack of consistency

Top tip for accurate training zone measurement #FTW

To really hone your training zones, we recommend using a HR (Heart Rate) or power meter to get a more consistent and accurate measure of your workload. The improved quality of training results in a greater adaptation for the same amount of time, while also allowing a more consistent measure to track progression.

If you’re currently training without a HR or power meter, we strongly recommend making the investment. You’ll see a huge improvement in how you focus, in your consistency, in focusing on your training adaptation and in your way of measuring your performance.

Contact us at if you need advice on choosing the meter for you. For more on how to incorporate this understanding into shaping your training program, read our blog on intensity, frequency and volume.

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