‘Training zone’ is perhaps one of the most commonly used terms in your Vitfor online training and when you’re other systems and methods for your cycling or running training. But, why do we have training zones and how do we measure them?

For those of us who are new to it, training lingo can seem like a foreign language.  Terms like functional threshold, critical power, zones or VO2 max may have little meaning when you first begin, but the more you want to get from your training, the more these instructions and phrases will matter.

Most of us train with the aim of improving.  To do this, your training needs to be specific to generate the adaptation required – simply going for a run or ride is unlikely to be the best use of your time.

training zones table showing threshold points

As different intensity and styles of training have different effects, we need a way to classify how hard we are working and what effect it will have.  And so, to training zones.  Put simply, a training zone is shorthand for describing how hard we should be working during that particular training interval.

Vitfor’s online training program, works on 7 training zones and to understand the impact of each zone, we need to think about how the body works.  In simple terms, we have two energy supplies – our aerobic system and our anaerobic system, and most of our training will be focused on improving the maximal capacity of both.

Training Tips for Runners & Cyclists #FTW

When we ride or run at a nice and steady pace, we are using our aerobic system – it’s easy to keep going and it doesn’t feel that hard.  As we start to increase our effort, our breathing becomes harder and we begin to access our anaerobic energy supply – the effort becomes harder to sustain. It’s these changes from one system to the other that we mark with training zones.

endurance running versus short sprints

The tipping point between these two energy systems is known as the ‘threshold’; below the threshold is the pace we can sustain over a 60 minute period and is our ‘Zone 4’ or Z4 to use its acronym.  Training below Z4 is in our aerobic state and above it is in our anaerobic state.

training zones tables with percent heart rates

With thanks to roadcyclinguk.com for this table

So, a typical training zone structure for cyclists will look like this (and if you’re a runner, the zones are exactly the same and you’ll have a sense of the running pace required in each zone from the descriptions given):

Zone 1: light spinning of the pedals at a low intensity with no real training response from this intensity alone. This zone is generally used to loosen the legs on recovery days or between interval reps or sets.

Zone 2: this is classic, long, slow distance riding (or LSD as it’s known in training lingo).  It’s an all-day pace intended to improve aerobic fitness and basic endurance.  It will feel easy with little concentration needed to maintain pace.  You will notice an increase in breathing over Zone 2.  A good test that you’re still in it, however, is that you could easily maintain a conversation.

Zone 3: is more a spirited or briskly moving pace, improving aerobic fitness and endurance more effectively than in Zone 2 and comes with associated higher training stresses or fatigue. This intensity can require some concentration to maintain especially at the higher end of the zone. You could still hold a conversation at this level, but it will be broken for you to manage your breathing.

Zone 4: this is where we reach our threshold level and the zone goes from just below, or Sub-Threshold, to just above, or ‘Lactate Threshold’.  This intensity is intended to improve your sustainable pace and also act as conditioning for higher intensity speed work. At this intensity, sensations of fatigue are moderate to increasing with sustained conversation difficult due to the depth and frequency of breathing.

Zone 5: it’s now starting to feel more difficult and Zone 5 is typically where you will see your training program requiring you to hold longer intervals of efforts (3 – 8 minutes). The intention is to improve ‘maximal oxygen uptake capacity’ more commonly known as VO2 Max).  It will also help to improve your maximal sustainable pace and will be accompanied by strong to severe sensations of effort or fatigue. You’ll know when you’re in this zone as it’s unlikely that any conversation is going to be possible!

Zone 6: is very hard and is generally the intensity of shorter intervals (30 seconds – 3 minutes). This is high intensity work designed to increase anaerobic capacity and your real top-end performance. You’ll experience severe effort and fatigue, and let’s face it, you’re not going to be talking much here either. To hit your Z6 right, make a mental estimate of the maximum power output you can hold for the timed interval, start at that rate and do your best to hold it – no fading before the end.

exhausted cyclist after hitting zone seven

Zone 7: it’s short – high intensity standing starts and sprints that generally place more stress on musculoskeletal rather than metabolic systems and is designed to increase maximal power and speed. This is maximum pace, cooking on full gas for the duration!  If your training program asks for a Z7 effort, it means we want you to go all out from the saddle as hard as you can without even thinking about the duration. Chances are, you won’t be able to hold the pace for much more than 10 seconds – so if the interval is timed at 30 seconds just go eyeballs out for the first 10 and see what you can hold until the end.

So that’s it – training zones and some other lingo explained. Whatever training program you’re using, it’s worth getting familiar with your training zones and especially your functional threshold so that you can start to shape your training more effectively.

For more on how to incorporate training zones into your training program, read our blog on finding the balance between intensity, frequency and volume.

3 thoughts on “A quick guide to training zones

Comments are closed.