Using Training Zones
Your training zones are the target ranges (of heart rate, power, pace or perceived exertion) that will be used to prescribe workout intensities. It is important to recognize that there are different nomenclatures used to talk about training zones. Some systems use fewer zones (as few as four) and some more (up to eight). Each zone corresponds to a different intensity level.
Figure 3-1 depicts a common system that uses seven zones. The first four zones correspond to aerobic intensity levels. The last three zones fall within the anaerobic range. The lactate threshold falls right at the bottom of Zone 5a, acting as the boundary between aerobic and anaerobic intensity.
Of the four aerobic zones, Zone 1 is used primarily for recovery and warmup or warmdown efforts. Zone 2 is the primary aerobic base building zone. This is the zone for long slow distance (LSD), corresponding to your aerobic threshold (AeT).
Zone 3 represents a more challenging aerobic pace. It’s still well within the aerobic range but involves a peppier tempo that can be hard for the uninitiated or untrained. Think of this as aerobic tempo pace. Working in this zone is a stepping stone to tempo work that is closer to lactate threshold. But the intensity of this zone is typically too slow to gain much benefit for raising the lactate threshold and too fast to achieve the aerobic benefits of Zone 2 without causing undue wear and fatigue. Since there is little direct benefit to working in this zone, it is used sparingly and mostly avoided.
Zone 4 moves toward the lactate threshold but remains sub-threshold. This is the “comfortably hard” effort that runners refer to when talking about tempo runs.
The lactate threshold arrives at the bottom of Zone 5a, so Zone 5a corresponds to the super-threshold range. The sub- and super-threshold zones represent an important range that targets increases in the lactate threshold. Tempo workouts and cruise intervals in Zone 4 or Zones 4-5a improve lactate tolerance and decrease lactate accumulation, which enhances the ability to sustain race pace.
Zone 5b is the next step in the anaerobic range. This range corresponds to the athlete’s maximal oxygen consumption, or VO2max. Working in this zone expands aerobic capacity.
Finally, Zone 5c emphasizes anaerobic capacity. Work in this zone targets the ability to work anaerobically for events or portions of events that last a few minutes in length—such as starts, race surges, and finishing kicks.
Remember, the nomenclature used here is but one way to talk about intensity levels. It is particularly useful if you use the TrainingPeaks online training log to track and analyze your training. Coach Joe Friel, one of the founders of TrainingPeaks, uses the system; and the tools provided on TrainingPeaks make it easy to plug in your individual heart rate and pace data to calculate your zones according to this system.
However, other systems exist and have been adopted by different types of endurance athletes and coaches. For example, runners might be more familiar with coach Jack Daniels’ system which divides training intensities into the following zones based on percentages of VO2max: E for easy, M for marathon pace, T for threshold, I for intervals, and R for reps. Daniels uses the term “intervals” very narrowly to refer only to VO2max or race pace intervals of 3 to 5 minutes in duration—that is, work done in what he terms the I zone. He uses the term “reps” (repetitions) to refer to work periods of less than 2 minutes at R zone pace. Daniels’ E zone corresponds roughly to Zones 1-2, the M zone to Zones 2-3, the T zone to Zones 4-5a, the I zone to Zones 5a-5b, and the R zone to Zones 5b-5c. The Stryd power zones for running follow a similar 5-zone system.
Regardless of the nomenclature used to talk about training zones, they all target the same energy systems on the aerobic to anaerobic continuum. It can get confusing, though, when different coaches use the same word to refer to different points on that continuum. For example, the word “cruise” as in “cruise intervals” often refers to work done at or near lactate threshold. But in Dave Scott’s system, the word “cruise” characterizes what he terms the “cruise zone,” which corresponds to the staple aerobic work of Zone 2 in table 3-1.
The key is to look beyond the specific words or labels used to characterize and divide up the zones. What is most important is knowing the type of intensity level to target to gain a particular training effect. Table 3-1 summarizes the training zones used in this guide and their uses. If you know the underlying rationale of where these zones fall on the aerobic to anaerobic continuum, you can translate between the various training zone systems out there.
|DESCRIPTION||TRAINING ZONE||USES||WORKOUT CHARACTERISTICS|
|Recovery||Zone 1||Used for warmups and warmdowns, recovery workouts, and easy workouts that add to aerobic base||Easy Effort|
|Zone 2||Used more than any other training zone to build the aerobic base, which allows the athlete to better metabolize fat and spare glycogen (stored carbohydrate) as a long duration energy source||Continuous effort with durations of 20 minutes up to several hours|
|Zone 3||Used to build intensive aerobic endurance and improve lactate tolerance||Sustained tempo for up to an hour or long intervals (e.g. 5-20 min) with a 5:1 work to recovery ratio|
|Sub-Lactate Threshold (LT)||Zone 4||Used to raise the lactate threshold by improving lactate tolerance and decreasing lactate accumulation, which allows the athlete to stay aerobic at faster speeds||Sustained tempo for up to an hour or long intervals (e.g. 5-20 min) with a 5:1 work to recovery ratio|
|Super-Lactate Threshold (LT)||Zone 5a||Used to raise the lactate threshold by improving lactate tolerance and decreasing lactate accumulation, which allows the athlete to stay aerobic at faster speeds||Sustained tempo for up to an hour or long intervals (e.g. 5-20 min) with a 5:1 work to recovery ratio|
|Aerobic Capacity (VO2max)||Zone 5b||Used to increase the maximal rate of oxygen transport (aerobic capacity or VO2max), build lactate tolerance, and increase anaerobic endurance||Work intervals of 3-7 minutes in duration with recovery interval equal to or slightly less than work interval|
|Anaerobic Capacity||Zone 5c||Used to improve the ability to maintain short durations of speed of up to 2 minutes in duration (starts, race surges, finishing kicks)||Work intervals up to 2 minutes in duration with recovery interval equal to or greater than work interval to allow full recovery|
TRAINING GUIDE CONTENTS
– Train with a Purpose
– The ABCs of Systematic Training
– The R&R of Training
– Begin with the End in Mind
2. Exercise Science Concepts
– Overreaching and Overtraining
– Energy Systems
– Aerobic Capacity
– Lactate Threshold
– Aerobic Threshold
– Muscle Fiber Types
3. Monitor Your Training Intensity
– What is Training Intensity?
– Key Indicators of Intensity
– Using Training Zones
– Training by Feel, or Perceived Exertion
– Training with Pace
– Training with Heart Rate
– Running with Power
4. Create Your Training Plan
– Prioritizing Your Events
– Overview of the Training Phases
– Choosing Your Periodization Schedule
– Filling in the Details of the Overall Plan
5. Create Your Weekly Workouts
– Creating Weekly Schedules
– Establishing and Developing Your Base
– Building Upon Your Base
– Peaking for Your Target Event
– Race Week and Race Day Warmup
6. Functional Strength
7. Recovery and Nutrition
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