ABOUT YOUR TRAINING ZONES - Click here for more on RPE (rating perceived exertion)
Zone 1 - Active Recovery - This is your active recovery zone. It’s a very important zone to integrate within you training and not one to neglect. This is a zone that athletes tend to spend very little time in, which is not a good thing. Fitter athletes will benefit greater from doing recovery workouts compared to no workouts at all. This is considered an easy riding or running day, applying light pedal pressure or running on flat terrain at an easy pace. Example - Doing a recovery ride after consecutive hard days of training on the bike or competing in a race, will allow your body to flush out built up waste products, keep your body in a rhythm of riding and maintain a suppleness in your muscles and connective tissues. This keeps blood & oxygen pumping through the body to aid in recovery. It is very important to stay within this zone and not make an easy day too hard. At times, complete rest rather then a light workout would be a greater benefit physically as well as mentally.
Zone 2 - Endurance - Also called the Aerobic zone. This is an all day pace or the “classic long slow distance” (LSD) training. Long endurance workouts are what is needed to maximize the benefit potential of this intensity zone while keeping your RPE 2-3. It is vital that you do enough of your workouts whether riding, running, climbing, swimming, strength training, etc. in this zone to prepare your body for the higher demands of training & competing later on. Over time, training in this zone will lead to a stronger & more efficient cardiorespiratory (heart, blood vessels, lungs, passageways, etc.) and muscular system leading to an overall increase in your stamina & ability to endure. You want to practice being as efficient as possible in this zone, focusing on mechanics, cadence, breathing, hydration, training stress, etc. Practice is an integral part for all sports and cycling or running is no different.
Zone 3 - Tempo - Some coaches call this zone the “gray zone” of training while others call it the “meat and potatoes” of every cyclist training program. This is a level of intensity that most athletes will find themselves in and when balanced appropriately with the other training zones, it can cause some of the greatest adaptations to your fitness. However, by spending to much time in this zone will not make you a faster sprinter or better on the climbs, it will just mean that your good at tempo so remember that the right balance of your training time and focusing on improving your limiters will make you a more complete athlete. If your goal is a 100 mile ultra or an MTB century, then the longer the workout at this intensity the better. Tempo workouts need to be done at a sustainable pace that feels fast and takes some work to maintain. Do not underestimate the amount of work that is required when training in this zone and the amount of recovery time after.
Zone 4 - Threshold - Threshold workouts are focused on improving your FTP (functional threshold power) & strength at your LTHR (lactate threshold heart rate). The working sets in this zone are done right at your threshold, slightly below (sub-threshold) or slightly above (super-threshold). These are very challenging & stressful sets and require a solid rest interval (Ri) between sets. Its a fine balancing act with being on the edge of your sustainable intensity for the given sets duration. These are vital workouts to integrate into your training. Increasing your FTP for the cyclist & pace for the runner, at threshold, is the primary objective. All other zones are determined by these threshold numbers. Click here for how to go about Threshold Testing.
Zone 5 - VO2 Max - VO2 Max is the maximal volume of oxygen uptake. Zone 5 focuses on improving your VO2 Max with 3 - 8 minute intervals, that are performed at max intensity for each given sets duration, with an equal or greater rest interval. The key to maximize training in zone 5 is making sure that your intensity level is high enough and held for the sets duration.
Zone 6 - Anaerobic Capacity - These efforts are done at an even higher intensity level then zone 5 and the duration of each interval is cut down to 30 sec to 2 minutes in length with 2-3 minute Ri. There is a big difference between a 30 second & 2 minute effort, with both training the AC system. With intense variety in your efforts, this allows for some creative intervals built into your workout. These efforts are going to be painful and should be done when your fresh or slightly over reaching. Its not a workout to force in when your tired because you won’t be able to reach the desired intensity levels needed to challenge your anaerobic capacity. These are difficult efforts to get right without the use of a power-meter or experience with RPE.
Zone 7 - Neuromuscular Power - These are very short highly intense intervals lasting under 30 seconds, usually falling within the 10 second range. They place a huge demand on your kinetic chain (muscular, skeletal & nervous system) and energy systems. Don’t focus on what your power-meter or HR monitor is saying, just focus on giving it your all, controlling the bike, keeping good running form and being safe. These are highly explosive efforts and can be performed in a variety of ways.
Using the zones above gives guidance to your training and a clearer understanding of the reasons behind the workloads your coach is giving you. Zones, numbers and percentages are in place for assistance during your training to help you reach the right intensity levels, however, don’t become overly focused on the numbers or a slave to them. Learn to listen to your body and what it is telling you. Become very familiar with the RPE Scale. While you are training, you are never just in one zone, you are always over lapping zones, the idea is that when a workout calls for a specific zone or interval, your using a larger percentage of that zone. Lastly, be sure to do your specified workouts in the given zone, this ensures that your not making your easy days to hard or your hard days to easy.