June 16, 2024


Entertain Reaching Stars

Cycling The First 4 Most Common Zones And What They Do For You

6 min read

There are 7 common training ranges used in cycling. This article will go over the first 4 training categories and what they do for you. I will compare the normal categories to what I use and explain the difference to allow you to make a decision as to what training guideline you will implement. Make sure you have read about what an FTP test is and how to perform an FTP test.

The most common first 4 training categories are as follows; zone one is called Active Recovery, zone two is called Base Endurance, zone 3 is called Tempo, and zone 4 is called Lactate Threshold. I will also go over what ranges I have in the same categories, as I break these 4 zones into 6 zones.

Zone 1 is just as the name of it implies, Active Recovery. In this category, you can exercise at a low intensity to allow your body to recover from more intense training sessions and loads on and off the bike. When a rider says they are going out for an easy spin, or a lite pedal, it usually implies they will be in this range. There’s definitely no heavy breathing, no physiological adaptations occurring in this zone, you could hold a conversation for days, non-stop with yourself. That is how easy this range should be, no pausing to catch your breath, the pace is not hard or fast. Remember this pace is less than 55% of your FTP test power average. Active Recovery is very important after hard training sessions as it can speed up recovery, lessen soreness, and help muscle rebuilding by getting blood flowing better thought the body. Keep in mind there are other ways for Active Recovery, like yoga and hiking.

Zone 2 is Endurance or Base Endurance. The intensity is obviously higher than what you are doing in zone 1. This category still allows for constant conversations unless you are getting towards the higher end of the range or climbing a hill. This category is referred to as the zone you could ride all day long. Back when I ran cross country and track in my running days, my coach would call this LSD, or long slow distance. This training category has a range of 55-75% of your FTP test power average. Most of your training time should be in this training zone. Zone 2 should allow for recovery even after multiple days in a row of training in this zone, unless the duration of the training in this zone is really long. In this case you may need more than 24 hours to recover. Improving your fitness in zone 2 helps to improve your aerobic base, this is what you can do with oxygen. Spending time in this zone builds up your endurance to ride longer at sub threshold paces. Threshold is your bodies ability to deal with acid buildup. Once you go over the limit, acid starts to accumulate, and your legs start to get that burning feeling. Eventually you have to slow down as this is everyones limiting factor. The goal is to build that endurance in zone 2 to help you last longer during efforts below threshold.

Base Endurance, Zone 2 has its benefits and they are; adaptations with muscle glycogen, adaptations to mitochondrial enzymes, and changing fast twitch muscle fibers from type 2b to type 2a.

The common Zone 3 is the TEMPO zone, and is above the strictly aerobic zone and also below your threshold level. Towards the top end of this zone I consider it a sweet spot and I will get to that in a minute. Like the Endurance zone, you can exercise in this zone multiple days in a row if you are recovering properly with diet, rest, and massage. This zone does have more labored breathing and does interrupt constant conversation. Riders generally do tempo rides near the end of the offseason coming out of base building. Like Zone 2, adaptations with muscle glycogen, mitochondrial enzymes, and changing fast twitch muscle fibers from type 2b to type 2a are some of the benefits of Tempo. You also can raise your lactate Threshold in this zone. Tempo is 76-90% of your FTP test power average.

Onto the more common zone 4, and this is Lactate Threshold where the intensity is obviously higher than what you are doing in zone 3. This zone is what some refer to as just below a Time trial effort, something you could sustain for a good amount of time. Breathing is higher and conversation is definitely halted due to breathing. This zone is typically where more workout intervals are prescribed and during these intervals you could experience leg discomfort. The longer you go in this zone in a single activity the stronger your mental game needs to be. In this zone you switch to using carbohydrates as your main source of fuel, and if you keep this pace without replenishment, you will deplete your carb stores and as a result be forced to slow down or you will bonk. This training zone has a range of 90-105% of your FTP test power average.

The Lactate Threshold zone starts to push the limit as far as continuous days in a row in this zone. It is possible to do multiple consecutive days in this zone, but it’s better done with recovery between. Along with some of the improvements that we see in the previous zones, this zone also increases plasma volume, increases your hearts efficiency, increases your VO2, and increases you aerobic power, which is power with oxygen.

My Zone 1 is exactly the same as the common Active Recovery zone 1, including the name.

My zone 2, Base Endurance is a little bit different than the normal endurance zone 2. I usually only prescribe this specific zone when an athletes HRV is signaling that they need to ride at a lower level for recovery, or after hard workouts for athletes who handle training loads better. For the athlete who may need a lower intensity ride, but not active recovery or the magic zone, I will prescribe my zone 2, Base Endurance, as it is a mixture of the top end of the active recovery zone as well as the full more common Endurance zone 2. For the athlete who can handle a higher training load, they will get this zone instead of an active recovery day in some instances.

My zone 3, the magic zone, is basically the same thing as the common zone 2. I dub it magic because this is where you should spend most of your time training, putting down the foundation for your fitness in order to build a stronger, faster you. The magic happens here baby, so when your coach tells you to stay in this zone, you should stay in this zone!

My Zone 4, the Tempo zone (common zone 3), is slightly different than what everyone else seems to use as far as zone 3 goes. My Tempo zone is a smaller zone that ranges from 76-85 % of your FTP test power average. This leaves a small window for what I call the Steady state zone, which is my Zone 5.

My Steady State zone, zone 5, uses the top of the normal Tempo zone (common zone 3) as well as a sliver of the Lactate Threshold zone (common zone 4). I truly believe this is the sweet spot for getting even better results with increasing plasma volume, increasing your hearts efficiency, increasing your VO2 and increasing you aerobic power.

My zone 6 is the same as the common zone 4, the only difference is I call them Limit Intervals instead of Lactate Threshold.

Look for the next article as I finish off the rest of the training zones, hopefully you will get something out of these articles to help you become a faster cyclist!

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