Know your training zones Part 1 of 2

Screen-shot-2012-06-29-at-1.16.59-PM-300x138If you have been reading articles at PPC for awhile you know how much importance we put on periodized training. One of the foundational concepts of periodized training is training zones. Training Zones are a simple concept to understand. Training Zones are nothing more than graded scales designed to tell us how hard we are or should be working. Utilizing the right intensity (How Hard You Work) in your training schedule along with the appropriate training volume and rest, physical adaptations (Strength, Power, Speed…) will occur.

There are 3 commonly used graded scales for measuring your training intensities. The Borg RPE Scale, Heart Rate Training Zones and Power Training Zones are used sometimes separately and or together to help athletes make sense of how hard they should be working. Other than the Borg RPE Scale these are not subjective measurements!

Borg RPE Scale

The Borg Rated Perceived Exertion Scale was originally developed by Dr. Gunnar Borg in the 1960s. Today this graded scale ranges from 1-10 or even 1-20 to grade intensities. This scale is great for beginning athletes who are not yet ready to make the investment in a Heart Rate Monitor, Sports GPS or Power Meter. However competitive athletes should be familiar with the RPE scale too. Competitive cyclists, runners and multisport athletes need to be constantly thinking about how hard they are working in a race as they some times cannot look down at watch or bike computer for safety reasons.

 Zone 01  Seated or completely at rest
 Zone 02  Easy work
 Zone 03  Recovery/Regeneration
 Zone 04  Aerobic Fitness
 Zone 05  Moderate Effort
 Zone 06  Tempo
 Zone 07  Harder Work
 Zone 08  Threshold Work
 Zone 09  Super Threshold Work
 Zone 10  All out efforts


Heart Rate training zones are graded from 1-5 and even 1-7. Heart Rate Training Zones are where many endurance athletes begin when utilizing a structured training program. Especially runners and Multisport athletes. However cyclists utilizing a power meter need to understand that Heart Rate is still important. While power will give a cyclist the defacto number for work being produced and do not have to deal with the vagaries of the human heart like Cardiac Drift it is still very important data to keep up with. Heart Rate can tell you when you are over trained and I have also found it very useful on recovery rides and endurance rides over power zones.

 Zone 01  Recovery
 Zone 02  Aerobic
 Zone 03  Tempo
 Zone 04  SubThreshold
 Zone 05  SuperThreshold
 Zone 06  Aerobic Capacity
 Zone 07  Anaerobic Capacity


Power training zones are graded from 1-5 and even 1-7. Power training zone description do match Heart Rate Training Zones but very often will not match while training and competing. We will cover more about each of the zones and it’s role in recovery and making physical adaptations in the next article.

 Zone 01  Recovery
 Zone 02  Aerobic
 Zone 03  Tempo
 Zone 04  SubThreshold
 Zone 05  SuperThreshold
 Zone 06  Aerobic Capacity
 Zone 07  Anaerobic Capacity


So what training zone should you use?

It really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. There is however one training zone that may out shine all others. Zone 3. This zone is sometimes known as the sweet spot zone. Its not to easy and it’s not to hard. There is one problem however. Most cyclists not familiar with periodized training spend most of their riding time in this zone with out knowing it, rendering it ineffective. It’s important to know that ALL zones are important and serve different functions when it comes to recovery and improving a cycling strength or weakness. More and more sports scientists are also advocating that athletes train with much higher intensities and with less volume/time training. I think a lot of us like to think we train with intensity but many of us DO NOT do this often enough or time it well enough. High Intensity Training is not with out risk either. HIT when used prior to building up the appropriate amount of base miles can lead to injury, over training and dreaded frustration.

Why do I want to use training zones?

Wouldn’t it be great if you knew what to do, when to do it and how hard to do it and that this knowledge would lead to better fitness and performance!  Creating a structured training program on your strength’s weaknesses, competition schedule or event schedule along with the appropriate training stress and rest will do this for every athlete no matter what age or sex or athletic discipline. While in the above musing about HIT I wrote that I felt far to many athletes are not really working as hard as they think they are I think even more are not recovering properly between intervals much less riding easy during recovery days. I took an athlete out for an easy Sunday ride recently and I think he was pretty surprised how hard it was to ride in Zone 2 Heart Rate for 3 hours over a hilly course. It starts out easy enough but riding up 8%+ graded hills and trying to do it so slowly as to not go hard take serious concentration and the development of new pedaling techniques.

How do I test for my training zones?

I offer several testing protocols for athletes who train with Heart Rate and Power but I do not have any for RPE as it is far to subjective to test. Its important to test so that the athlete and coaches have benchmarks and comparisons of past performances. I know that from reading articles here you may think that its training and racing are a 100% numbers game. They are not. Some athletes do well with structure and others struggle with it. But in either case it is critical to test abilities so progress can be measured.

There are many ways to test for Heart Rate and Power. Everything from testing on an ergo meter in a lab or looking at data collected over past training rides and races. The primary methods that coaches use outside of a sport science lab are Lactate Threshold (LT), Functional Threshold Power (FTP), Peak Power Output (PPO),  Power Profiling and Fatigue Profiling. All but LT are tests utilizing a power meter or ergometer such as a Computrainer.Lets learn a little bit about what each test tells us.

Lactate Threshold

The Lactate Threshold (LT) test is used to determine your LT. The test can be performed in a lab setting using a treadmill or ergometer. Lab testing can be formal or informal. A formal test is done as a ramp test where the athlete will ramp up power every few minutes and blood values are drawn to determine how much lactic acid is building up at various Heart and Power Levels. More often than not LT test are done informally in the filed while cycling or running to determine the LT value. Lactate threshold represents the highest steady-state training intensity an athlete can maintain for > 30 minutes. Your LT Value which is a percentage of your Vo2 Max is used by your coach to establish your Heart Rate Training Zones.

Functional Threshold Power

Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test is used to determine your FTP. FTP is usually thought of as the maximum power that a cyclist can sustain for 1 hour. Finding a cyclists FTP is one of the first things a coach will look for when coaching a cyclist/multisport athlete training with power. FTP like LT is used to set an athlete’s training zones for power zones.

Peak Power Output

The Peak Power Output test is a test to determine an athletes Peak or Maximum Power Output. This is a graded test done on a trainer or ergometer and requires assistance. The results of this test can be used to design training programs that focus on the improvement of Maximal Power Output.

Power Profiling Test

A Power Profiling Test can be done one of 2 ways. It can be done as a 2 day graded test or it can be done by reviewing 2 or more years of race power data. The data from a power profile will measure an athletes 3 second, 30 second, 60 second, 5 minute, 10 minute, 20 minute and 60 minute peak power output. Couple this data along with power to weight ratio you can find out how you stack up against athletes in your category from all over the world! You can quickly and unequivocally discover strengths and weaknesses!

Fatigue Profiling Test

Fatigue Profiling can be done as a test like the Power Profile or it can be used by Cherry Picking data from a previous Power Profile Test or race data and training data. The Fatigue Profile will let you know where you fatigue within a power profile. This can help a competitive cyclist hone their training further. By pinpointing weaknesses in lets say 5 minute power a coach and athlete can devise changes to his or training program to address this shortcoming.

 “For example, an athlete that cracks out 1800watts for 5 seconds, but then only 1100w for 10 seconds and 500 watts for 20 seconds has “Well Below Average” fatigue resistance, and you might think that someone that can crack out 1800 watts for 5seconds would be a great sprinter, but we aren’t accounting for weight differences between athletes, so this rider could weigh 250lbs(113kg) and therefore not have such a great sprint.    Similarly, a very light rider(121lbs, or 55kg) that only knocks out 1000watts for 5 sec and then maintains 900watts at 10seconds and then 850watts for 20 seconds, would have “Well Above Average” fatigue resistance, and also a blistering sprint.” Hunter Allen –

In the next article I will cover what the various training zones, what they accomplish and how to recognize a weakness and strength in a training zone!

Until the next article train smarter not harder!

Coach Rob

4 Comments on “Know your training zones Part 1 of 2”

  1. Hello.

    Say I select a ride profile in Strava or a race course that I want to dominate in the future.

    I want to train for this exact course profile using power zones.

    How do i know what particular power zones are specific to this course ?


  2. Hi Cameron, Most race courses are going to be “too variable” to provide a single training zone the same goes for Strava Segments. If you look at another rider’s ride data for a given course or segments you will quickly see that power data will vary wildly. This is why we average for a segment or a course. Then you take a look at your own power curve to determine what your best efforts are at from 1sec, 5sec, 10sec, 20sec, 30sec, 60sec, 2min, 3min, 5min, 10min, 20min, 30min, 60min and 90min. The shorter duration segments from 1sec – 3min are more anaerobic efforts and will require you to utilize some training at Zones 5-7. Training Zones 6 and 7 are actually to short to really train against as they are explosive efforts but we still monitor them. When you have longer segments, time trials or the bike leg of a triathlon/duathlon/aquabike you will focus on training zones from 3-5. Training zone 1 is for recovery and training Zone 2 is for endurance development and maintenance. If you have a need for very tightly controlled pacing over a segment or race let me know I can help you. I am also going to answer your question on an upcoming Q&A show on the Endurance Quick Cast. Look for it here in the very near future.

  3. Hi Rob and thank you of the reply. Should I be placing emphasis on a W/kg for the different zones as a convenient measure for the different zones perhaps?

    That way, when the power meter shows the W/kg reading during the ride I can have a good idea of power output at any segment of the ride?

    Just thinking out aloud..?


  4. If you are trying to take a Strava segment KOM then yes you will likely want to know the weight of your competitor. As you surmised it will help you know the minimum w/kg that you will need to match or best the other athlete. However what you don’t know can impact the validity of that number such as the type of bike, clothing and wheels that were used for that KOM. You must also make sure that the person you are looking at measured there performance with an actual power meter. Strava’s power measuring equations often wildly inaccurate. You also will need to look at the wind conditions. Did the current KOM holder have a tailwind that day. You may not have that luxury in a Time Trial or bike leg of a Multisport event. When racing in mass start events w/kg are really “big place holder” of sorts or a way to measure fitness and performance in general terms. I have know great crit racer who weren’t particularly powerful racers but knew how to read a race. If you have some segments you want to win or want to start preparing for racing I can help you take the guess work out. Just let me know…

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