Being in the Zone

Training graph of an athlete
September 20, 2016

Mike Ricci


A Refresher on Training Zones 

Reading through all the different methodology regarding heart rate training can be confusing. This article is a refresher on heart rate training and training zones. I have dedicated some time to understanding all the different methods that different coaches may use and I like the way Joe Friel[i] presents the training zones best. I will re-cap Joe's methods and give a little of my own input. I hope you find this simple and easy to understand. 

Zone 1: This is considered aerobic and a very easy effort. So easy, that you feel guilty.

When to use Zone 1: Recovery days.

Training Range as a Percentage of LT: Thirty-five or more beats below LT. 

Zone 2: This is an easy effort but not quite as easy as Zone 1. This may be twenty-five beats lower then LT.

When to use Zone 2: Long rides and runs.

Training Range as a Percentage of LT: Twenty-five beats below LT. 

Zone 3: In this training zone you are neither LT, nor aerobic. This zone should be used for longer training sessions only, such as ? Ironman and Ironman training.

When to use Zone 3: You may use this during Ironman training sessions or you may creep into this zone at the end of long rides or runs.

Training Range as a Percentage of LT: Fifteen beats below to the edge of LT. 

Zone 4-5a: This is a training zone that is called LT, or lactate threshold. How do you know when you are there? Well there are a number of tests you can do, but we'll try to make this as simple as possible.

Swim Test: After a thorough warm-up, a 1,000 yard swim at a very hard effort will give you your LT.

Bike test: Once again after a thorough warm-up, ride an un-interrupted 10k 10 mile bike course (no stop signs or stop lights). When you are done check the "average heart rate" function, if your monitor has one. This will be your biking LT.

Run test: After a through warm-up, run 30 minutes at a hard effort. After 10 minutes into your 20 minute session, hit your lap button on your monitor. These last 20 minutes will be close to your running LT. (This should be around 10 beats above your

biking LT). [ii] 

When to use Zone 4-5a: These are the workouts that are our "hard" session during the week. The Master‚Äôs swim workout, the track workout, or the spin class; these are all LT workouts. Studies have shown that training at, or below, LT creates the greatest benefit as it allows the body to recover quicker then if we train above LT. 

Zone 5b: This zone is still LT but it is above LT and it hurts like heck! It could mean five to ten beats above LT. Too much training here leads to over training according to Joe Friel.

When to use Zone 5: Not often, but if you do, this would be at the end of a long hard set. 

Zone 5c+: In this zone you are going all out for a very short period of time. According to Friel, this zone, in general, has limited benefit for the multisport athlete. The exception is those who are lacking the capacity to develop muscle mass or recruit fast twitch muscle fibers.[iii] 

When to use Zone 5C+: Seldom, but if you do, they are short fast explosions. The recovery time between these intervals may be long, and a few days will be needed after one of these sessions to help the body recover[iv]. 

Hopefully this information will help you find the right training zones and get your training off to the right start for next year. 

Of course both these workouts that are recommended are relative to your current state of physical fitness. These should not be done unless you have at least twelve weeks of base behind you. 

[i] Author of The Triathlete's Training Bible

[ii] Chapter 5, The Triathlete's Training Bible pages 63-67

[iii] Chapter 4, The Triathlete's Training Bible, page 41

[iv] Chapter 4, The Triathlete's Training Bible, page. 42

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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