Search the news archive:
Training Zones for Dummies
By Staff
Date: 4/2/2006
Training Zones for Dummies

Training Zones for Dummies
By Bike Messenger
Thanks to for the training article. Join us for the Training chat with Ryan Barrett USA Certified Coach on Wednesdays in the Daily Peloton Chat...details at the end of the article.

You've decided going out everyday and riding your bike hard isn't enough. You've decided that you need to take a more "scientific approach" to cycling. You're idea of "scientific" includes growing mold on old bread sitting on your countertop. So what is the absolute most basic piece of knowledge that you must possess in order to do this? Arguably, this would be - knowing what your training intensity zones are.

"Training intensity zone?", you might ask, "That's a term I've never heard. Is this some sort of new approach to training or something??"

Nope. It's just a couple words that describe how hard you need to train for any given ride. Mind you, there are various methods for measuring training intensity, the most obvious being the traditional Beats Per Minute of your Heart Rate. Others might include wattage, when training with a power meter, or perhaps just "perceived effort".

Since perceived effort never seems very objective to me, and wattage zones are difficult to determine without specialized equipment (such as a CompuTrainer or SRM), and the title of this article is Training Zones For Dummies I'll tell you how to determine these zones and why it's important information to have.

The easiest way to determine your zones is through our tool that can calculate your ESTIMATED HR zones (pops-up). Be aware however, that your ACTUAL zones could vary quite a bit from this somewhat simple method of determination. The best way to determine your lactate threshold and other zones is to work with an experienced coach who can test your fitness and provide more accurate numbers.

An Example
Go to this link, put in your age, resting HR, and maximum heartrate (what's the highest you've EVER seen on the bike? Add a couple beats and likely that's your maximum HR. Once you've filled in these three fields and have selected whether you are male or female, click "calculate".

So here is our sample rider - I based it mainly on numbers I'm somewhat familiar with, my own.
32 Yr. Old Male Cyclist

I ran these numbers through the Heart rate Zone Calculator and here is the most important piece of information that it told me: This rider's AT (or Anaerobic Threshold) falls between 168-175 beats per minute.

The Anaerobic Threshold range (also referred to as Lactate Threshold) is probably the single most useful heart rate information that you could possess. In fact, entire training programs are typically based around the anaerobic threshold or lactate threshold numbers. So what is the difference between anaerobic threshold and lactate threshold? For the purpose of this article - NOTHING.

In real life? Well, let's just say there have been arguments regarding the definitions of both of these terms from various parties and as far as I know, no one seems to really know. Now I'm sure one of you exercise physiologists out there could totally make me look like a fool for saying that...but in all reality I don't think it matters that much whether you call it anaerobic threshold or lactate threshold. If I wanted to confuse you even more, I would include functional threshold as well in the conversation, but that just confuses me. This is really all you have to remember:
"Your threshold (whatever "nickname" you want to give it - LT, AT, CIA, FBI) is the point where your body is producing lactic acid at a faster rate than it can be utilized and cleared from your muscles...and we all know what lactic acid does to muscles."

So What Do I Do With This?
You determine your training zones, that's what you do. For the "dummy" in you, I'm going to keep things really simple and only present you with four zones based on the lactate threshold mentioned above of 168-175 beats per minute. These zones are:
2. SUB-LT ZONE (just under TT pace 155-175)
3. VO2 MAX ZONE (over TT pace 175-185)
4. MAX EFFORT (all-out sprint - no HR needed, ALL OUT)

I designated these zones based on what I think are the minimum zones that require training to be competitive. Sure, these could definitely be broken down into much more precise chunks - but really, doesn't that just confuse things?

So let's look at a very basic workout plan utilizing some of these zones on a weekly basis. Of course you increase intensity as the season progresses and you are approaching a race that you'd like to peak for. Aside from rest/recovery and perhaps endurance workouts, you should be 100% recovered before starting one of the intensity workouts in zones 2-4. The closer you are to zone 4, the more rested you should be. If you are not rested going into one of these workouts, you won't gain maximum benefit from it.

Remember, this workout plan is simply an example -- if you really want to excel I would recommend hiring a good coach who can continually analyze your data and feedback, and provide adjustments to your program so you can maximize your fitness. This would be an example of an early season schedule (perhaps Feb-Mar. in the Northern Hemisphere).

Monday: No ride or EASY recovery ride. When I say easy recovery ride, I mean small ring, very little power output. The goal is simply to stimulate blood movement to help repair the muscles.

Tuesday: ZONE 2 - SUB-LT intervals. You might start with three 8 minute intervals at somewhere between 155 and 175 (3 minutes rest between each interval - you may not recover 100% between intervals, this is intentional). In the first interval, your heart rate may only reach 160 or something if done correctly, by the last one, you should be near the upper end of your LT range determined above - in this case it's 175. This is basically AT OR BELOW your LT. You should not exceed your LT during these workout for two reasons:
    1. it will reduce the total time you can peform intervals during a given workout due to lactic acid buildup in your muscles and
    2. you won't recover as quickly if you exceed your LT because of increased muscle soreness/lactic acid buildup. The idea is to stay below your LT and minimize the buildup of lactic acid.
The amount of physiological benefit derived from performing lactate threshold intervals above your LT does not outweigh the increased recovery time. The purpose of these intervals is to bring your lactate threshold closer to your maximum effort and train your body to be able to handle extended periods at or near your lactate threshold.

Wednesday: ZONE 1 - REST/RECOVERY 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.

Thursday: ZONE 3 - V02 MAX intervals. You might start doing five 3-minute intervals at a HR above your lactate threshold range (with 3 minutes rest in between each one - rest to work should be a 1 to 1 ratio, meaning if you're doing 4 minute intervals, you'll rest for 4 minutes). With the example rider, this means your HR will be ABOVE 175 at the end of each of these intervals. Ideally, it will be somewhere in the 165-185 range for the entire interval. These are short enough where your heartrate may not catch up to your output level until almost the end of the interval. You can guage how hard you are going by comparing your effort to what you did on Tuesday's SUB-LT intervals. These efforts are basically the maximum you can sustain for all five intervals.

Friday: ZONE 1 - REST/RECOVERY 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.

Saturday and Sunday: One day race, training race or fast group ride. The other day endurance pace ride.

In this example, the above program would be for the first week in a 4 week cycle (3 weeks increasing workload, followed by 1 week recovery). Each week you would try to increase the TIME not the INTENSITY. So keeping the intensity the same your 8 minute LT intervals would now be 9 minutes, or perhaps you would keep them at 8 minutes and add a 4th interval. Either way, it's the total time at the particular intensity that is important.

This is where having an experienced coach analyzing your data come in handy. He can look at your previous weeks workouts and determine how quickly (or NOT QUICKLY) to increase your load. There is always a fine line between "reaching" and "over-reaching" or "over-training". "Reaching" is a natural part of increasing your fitness, but "over-reaching" can lead to "over-training" which can lead to a big bummer, if you know what I'm saying.

After three weeks of slightly increased training load, the rider following a 4 week periodization schedule will take a week of easy riding. This means keeping your efforts BELOW THRESHOLD. It's not as easy to do as you might think. Especially after the 2nd and 3rd days of easy riding. But it's important to make sure you are fresh coming into the next cycle so you can increase the intensity and perform the intervals to garner maximum benefit.
GOOD LUCK! B.M. (more)
Contributed by "Grassroots cycling"

Weekly Coaching Chats
Wednesdays at the Daily Peloton Chat Room.

Bring your questions and join in with Ryan and other cyclists in the chat about training and racing.

Ryan  Barrett USA Certified Coach
Where: Daily Peloton Chat Room:
When: Wednesdays 11 am Pacific Time, 9 pm UK, 10 pm CET, Please adjust to your local time.
Log into the Daily Peloton Chat,  no registration necessary... type in a name -  log in and join us.

Related Articles
Georgia Bikes! "Georgia Rides To The Capitol"
"You Can Ask Me Anything" A conversation with Tyler Hamilton

Copyright © 2002-2011 by Daily Peloton.
| contact us |