There are 7 common training ranges used in cycling. This article goes over the first 4 training categories and what they do for you. I’ll compare the normal categories to what I use and explain the difference to allow you to make a decision about which training guide to implement. Make sure you have read about what an FTP test is and how to perform an FTP test.
The first 4 most common 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 ranks I have in the same categories as I break these 4 zones into 6 zones.
Zone 1 is just as its name 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 that he is going to go out for a smooth turn or a light pedal, he usually implies that he will be in this range. There is definitely no heavy breathing, no physiological adaptations occurring in this zone, you could carry on a conversation for days, non-stop with yourself. That’s how easy this range should be, no pauses to catch your breath, the pace is neither hard nor fast. Remember that this rate is less than 55% of the average power of your FTP test. Active recovery is very important after hard training sessions, as it can speed recovery, decrease soreness, and help rebuild muscle by getting blood flowing better throughout the body. Keep in mind that there are other forms of active recovery, such as yoga and hiking.
Area 2 is Resistance or Base Resistance. The intensity is obviously higher than what you’re doing in zone 1. This category still allows for constant conversations unless you’re hitting the high end of the range or going up a hill. This category is known as the zone where you could ride all day. Back when I ran cross country and track in my running days, my coach called it LSD, or long slow distance. This category of training has a range of 55-75% of your average FTP test power. Most of your training time should be in this training zone. Zone 2 should allow recovery even after several days of training in this zone, unless the duration of training in this zone is really long. In this case, you may need more than 24 hours to recover. Getting fitter in zone 2 helps improve your aerobic base, here’s what you can do with oxygen. Spending time in this zone increases your stamina to ride longer at sub-threshold paces. The threshold is your body’s ability to deal with the acid buildup. Once you go over the limit, the acid starts to build up and your legs start to get that burning sensation. Eventually you have to slow down as this is everyone’s limiting factor. The goal is to build that stamina in zone 2 to help you last longer during sub-threshold efforts.
Base Endurance, Zone 2 has its benefits and they are; adaptations with muscle glycogen, adaptations with mitochondrial enzymes, and the change of fast twitch muscle fibers from type 2b to type 2a.
Common Zone 3 is the TEMPO zone, and is above the strictly aerobic zone and also below your threshold level. Towards the upper end of this zone I consider it a sweet spot and I’ll get to that in a minute. Like the Endurance Zone, you can exercise in this zone for several days in a row if you are recovering adequately with diet, rest, and massage. This area has more labored breathing and interrupts constant conversation. Riders usually go on pace rides near the end of the off-season coming out of base construction. 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 can also raise your lactate threshold in this zone. The tempo is 76-90% of the average power of the FTP test.
In zone 4 most common, and this is the Lactate Threshold, where the intensity is obviously higher than what you’re doing in zone 3. This zone is what some call just below a time trial effort, something you could sustain for a good amount of time. The breath is higher and the conversation definitely stops because of the breath. This area is usually where more training intervals are prescribed and during these intervals you may experience discomfort in your legs. The more time you spend in this zone on a single activity, the stronger your brain game should be. In this zone, you switch to using carbs as your primary fuel source, and if you keep up this pace without replenishing them, you’ll deplete your carb stores and be forced to slow down or pass out as a result. This training zone has a range of 90-105% of your average FTP test power.
The Lactate Threshold zone begins to push the limit up to continuous days in this zone. It is possible to do several consecutive days in this area, but it is better to do it with recovery between them. Along with some of the improvements we see in the previous zones, this zone also increases plasma volume, increases the efficiency of your heart, increases your VO2, and increases your aerobic power, which is power on oxygen.
My zone 1 is exactly the same as the common hot recovery zone 1, including the name.
My zone 2, Base Endurance, is a bit different than my normal Endurance Zone 2. I generally only prescribe this specific zone when an athlete’s HRV indicates they need to ride at a lower level to recover, or after hard workouts for athletes who handle training loads better. For the athlete who may need lower intensity running, but not active recovery or magic zone, I will prescribe my zone 2, Base Endurance, as it is a mix of the high end of active recovery zone and the more common endurance zone 2. For the athlete who can handle a higher training load, you will get this zone in lieu of an active recovery day in some cases.
My zone 3, the magic zone, is basically the same as common zone 2. I call it magic because this is where you should spend most of your time training, laying the foundation of your fitness to build a stronger and faster person. Magic happens here baby, so when your trainer tells you to stay in this zone, you must stay in this zone!
My Zone 4, the Tempo zone (common zone 3), is slightly different than what everyone else seems to be using when it comes to zone 3. My Tempo zone is a smaller zone that ranges from 76-85% of average FTP test power. 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 small portion of the lactate threshold zone (common zone 4). I truly believe this is the sweet spot for even better results in increasing plasma volume, increasing your heart’s efficiency, increasing your VO2, and increasing your aerobic power.
My zone 6 is the same as common zone 4, the only difference is that I call them Limit Intervals instead of Lactate Threshold.
Look for the next article while I finish up the rest of the training zones, I hope you get something from these articles to help you become a faster cyclist!