What are training zones and what are they for?

Surely, if it is the first time you use a cycling simulator or attend an indoor cycling class you will have encountered the doubt of what are the training zones. This is one of the most repeated questions asked by most cyclists who are starting out in this sport, as well as in many other sports -since training zones or exercise zones are not exclusive to cycling-. Do you want to know what they are? We explain everything you need to know in this article.

What are training zones?

The first thing to make clear is that the training zones are defined according to the heart rate and in total there are 5 different training zones. And is that to improve performance in sport is not enough just to train, you have to do it correctly, and this is where the intensities come into play, which are those that mark a work zone or another when we are on our indoor cycle bike or our cycling roller and impact in one way or another in the body. It is also important to clarify that training zones or exercise zones can be expressed by heart rate or by other parameters, such as oxygen consumption. In this sense, we must take into account the following data according to the percentage of heart rate (HR) and the perception of effort (PE):

  • Zone 1: < 65% HR | 2 PE.
  • Zone 2: 65% – 80% HR | 3 – 4 PE.
  • Zone 3: 80% – 85% HR | 7 EPs.
  • Zone 4: 85% – 90% HR | 8 – 9 PE.
  • Zone 5: > 95% HR | 10 EP.

Having clarified this, let’s go into more detail on what the characteristics of each training zone are and what they provide.

Characteristics of training zone 1

Zone 1 is mainly intended for training, since you are working at an intensity of less than 65% of your maximum heart rate (HR). This zone is also used for the cool-down and recovery phases between sets. Its function is therefore to activate the body and prepare it for exercise, but also to help it recover. The duration may vary depending on each session, but is usually around 10 to 15 minutes, approximately.

What is and what are the benefits of training in zone 2?

Zone 2 is one of the most complete and used, and is the one that brings us the most benefits. In this zone, the intensity ranges between 65% and 80% of maximum HR. It is an intensity that is usually associated with long and comfortable running rhythms with the ability, for example, to converse with colleagues. It also helps to improve aerobic endurance as well as fat oxidation. Training in zone 2 serves to increase the number and volume of mitochondria in the musculature and to have a more flexible metabolism. All the markers that work in zone 2 are associated, on the other hand, with a lower incidence of metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases and greater longevity. It should also be noted that the improvement in performance in zone 2 is somewhat proportional to the volume and frequency of training. Of course, everything depends on the capabilities of each person, although experts recommend 3 to 4 weekly sessions of between 45 and 90 minutes duration.

Training in zone 3

Zone 3 works at a medium-high intensity, specifically between 80% and 85% of the maximum HR of each person. As you can imagine, this is one of the cycling training zones that requires the most concentration to carry out the task correctly and effectively, and to be able to maintain the effort -although this effort can be relatively bearable if the cyclist has experience, without the need to become a professional-. Some of the benefits associated with this zone have to do with the more efficient utilization of glycogen and its deposits, which means an increase in hemoglobin, cardiac output and systolic volume in the organism. The sensation of effort, in this case, usually ranges from 7 to 10, depending on each case (and the duration in this zone). As you can imagine, the work times are shorter than in the previous cases.

Training zone 4

Training in zone 4 is already a great effort for the cyclist due to the high intensity required. When you enter this zone you will notice that it causes a lot of fatigue and that, if you work progressively, it has the advantage of improving the ability to withstand the effort in conditions close to maximum oxygen consumption. In short, it improves performance.

Working in zone 5

It is the highest work zone of all and the one that lasts the shortest time, since it is used for very short distances and with a very high effort that causes a lot of fatigue (with the maximum possible speed). Working in zone 5 the intensity rises above 95% and this, among other benefits, improves lactate tolerance, increases glycolytic capacity and improves energy supply through alactic anaerobic glycolysis (or what is the same, the ability to maintain high intensity efforts for times less than one minute).

Calculate cycling training zone: What should I look for?

Knowing what your cycling training zone is is relatively easy since there are countless devices, such as smart watches, that will allow you to find out. However, if you want to obtain professional measurements, then the best thing to do is to perform a cycling-specific stress test for each phase. Ideally it should be done in a specialized center or by a professional, there is also a formula that allows us to obtain an estimate by subtracting our age from 220 to obtain the maximum heart rate per minute (bpm) and based on this calculate the training zone.

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