What in God's name is a 'zone'??!
- Divisions of exercise intensity with respect to a physiological marker or subjective feeling.
Typically, zones are divided up with respect to:
- Thresholds – like power, heart rate, or pace*.
- Maximums – Maximum heart rate is most common.
- Perceived Exertion – How ‘hard’ you rate your effort.
*Runners use pace/speed, not cyclists.
I’d bet a non-cycling normie friend has asked you “How fast you went” on your ride to get a sense of how hard it was. Don’t roll your eyes – they don’t know better – but you do:
You can’t measure cycling intensity by speed because environmental factors (mostly wind) affect speed so much that they change the intensity required to maintain a speed. e.g. With a good enough tailwind, you can go 30 mph in one direction without trying. Flip it and you’re doing 10 mph going all out.
Why should I care about Zones?
1. Together with duration, they describe how to perform workouts.
Fun fact – workouts consist of two* variables:
- Duration – how long to go.
- Intensity – how hard to go.
Duration is easy to describe because more or less everyone on the planet agrees on the concept of time and how to measure it.
Intensity, other the other hand, is much harder to describe. For example, I could tell you “Go out and ride pretty hard for 3 hours.” The appropriate response to that should be “I have no idea what that means.”
That could mean go as hard as you could for 3 hours. I could mean go really hard for a few minutes every hour. It could mean riding at what’s really an easy pace that ‘feels’ hard because you’re tired.
The fundamental problem with not having a common language with which to describe intensity is that without using zones an athlete doesn’t know how hard to ride and the coach doesn’t know how hard they rode.
Zones solve that problem because they provide athletes and coaches a universal language with which to describe training intensity.
Arguably it’s the most important invention since sliced bread. If you see a zone, thank it!
*Strictly speaking you could describe a workout using distance, but that’s for a separate tribe of endurance lunatics called ‘runners.’
2. They help you plan, analyze, and track your training.
Wouldn’t it be swell if you could look back on your training history and see how much time you spent training at different intensities and see how well you raced?
Breaking news – you can if you set your zones and upload your files to training software!
Sure, Cyclists’ obsession with training data might provide plenty of ammunition to other endurance athletes who claim they spend as much time analyzing their files as they do training, but here’s what the Luddites are missing – the opportunity to train smarter, faster.
With historical data, you can see what’s working and what’s not, and adjust your training accordingly. While zone data aren’t the only important training data to have on hand, it’s up there.
How do I determine my training zones?
- Read the Aerobic Assessment article so you know how, why, what not to do.
- When rested, perform the test.
How do I add my zones to TrainingPeaks?
- Open TrainingPeaks on a laptop or PC, click on your name (top right) and open your Settings.
- From the menu on the left choose Zones and then Power.
- Add Activity ‘bike’ > Add your Threshold Power obtained through your FTP test.
- Choose Type ‘Lactate Threshold’ > Choose Method ‘Coggan’ > Apply.
- Save and Close.