This article was written by personal trainer and fitness writer – Adam Willis
Previously we shared an article on the importance of focusing on Zone 2 Training when it comes to your aerobic progress [you can read that article HERE].
Zone 2 however is just 1 of 5 heart rate training zones, each based upon a certain intensity percentage of your maximum heart rate.
Each zone creates a different training stress, and therefore different training adaptations and outcomes, so you want to ensure you’re training in the right zone for the outcome you desire to increase your training performance. The most effective way to do this is using some form of heart rate monitoring device (like a WHOOP or other fitness trackers) to allow you to ensure the training you’re doing is creating the desired outcome you’re after.
So, let’s look at each heart rate training zone individually.
Zone 1 often gets ignored because it is so easy to do [but that’s the point]. Zone 1 training should be effortless, creating almost no stress or fatigue, and could be performed for several hours if needed.
If you have a long-duration endurance goal, like a marathon or ultra-marathon, Zone 1 training will allow you to increase your weekly aerobic training volume significantly without creating high stress to recover from, and it can also help increase recovery time between harder training sessions.
|Primary purpose||Aerobic conditioning & recovery|
|% max. heart rate||~50-60% of your max heart rate|
|Perceived effort||Very easy to easy [effortless]|
|Why train in zone 1?||Increases your ability to handle higher volumes of aerobic training over time
Increases your ability to recover during and between training sessions – as recovery happens in an aerobic state, the greater your aerobic capacity, the greater your recovery capacity
It’s a low stress/low fatigue training method that allows you to perform long training durations frequently without burning yourself out
|General guidlines||30 minutes to several hours of continuous activity|
|Example:||90 minutes of continuous walking in Zone 1|
Zone 2 training is the difference-maker when it comes to building your aerobic capacity, aka your aerobic base, and should make up a large portion of your “cardio” or conditioning training each week [research currently says 2-4 hours a week for general population health]. you can learn more about this zone HERE.
|Primary purpose||Aerobic capacity / build “aerobic base”|
|% max. heart rate||~60-70% of your max heart rate|
|Perceived effort||Easy to moderate|
|Why train in zone 2?||Increases your aerobic capacity and builds your “aerobic Base”
Increase your aerobic efficiency and economy – If you’re more efficient you can work harder at lower heart rates
Increases you ability to recover during and between training sessions – as recovery happens in an aerobic state, the greater your aerobic capacity is, the greater your recovery capacity
|General guidlines||30 minutes to several hours of continuous activity|
|Example:||60 minutes of continuous activity in Zone 2|
Zone 3 is the zone too many people find themselves training in when it comes to “cardio” or endurance training. It’s a zone where the effort is hard enough to make a person feel like they worked out, but easy enough that they can sustain a level of output for long durations, so it’s very desirable and is often the zone people end up training in when not using a heart rate monitor.
Now the problem with this zone is that it doesn’t allow for a hard enough output to increase power and speed like zones 4 and 5 do, and it comes at a higher recovery cost than zones 1 and 2 due to the stress it creates.
The result for a person who trains often in this zone is that they’re often tired and never seem to get faster in their chosen endurance event.
This is one of the reasons why this zone shouldn’t be trained for more than 10% of your yearly training. You’ll see far greater results by focusing on Zones 1, 2 and 5 for most of your training year.
|Primary purpose||Aerobic development|
|% max. heart rate||~70-80% of your max heart rate|
|Perceived effort||Moderate to hard|
|Why train in zone 3?||It can allow you to get used to training at running pace for shorter endurance events, like a 10K or half marathon
It can allow you to get used to a very subtle lactate exposure [compared to Zone 4 where the exposure is very high]
Zone 3 is very much a “grey area” when it comes to effective training zones. It’s not hard enough for you to gain benefits in power and speed like Zones 4 and 5, and it’s harder than Zone 2 training so creates higher stress and higher recovery cost so you can’t do as much of it making Zone 2 work superior
|General guidlines||Intervals from 10-20 minutes in duration
Up to 60 minutes of continuous activity
If you’ve an endurance-based goal, Zone 3 training should only make up 10% of your yearly training programme
|Example:||30 minutes of continuous activity in Zone 3|
I’m sure at some point you’ve performed some near maximal intervals where you’ve felt lactate in your legs and experienced that burning sensation in your lungs.
Kind of fun, isn’t it?
It’s so hard, that it must be good for you, right?
Yes and No.
Yes, Zone 4 training can absolutely help you increase your aerobic power and speed, and get you used to tolerating lactate.
However, Zone 4 training comes with a high recovery cost. Too much of it and you can very easily become overtrained.
Zone 4 training also requires you to have the ability to create and sustain a high level of power output during the “work” intervals and have the ability to recover quickly in the “rest” periods. This means that to maximise your Zone 4 training you must first build up significant progress in both your Zone 2 training [aerobic capacity for the recovery periods] and Zone 5 training [alactic power and capacity to sustain and high level of power output during the work intervals].
|Primary purpose||Aerobic power / anaerobic threshold training|
|% max. heart rate||~80-90% of your max heart rate|
|Perceived effort||Hard to near maximal|
|Why train in zone 4?||Increases your ability to generate higher levels of Speed and power when working aerobically
Increases the aerobic qualities of your fast twitch muscles
Teaches your body to tolerate lactate better
|General guidlines||Intervals performed from 30s up to 8 minutes in duration
If you’ve an endurance-based goal, Zone 4 training should only make up 10% of your yearly training programme
|Example:||6x 2 minute intervals with 1 minute rest between each interval|
Zone 5 is the go-to zone when it comes to developing Power and Speed. It requires a maximal output on every single rep/set whether that is sprinting, cycling, or slamming a medicine ball.
The biggest overlooked component however is the rest period with this training. This training requires you to be able to repeat high levels of power output every rep/set. This means the rest periods need to be adequate for this outcome to be possible. This can mean resting 1-3 minutes often between sets which can seem like a long time if your work effort was only 8 seconds. This often results in a person shortening the rest periods so that they feel more tired during the training, but unfortunately this decreases the person’s ability to create high power outputs each set and reduces the results of the training session.
|Primary purpose||Anaerobic power / anaerobic capacity|
|% max. heart rate||~90-100% of your max heart rate|
|Why train in zone 5?||Increases your ability to generate more power and speed when working anaerobically
Increases your anaerobic capacity [increase your ability to do anaerobic work for longer]
Increases the aerobic qualities of fast twitch muscles
|General guidlines||Intervals performed from 8s up to 60s in duration|
|Example:||20x 8s Intervals with 60s rest between intervals [effort must be maximal every rep]|
So, which Zones should you focus on time and energy on?
If your goal is primarily lifting based like getting stronger or adding muscle, focus your efforts on 1-2 Zone 2 training sessions each week.
If your goal is focused on more general fitness outcomes like getting stronger and fitter, or you play a team sport like football, netball, rugby etc, you should spend most of your time focused on Zone 2 and Zone 5 training with the occasional phase featuring Zone 4 every 4-6 months.
If your goal is focused on long-duration endurance, like a marathon, you should spend most of your time focused on Zone 2. Zone 5 training will feature early in your training preparation phases [further away from your event]. Zone 4 should also be programmed for a phase every 4-6 months as well.
If you’re currently not seeing the results you want with your “cardio”, conditioning, running etc I highly recommend reviewing what zones you’re currently training in and to start using a heart rate monitor.
Set yourself a defined zone to work in, and wearing a monitor, will remove all guesswork from your training and allow you to target specific training zones and training adaptations which will result in you achieving the specific training outcomes you desire.
Get in the zone was last modified: November 21st, 2022 by