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Training zones what are they and why do we use them?

Training zones are widely used. They are used to determine and guide training intensities in order to illicit training adaptions in the body. In this piece I am going to run through the following:


  • 3 common training zone models

  • Show how they overlap

  • Present a new training zone model for future training


If you have been around training zones for a while you will notice that there are a lot of different zonal systems used. Some use a 3 Zone model, some use a 5 zone model some use 7 or even 8 zones.


All models have the same purpose to identify aerobic endurance intensities, tempo or moderate work intensities and intensities at threshold and above. I want to give a little overview of a couple of commonly used zonal systems and then present the one

I now choose to use to determine training and why.


A 3-zone model has come from the work of Stephen Sellier, within this model zones are as follows:

  • Zone 1: is below the Aerobic Threshold (AT) or Lactate Threshold 1 (LT1)

  • Zone 2: is the intensity between LT1 and the Anaerobic threshold or Lactate Threshold 2 (LT2)

  • Zone 3: above LT2


A 5-zone model breaks down the zones a little further:

  • Zone 1: Recovery

  • Zone 2: Basic endurance

  • Zone 3: Tempo efforts

  • Zone 4: Anaerobic Threshold

  • Zone 5: V02max and at the upper end Anaerobic capacity and maximal effort


Finally, a very common one used in Training Peaks developed by Joe Friel is a 7-zone model:

  • Zone 1: Recovery

  • Zone 2: Aerobic endurance

  • Zone 3: Tempo

  • Zone 4: SubThreshold

  • Zone 5A: SuperTHreshold

  • Zone 5B: Aerobic Capacity (V02max)

  • Zone 5C: Anaerobic Capacity


Three methods that phrase things a little differently, But if we look at the table below you will see how they overlap even though some of the terminology is a little different. When we take a closer look you will see that they have a common thread.


In all 3 models endurance work is done in zones 1 and 2. The 5 and 7 zone model make the distinction between easier intensities. In the 3 zone model tempo or moderate work is done in zone 2 and all intensity work done in zone 3 is seen as above threshold.


In the 5 zone model, zone 3 is tempo work and zones 4 and 5 break efforts into threshold and V02max efforts.


For Joe Friel’s model tempo work is split in two, zone 3 and zone 4. Then high intensity training is defined in 3 zones, 5A Threshold and above, 5B V02max efforts (Aerobic capacity) and 5C Anaerobic capacity sprint work.


A lot of ways to skin a cat. But for long distance triathlon and endurance cycling which model do we pick. Most athletes are used to a 5 zone model so let’s stick with that one. However, we want to be specific to our event whether it’s a full or half Ironman or endurance cycle.


At the moment I like a version of the 5 zone model with a little modification. Splitting zone 3 into a lower and upper category. This allows us to define race pacing a little better. The table below shows the breakdown and associated effort ;


You will start to see these transition more into training plans over the next couple of weeks.


In this piece I have put the cart before the horse and jumped into training zones. In some follow up posts I will go into a little more detail on the following:

  • the training impact that each zone has on the body

  • testing protocols we can use to determine the zones

  • training intensity distributions used to prepare us for goal races

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