Which Training Zones should I be using?

Training zones enable athletes and coaches to achieve precise physiological adaptations from their training.  In essence, training zones tell the athlete how hard or easy to pedal in a workout or on a training plan.

There is no one single option that fits all, and some coaches will go with 3 zones, i.e. Easy, Medium and Hard, while others will use the traditional 5 zones, i.e. Recovery, Endurance, Tempo, Threshold and VO2max, or even 6 and 7 zones. FasCat uses the seven training zones below and really there are two types of intensities within those seven: as hard as you can (zones 4-7) and not as hard as you can (Training Zone 1 – Sweet Spot).  It’ easy to train in all these zones with a power meter, a heart rate monitor (or both) or without either by using your rate of perceived exertion (RPE).

Time in each zone

At the end of the day, the number of zones is not as important as the time spent in each zone, especially the ones that count the most. One of the biggest mistakes that amateurs make is thinking that by going as hard/fast as possible, they will improve. While that isn’t entirely false, improvement will come by simply riding your bike more every day, until you reach a plateau whereby you’ll find it hard to improve your performance. That’s where time in each zone comes into play.

Most coaches, as well as studies available using a simple Google search, will agree that the bulk of your time will be in Zone 2, and is often referred to as your optimal training zone – where you’ll get the most benefit. Supplement that with time in Zones 3-5 or 3-7 (depending on the method you decide upon) which should be shorter in duration, but harder in effort.

In addition to the above mentioned mistake by many amateurs, another mistake is not doing the hard efforts hard enough, and the easy efforts easy. Zone 1 is the Active Recovery zone, and a chance for your body to adjust to the shock from the hard effort. This should be done the day after a hard effort, or after two consecutive days of hard efforts (the fitter and stronger guys will be able to do this). Instead, amateurs tend to “give up” before the end of the hard session, or drop the intensity a bit and then ride above Zone 1 the next day, as they think they need to make up for the loss on the hard effort.


If you decide to go on holiday to an overseas destination, you don’t simply buy tickets and get on a plane, arrive in the country and then try find accommodation. No, you plan ahead, find the best flights (either from transit time savings, or cost). You also plan your accommodation and the places you’re going to visit. Planning for your rides is similar.

  • The holiday is the goal, which is what you need to do first. Decide where you want to go, or in cycling terms, the fitness level you want to get to, or the time you want to rid a favourite race in;
  • When I get there, I have time available to visit 3 tourists sites per day, for 7 days, then a drive through to another city and so on. In cycling, I need to determine how much time I have available to train, i.e. 10 hours per week. Saturday (4), Sunday (3), and then 3 days in the week.

Once I know how much time is available, I need to plan my training to get 10 hours of training in all the zones. Zones 1-2 should be up to 80% of my efforts, and Zones 3-5 or 3-7 for the rest. In fact, Zone 1 is also used between very hard efforts, so the time is skewed slightly in favour of the easy 80%.

In next week’s newsletter, there will be a graph showing the various training concepts, and also a spreadsheet that will help calculate the time needed in each zone based on your available time, preferred method of training, and your basic vitals (Max HR, LTHR, FTP, etc).

In the meantime, watch this video to get a better understanding of the subject matter being discussed.