Understanding Your Training Zones

I am writing this blog as more and more in the Friday Turbo sessions I am using zones to describe the intensity you need to be working at. I try to use fractions of race pace/timing but this will not allow you to dial in to the specific zone we are targeting, resulting in either going too soft or too hard – thus reducing the impact of the session.

We could run a session to determine zones, but this is simple (but not easy!) and can be done on your own with just a little bit of knowledge.

The easiest way to find your heart rate (HR) and power zones for either cycling or running is to do a 30min time trial at race pace. This will not give you a 100% accurate figure, but it will be within 90-95% of where you will be.

How to do it – simple, following a good warm up which should include some intensity spikes, go as hard as you can for 30mins, click the lap button on your heart rate monitor after 10mins, and the average HR for the final 20mins is your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR). For power zones (cycling), do the same test but for only 20mins as approximate functional threshold power (FTP).

Don’t have a HRM or Pwoermeter? don’t fret because you can still develop training zones based on speed on the turbo trainer (oh yeh, you do need a speed sensor!). Do the same test as above for the 20mins, making a note of which turbo trainer you are on (if your using a WTC one), which resistance setting and check your rear tyre is 100psi and take the average speed for the 20mins. Now, you can use these threshold markers and determine your zones as per below:

HR Zones (run %/bike %)
Zone 1 <85% LTHR/<81% LTHR
Zone 2 85-89%/81-89%
Zone 3 90-94%/90-93%
Zone 4 95%-99%/94%-99%
Zone 5a 100-102%
Zone 5b 103-106%
Zone 5c >106%
FTP Zones (and Speed Zones)
Zone 1 <55% FTP Active Recovery
Zone 2 55-74% Endurance
Zone 3 75-89% Tempo
Zone 4 90-104% Lactate Threshold
Zone 5 105-120% VO2 Max
Zone 6 >120% Anaerobic Capacity
Zone 7 n/a – max Neuromuscular Power


Want something more accurate? – the following test is from Hunter and Allen Training and Racing with a Power Meter. Other than going for VO2 max testing, this will give you the most accurate figure for your functional threshold power:

Warm up

  • 20min at endurance pace (65% FTP, 70% FTHR)
  • 3x1min with 1 min recovery, fast pedalling 100rpm easy gear
  • 5min easy riding (65% FTP, <70% FTHR)

Main set

  • 5min all out effort (max FTP, >106% FTHR)
  • 10min easy riding (65% FTP, <70% FTHR)
  • 20min Time trial (100% FTP, 99-105% FTHR) – lap your bike computer for this

Cool down

  • 10-15min easy riding (65% FTP, <70% FTHR)

Once you have completed the test, take the lap average power for the 20min time trial effort and subtract 5 per-cent from it – this number is your FTP. So for example, if your name is Dan say, and you always average 300W, and on this 20min test you incredibly averaged 300W you would calculate 300×0.05=15, and 300-15=285, thus Dans real FTP would be 285W and he is in effect kidding himself with the magic 300W number…hmmm


How often should I check it

Our goal in training is to stretch our capability and improve, so by performing this test on a regular basis you can see if you are improving, and crucially adjust your training zones again to ensure you are not going too easy when you would be capable of more. The frequency of testing depends on how much training you actually do and how fit you actually are when starting. For instance, a newbie full of entusiasm might want to check their FTP/FTHR once per month, but the more seasonal athlete might be ok with 4 or 6 times per year – myself, I don’t like what it tells me anymore so avoid it like the plague!

Now go, go check thyselves……….Ste


footnote – on the training sessions we do I strongly recommend everyone put a speed and cadence sensor onto their bikes, and if possible have a HRM to boot. It is not essential but it will help you to understand things like preferred cadence at racing intensity, and of course the above items. The club bike now all have functioning speed and cadence. Men only – if you find your bike doesn’t have a functioning speed and cadence sensor it really means you need a new bike, no argument, just go buy one – mine has just broken……

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