How training zones for cycling help with performance

Using training zones for cycling is an established and effective method of training, as it is in other endurance sports. Why train in zones? Because it’s scientifically proven to cause different physiological adjustments, critical for improving performance. Of course, this depends on the percentage of intensity at which an athlete performs their training. 

To clarify, the coach determines a specific percentage of intensity and duration for each workout, based on the zone the athlete trains; and, according to the adaptation they want to achieve. This also helps coaches and athletes to follow a common line throughout the training process. In cycling, we use two types of training zones: the HR-based zones, and the power zones — with the latter being more prevalent. 

Why are metrics and training zones for cycling important?

As mentioned, training zones are among the most common training methods for categorizing training intensity. To repeat, training zones for the sport of cycling are based on one of two metrics:

  • The heart rate (Max Heart Rate or Heart Rate at Lactate Threshold) 
  • The power (mainly referring to the Functional Threshold Power)

We use zone training, along with these two metrics, because we want to achieve different cardiovascular and musculoskeletal adaptations in the athlete’s body, in different phases of training. Again, we should not forget the duration of the exercise, as it also plays a decisive role here. Naturally, the duration of the workout also varies from zone to zone.

So, let’s see the most common training zones for cycling, and how they can help improve performance.

What are the most common training zones? What are the benefits, by zone?

Zone 1: Active Recovery

The first training zone for cycling is mainly used for active recovery. This means that the athlete can perform workouts in this zone as a warm-up, before the basic training. In this way, they can help raise the body’s temperature and prime the musculoskeletal system for the workout. Take note that the intensity here is low. Therefore, if you, as a coach, want to implement a basic workout in this zone, you need to do it for a long duration — as in long rides. 

What are the benefits of this zone when it comes to performance? In brief, this training zone, helps:

Zone 2: Building Endurance

The second training zone is another low-intensity zone, used for long-term training plans — and long rides, as well. Because this is a low-intensity zone, the coach should increase the total exercise time in this zone; just like in zone 1. A longer duration is necessary to help the athlete’s body induce the desired physiological adaptations, which, in turn, will help boost performance. 

The benefits of this zone include:

Zone 3: Enhancing Muscular Capacity

The third zone uses a larger percentage of the aerobic system than the previous two training zones for cycling. The reason behind the higher percentage is that the intensity in this zone is moderate-to-high. Hence, the duration of the workouts that the coach should instruct — for the required adaptations to occur — is medium-to-long. That is, workouts that may range from a medium ride to a long interval.

And, what are the main bodily adaptations that occur in zone 3? 

  • Muscular endurance

To explain, cyclists who train in this zone can eventually maintain their strength for a longer period of time. This happens despite the energy requirements of their training. 

Other benefits of training in zone 3 include: 

  • Improvements in FTP and Lactate Threshold
  • Also, an increased ability to utilize lactate acid 

Zone 4: Increasing LT and FTP

The fourth training zone is a high-intensity zone, widely used during the training process. Being a high-intensity zone, one of its main characteristics is an increase in lactic acid in the body. Having said that, coaches should integrate this zone into their athletes’ interval training, for both medium and short durations. 

The most important benefits of training in this zone are:

  • Improves the lactation metabolism for energy production 
  • Increases the athlete’s FTP — as a result of the aforementioned improvement
  • Enhances the cardiorespiratory system — due to training in high intensities (VO2max)

Zone 5: Improving VO2 Max and Strength

Finally, the fifth training zone is a very high-intensity zone, used for short-interval training. To elaborate, in this zone, the athlete needs to train in very high percentages of VO2max and HRmax. Thus, the coach should instruct their athletes to be very careful and focused during training, to avoid injuries. 

The main benefit of this zone, with regard to performance, is a noticeable improvement in strength and VO2max. Still, due to the increased demands of zone 5, the athlete should train in it sparingly. Before incorporating zone 5 training in your athletes’ plan, you, as a coach, need to ensure that they can endure such a high intensity, first; That is, both physically and mentally.

Using training zones for cycling the right way, with Endogusto

So far, we’ve talked about the benefits that training zones for cycling can have to the athlete’s body. What we haven’t mentioned, yet, is that, to have maximum results on the athlete’s overall performance, the athlete needs to execute a well-structured training plan. One that is  tailored to their unique needs and athletic goals. Without such a plan, the athlete runs the risk of experiencing the opposite effects: Overtraining syndrome and injury. 

With the science-based algorithms embedded in Endogusto, you can design training zones for cycling  sessions, easily and effectively. Endogusto is about spending minimum time (and money), but still yielding the best results in achieving your cyclists’ maximum performance. 

To give you an idea, with Endogusto you can:

  • Set threshold levels — based on data input — and monitor your athletes’ status with automated readjustments
  • Automatically calculate your athletes’ FTP
  • Use “test workout” events, to establish their thresholds
  • Make the most out of preset workouts, to save time
  • Monitor their fitness status, and health
  • Streamline communication with your athletes, to ensure they’re motivated and engaged

Create a free account today, and enjoy a seamless coaching experience!

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How training zones for cycling help with performance was last modified: September 14th, 2022 by Marilena Kokkinou