Get in the zone

If you’ve ever heard a fellow cyclist talking about training zones, you’d be forgiven for thinking that heart rate and power-training zones are a complex world, reserved only for pro cyclists.

The truth is, any cyclist can benefit from training within heart rate or power zones (or both). That’s why Prudential RideLondon’s Indoor Bike Suppliers Wattbike have developed this simple guide to help you get in the zone and start improving your performance.

What is a training zone anyway?

Put simply, a training zone measures the intensity at which you’re riding. Training zones generally relate to either heart rate or power. Wattbike recommend training with a combination of heart rate and power to get the most effective results.

How can training zones help me?

Working within a designated training zone will help you to achieve a specific goal. For example, if your goal is to complete a sportive, you’ll be working in zones 1-3 as these zones work on building sustainable power. Conversely, if you’re looking to beat your time trial PB, then you’d be completing intervals in zone 4-5 which helps you sustain maximal aerobic power.

The table below shows a full rundown of the purpose of each zone and its outcome:

Training Zone Purpose Physiological adaptations Race fitness
Recovery Regeneration and recovery Increase blood flow to muscles to flush out waste products and provide nutrients Promotes recovery and therefore training response
Zone 1 Establish base endurance Improves fat metabolism, gets muscles/tendons/ligaments/nerves used to cycling. Increases economy More efficient use of energy. Prepares body for harder training, works on technique/skill
Zone 2 Improve efficiency Improves the ability to use oxygen, produce power and increases efficiency Able to produce more power with the same level of effort, works on technique/skill
Zone 3 Improve sustainable power Improves carbohydrate metabolism, changes some fast twitch muscle to slow-twitch Improved sustainable power, good for all cycling events
Zone 4 Push threshold up Improves carbohydrate metabolism, develops lactate threshold, changes some fast twitch muscle to slow-twitch Improved sustainable race pace, useful during tapering or pre-competition periods: too much time in this zone can cause staleness
Zone 5 Sustain a high percentage of maximal aerobic power Develops cardiovascular system and VO2max, improves anaerobic energy production and speeds turnover of waste products Improved time trialling ability and resistance to short-term fatigue
Zone 6 Increase maximum power output    
Supra-maximal Increase sprint power output Increases maximum muscle power, develops neural control of pedalling at specific cadence

Develop race-specific skills at race pace, starting power, sprint speed, and the ability to jump away from the bunch

While achieving specific goals is a great benefit of training zones, the best thing about training zones is that they are personalised to you. That means a beginner can have the same goal as a seasoned cyclist, but they’ll both be working at different intensities within their training zones, an intensity which suits them and their current fitness level. That makes time-efficient and effective training for each and every rider.

How do I set up my training zones?

First, you’re going to need some equipment. To get started, all you need is a heart rate monitor which you can pick up fairly cheaply, just make sure you follow the manufacturer’s fitting instructions to ensure you get an accurate reading. If you want to add power-training zones into the mix, you’re going to need either a power meter or a Wattbike, which measure power output as you pedal.

Now for the fun part! The only way to determine your maximum heart rate and maximum minute power is to complete a structured cycling test – the three-minute test is a great place to start. Be warned that the three-minute test is a maximal test and should be completed with caution.

If you’re using a Wattbike, then you don’t need to do anything more, the Wattbike Performance Monitor will calculate and display your training zones live during your future sessions.

So overall, training zones help you work towards your goals but ensure you’re training at the intensity that’s right for you, for best results combine your training zones with a structured training plan. This makes training as efficient and effective as possible, meaning no wasted time or effort.