In the zone

In the zone

Having heard the word “Zone” at least three times in the last one week, it became time to talk about it.  Or rather, find out more about it.

It would appear that Zone 2 and Zone 3 are magic numbers but we will get to that later.

Training Zones are not unique to the cyclist, but it is important to understand and eventually imbibe them to become better at the sport we love.  The alternative is to join the various Club ride groups by gut feeling without a clear path or direction for your fitness journey.


When you are engaged in cardiovascular exercise to a point where you are breathing heavily, and if cycling, you are feeling a burning sensation in your quadriceps, you have probably reached your “lactate threshold heart rate.”  Barring proper physiological testing at a sports training center, the Maximum Heart Rate on the other hand, can be calculated using the formula:

210 minus 5% Body Weight in pounds minus half your age.

Men need to add 4 to the resulting number.

These two thresholds are different but each one of them can be used to calculate individual training zones.

The resting heart rate can be determined by taking an average of the rates read for a week, from your heart rate monitor each morning while you are totally relaxed, before you get out of bed.


“Recovery Rides” start to make sense when you understand what the various training zones are.    Also note that the training zones used to benchmark cycling, are different from those for running or swimming.  There are 5 or 6 training zones, depending on who is counting.  Our 5-zone list below calculates each zone as a percentage of the Lactate Threshold Heart Rate while the 6-zone list calculates each zone as a percentage of your maximum heart rate.  However, unlike World Standard Time Zones, the jury is out on what those numbers should be exactly, so let these numbers serve as guides.  Some training also includes a dedicated Recovery zone.

Zone 1 is 55 to 70% of the Lactate Threshold Heart Rate.

Zone 2 is 70 to 85%

Zone 3 is 85 to 94%

Zone 4 is 94 to 99%

Zone 5 is 100% and above

The 6-Zone system used by the Association of British Cycling Coaches looks something like:

Zone 1 − 60-65% of Maximum Heart Rate

Zone 2 − 65-75% of MHR

Zone 3 − 75-82% of MHR

Zone 4 − 82-89% of MHR

Zone 5 − 89-94% of MHR

Zone 6 − 94-100% of MHR


Long easy rides are best done in Zone 1 and in this zone, combustion and storage of fats is improved.  At the other end of the spectrum, Zone 6 rides are primarily for high intensity interval training and help to increase power and speed.  Huge doses of discipline and humility are required to be successful at heart rate training in cycling.  Heart rate training during Club rides is however challenging as it requires the group to be at very similar fitness levels.  With Cycology, that would mean carefully choosing the group you ride with, to match your plan at that particular moment.  And it could be Group ‘E’.

Hard as it may be to believe, you have to start slow to get fast.  Long steady rides will bring results, guaranteed and there are no short cuts.  This would mean something like riding in Zone 2 for a few hours at a time and not pushing hard on hills.

Easy pedaling for 5 to 15 minutes, followed by 30 second all out sprints will help you burn fat while saving some time.

For endurance, a 3-hour Zone 2 ride and a 2-hour Zone 3 ride each week will make all the difference.  Alternatively, you could also do 3-4 hours in Zone 2 with 10-minute bursts in Zone 3 to 4 every hour.

For proper recovery, you must have at least one ride-free day per week and one day when you ride in Zone 1 or below for 1 hour or so.

Recovery is critical to performance for any athlete.

Most importantly, record your progress and LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.  You will know you are getting fitter, when you can ride a set distance faster, at the same heart rate.