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What is the "zone" stuff?
CREATED: 08/11/09 by vatriathlete REPLIES: 13
vatriathlete    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 682
What is the "zone" stuff?
POSTED: 8/11/09 8:40 AM

so what is this "zone" stuff that everyone talks about?

meaning "i'm riding zone 3 today for 100 miles care to join me" or "i'm running zone 5 for intervals of 5x1 mile repeats", etc.

i know its not the "fad" diet that was popular about 8 years ago, but it sounds just as "gimicky" as it.

how does it relate to speed during intervals, effort level and how can you correlate one person's zone to another person's "zone" besides saying "they are in the same zone"?

Now another question, it seems like these zones are "self set" and if its completely subjective and unique to each person, then what good does saying "we are riding zone 3" come join us? wouldn't the avg mph or pace be a better gauge of if a person can hang or not?

Or am i completely wrong and zones are the new conversion scale for mph and min/mile pacing? ie, zone 1 is 5-10mph or 10 min/mile pace, zone 5 is 35mph and 5 min/mile pace.. etc..


Herminator's ravatar Herminator    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 17
RE: What is the "zone" stuff?
POSTED: 8/11/09 9:44 AM

The last time that I saw an actual medical doctor (i.e., not a chiropractor, acupuncturist, etc.) who actually went to a reputable medical school (i.e., not one in Guatamala), he told me that athletes are basically throwing money out of the window when paying for heart rate tests (e.g., VO2 max).

"Sacrilege!" I said. However, his point was that heart rate/aerobic threshold/etc. fluctuates so much due to factors like heat, humidity, what you've been eating, how you've been sleeping, etc. that the numbers are largely meaningless. In other words, the old, "if you can carry on a conversation, you're staying aerobic" test is as good as anything else out there...and it's free.

Was this guy a quack...or is there something to it?

AndyJB444's ravatar AndyJB444    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 401
RE: What is the "zone" stuff?
POSTED: 8/11/09 10:08 AM

Can of worms!

I think I can read between the lines in what you are TRYING to say, in that, zones are too ambiguous and shouldn't be used when asking for training partners...but, I'll play dumb and just answer your question at face-value - I think its commonly accepted amongst endurance athletes that there are 5 distinct "zones" of training - and possibly more (Z5A, Z5B, etc.) depending on how specific you want to get:

Z1 - Zone 1 or Recovery
Z2 - Zone 2 or Extensive endurance
Z3 - Zone 3 or Intensive endurance/muscular endurance
Z4 - Zone 4 or Sub-threshold
Z5a - Zone 5a or Threshold
Z5b- Zone 5b or Super-threshold
Z5c- Zone 5b or VO2 Max

And the corresponding RPE for the each zone**:

0-4 Z1 easy, maybe starting to sweat
5-6 Z2 Working but sustainable, able to talk in full sentences
7 Z3 Strong effort; breathing labored, but can still maintain pace for some minutes without slowing.
8 Z4 Olympic Distance Race Pace for MOP to FOP
9 Z5 10k effort – very hard
10 Z5+ Z5+ = 5k effort and Z5++ = cannot hold effort for more than a minute or two. (almost maximal effort)

**Stolen from

I personally train with heart rate because its relatively cheap and still gives a good idea of what level you are training at. I see my heart rate at the upper zones start to drop relative to RPE as I become over-trained or just tired and in need of some recovery...

Just train, and train with people faster than you and the rest will fall into place! ;)

As an FYI though, when Patrick says Zone 5 - its hang on for dear life!


vatriathlete    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 682
RE: What is the "zone" stuff?
POSTED: 8/11/09 11:44 AM

yes andy you got the reading between the lines. LOL

it sounds very subjective and is great for "personal use" for gauging your own effort level. so on that level i'm sure it works very well for training purposes.

i noticed that many people are using these "zone" criteria when referring to training and such.. curious what the new lingo was as never really heard of it.

guess i'm old school in that people used to refer to this as the following:

going easy, moderate, below race pace, race pace, 5k pace, 10k pace, marathon pace, etc...

siehndel's ravatar siehndel    JOINED: 11/25/05    POSTS: 1051
RE: What is the "zone" stuff?
POSTED: 8/11/09 12:59 PM

For the most part, I think people are pretty good about discussing pace rather than zones. At least on the longer endurance rides.

For Tues/Thurs regulars, there's a pretty good understanding of who rides what speed so it's probably fairly intuitive to the regulars and not very intuitive to anyone else.

A safe rule to live by is that if anyone is advertising that they will be sustaing a zone 4 or 5 effort, it's going to be a pretty strong speed. Zone 1-3 will be lower intensity and best described as an easy spin.

Unless it's Patrick. In that case, z1 is pretty close to my z11.


nomisdc's ravatar nomisdc    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 611
RE: What is the zone stuff?
POSTED: 8/11/09 3:49 PM

I'd be more than willing to take that Doc you mentioned Hermes, test his zones, then put him on a bike and say ride in HR zone 2 for 6 hours. Then I'll take him the next week and say ride in HR zone 5 for 6 hours. We can do it in different temperatures, sleep, hills, continents, whatever. Then I'll ask him to run the next day in HR zone 5 for 3 hours. Provided he's still alive, I'll then ask him if there is a difference in HR zones, and see what he says.
I vote for there is a heck of a lot of validity to HR zones.

Herminator's ravatar Herminator    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 17
RE: What is the "zone" stuff?
POSTED: 8/11/09 4:14 PM


He definitely wasn't saying that the zones don't exist. His point was that tests to obtain hard numbers are largely worthless because transition points between zones apparently fluctuate a significant amount due to so many variables. In other words, what he was saying was that, instead of paying for a test, just go by how you feel (i.e., the "easy", "working but sustainable", "strong effort", etc.), as that's just as good of an indication of what zone you're in on any given day.

Oh, and I'm not saying that I'm buying it. I just put it up for discussion...

suzkinsky's ravatar suzkinsky    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 121
RE: What is the "zone" stuff?
POSTED: 8/11/09 4:41 PM

Yeah, I think your doctor might be confusing the issue. It's not that the transition point between zones is fluid, it's that on any given day the speed, or pace, you go to sit at a certain zone is different because of heat, humidity, terrain, fatigue (all the things he mentioned). The mile repeats I ran this morning in 72 degrees would be much faster compared to what I would be able to run this afternoon in 95 degrees, even if I ran them both at zone 4. Technically they're the same workout, it's just that one is slower because the conditions are different. That's why HR training is more precise than training by pace, generally - it wants you to be working at a certain exertion level, regardless of how fast or slow you need to be to get there. The other benefit to HR over pace: As you get fitter, you get faster. If you trained by pace alone you'd never be able to take advantage of your new fitness and train at a higher pace (unless you continually tested yourself in time trials or something). So those mile repeats I ran this morning are a good 30 seconds per mile faster than I was running a few months ago - even though, again, I'm technically doing the exact same workout by keeping my HR in the same zone.

Herminator's ravatar Herminator    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 17
RE: What is the "zone" stuff?
POSTED: 8/11/09 5:02 PM

Actually, what I understood him to have said was that the transition point between zones is indeed fluid, at least from a heart rate perspective. In other words, I believe that what he was saying was that your lactate threshold may occur, for example, at 140 bpm on a cool, crisp morning and may occur at 130 bpm under oppressive heat and humidity. Maybe I misunderstood him. Maybe it was complete hog wash. Maybe it's true. I just don't know. Anyone else ever heard of such a theory?

AndyJB444's ravatar AndyJB444    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 401
RE: What is the "zone" stuff?
POSTED: 8/11/09 5:44 PM

Time to play devils advocate!

I know of no race that evaluates heart rate to determine the winner...

Furthermore, there are many factors that affect heart rate both individual and environmental. Because of this, heart rate is better used as a guide AFTER a work out to examine the total stress on the body for the effort.

Another issue to contend with when using heart rate: cardiac drift.

SO, I am a fan of training by pace for my key running workouts...7:30/mile or any other pace is specific and exact, regardless of outside conditions. It will get you to your goal finish time. By training at that pace you can do it in a race regardless of what your HR is telling you...

Get faster by going faster, not by staring at a number on your wrist!

bcfrank's ravatar bcfrank    JOINED: 3/23/09    POSTS: 898
RE: What is the "zone" stuff?
POSTED: 8/11/09 6:53 PM

I know Sandy can speak for herself, but I remember that in her race at ITU, her Garmin stopped working. She typically zone trains and maintains a particular pace to remain in her zones. But with her Garmin not working, she actually ended up doing almost a minute per mile faster on her run and didn't have heart race issues. :)

vatriathlete    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 682
RE: What is the "zone" stuff?
POSTED: 8/11/09 9:24 PM

i think the hrt stuff is a tool that can be used to gauge fitness or pace, etc. but like all tools its "a tool" to be used to get to a goal, in this case to be faster or gain fitness. the use of the "tool" should not be the end all be all of your actions.

i think the main issue that the doc was saying is that lab tests are good, but they are "lab" conditions that may have little relavance in the real world because you do not workout in the "lab" conditions and you have to take into account that it was a "lab" and not use those numbers as the gospel which people will do, ie, i have a vo2 max of 80 so i should be albe to do such and such.

i think hrt training at times is viewed the same way, zones/etc sometimes people forget that they are meant as guidelines. soemtimes people stick with them to a point that they "forget" that at times you should just "run fast" or "run slow".. very unscientific and not "cool" for people that like all the "high tech gadgets and such" but as someone mentioned sometimes you go faster with that technique of "just go faster!!".

nomisdc's ravatar nomisdc    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 611
RE: What is the stuff?
POSTED: 8/12/09 9:47 AM

Stand by your argument Frenchman! J/k - I understand Hermes and it would take more than a talk to convince a steeled athlete as yourself. Now come back to DC.

Good points, and Andy is driving me nuts with his playing both sides.
I don't know what the debate / lawyer term is but in MBA Statistics we called it using the data to support your claims no matter what.
Seeming fact: HR is a guideline for measuring intensity of training that is affected by many factors in the transition between zones.
One person: That is true, therefore it is largely meaningless to all athletes.
Another person: That is true, therefore it is extremely helpful to all athletes.
To you mathematicians, lawyers, and doctors who are used to definite outcomes (cases won/lost, people healed or not) it may be not definite enough. But to us consultants who have whole careers in which not a single thing is definite or resolved, it's fine.
The cost argument is a throw away and a cop out. That's the old money is absolute versus relative economic debate. Money is simply a replacement for bartering, therefore the absolute nature of it ($100 is expensive, period), is artificial. VO2Max testing is a waste in that person's preference, therefore he extends it to all athletes. Well, you don't need goggles to swim. You don't need shoes to run. You don't need a car to get to DC. You don't need a car or plane to get to California. You can walk. Therefore all of these things are wastes of money for all humans. Extending a monetary relativistic preference to an absolute truism is the stuff of pre-teens.
Whenever you can say someone has to run in HR Zone 5 for 3 hours, you have to jump on that opportunity immediately. Apparently now this how they run in Guatemala ...?

nomisdc's ravatar nomisdc    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 611
RE: What is the "zone" stuff?
POSTED: 8/12/09 9:47 AM

(mistaken repeat)

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