What Are Training Zones? And How Can We Work Them Out?

What are the different training zones?

We spoke to Dr Alan Ruddock PHD, Lecturer - Physiology of Sport and Exercise Science at Sheffield Hallam University about the different training zones encountered by athletes. Here's what he had to say:

In the scientific literature, we typically prescribed training zones based upon physiological thresholds. In most endurance athletes there are 2 distinct physiological thresholds. The first is an increase in blood lactate, slightly above a series of stable values. The 2nd threshold is identified as an exponential increase in blood lactate concentration, although there are many different definitions and statistical procedures for identifying these thresholds these two approaches are the most simple. In this model, we can create a 3 zone training system as depicted below. Depending on the coaching philosophy and intended training prescription these zones can be extended to 5 and 7 zones. For example, a coach might want to focus on threshold or tempo training and the separation of zone 2 into two parts might achieve this goal.

How can we work training zones out by ourselves?

In the figure, you can see that each training zone corresponds with a typical heart rate response and a range of RPE’s (rating of perceived exertion). These responses differ for each individual and there are no hard and fast rules. In general zone 1 limits will be anywhere between 70 and 75% heart rate maximum, zone 3 training tends to be between 80 and 85% heart rate maximum. More consistent responses to each zone occur when we ask the athlete to provide a rating of the perceived exertion. Zone 1 training is typically quantified as ‘easy’ or ‘very light’, zone 2 as ‘somewhat hard’ and zone 3 as ‘hard’. When trying to workout zones by yourself it’s always better to err on the side of caution if you’re using heart rate zones. You can use the table below as a guide for this.

What is the difference between lactic acid and lactate? And how do they relate to running?

Runners often use lactic acid and lactate interchangeably and associate one or both with fatigue. When we talk about lactic we’re really talking about lactate. When we talk about lactic/lactate we usually talk about it in relation to fatigue and then confuse matters by talking about lactic acidosis causing fatigue when we really mean metabolic acidosis.


Lactic acid = lactate

Lactic acidosis = metabolic acidosis

Metabolic acidosis (when you feel the burn) occurs when we have an increased reliance on fuel from non-oxidative pathways when we run faster. This acidosis makes it harder for our cells to perform essential tasks such as enzyme reactions and neuromuscular function. But this acidosis is not caused by lactate. In fact, lactate is essential to support aerobic energy production and reduce acidosis. Which makes its presence in our blood a good marker of metabolic acidosis. The incorrect and long-perpetuated view that lactate causes fatigue which stems from an oversimplification of cause-and-effect. In other words, at fatigue lactate is high so lactate must cause fatigue, which is incorrect.

If you'd like to know more about the lactate threshold and heart rate training zones, check out Alan's post "Understanding Lactate Threshold And Heart Rate Training Zones

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