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My Journey of Fitness and Fueling

Fitness Instructor, triathlete, OCRer, backpacker, yogini, and vegan foodie to keep me energetic.

Zone 2 Training

February 19, 2015

There you are. 
Cruising on the elliptical. 
Bored out of your mind. 


So you start looking at everything and anything as a distraction. Your eyes fall onto that weird zone chart that talks about “fat burner zone” which makes you question your heart rate. After you kill 4 minutes fighting with the machine to read your heart rate… Wait… your heart rate isn’t in that zone… Shoot... Does that mean you’re not burning fat? Crap. Why are you even doing this stupid elliptical thing if you’re not burning fat…?

 

The heck does this stupid “zone” chart mean anyway?

 

Our heart utilizes different energy forms at different heart rates. We have all seen those charts showing HR “zones” at the gym and doctors’ offices, but never really understood what they mean. To put it simply, the body has two systems for energy utilization:

 

Lower intensity= aerobic system = oxygen and stored fat as energy.

Higher intensity= anaerobic system = glycogen (easily accessed stored sugar) as energy.

 

 

Enter: Zone 2 training for endurance sports

 

 

Zone 2 is widely accepted among endurance athletes as the most effective and efficient heart rate zone to train in for cardiovascular fitness. Zone 2 utilizes the aerobic system to the max, while still pushing your heart to become more efficient. It’s the zone that, when properly training in, athletes stop seeing sudden plateaus. The body becomes more efficient at sparing glycogen (that “hit a wall” feeling in the middle of your workout is usually because of running out of this stuff) while burning through fat to use as long-lasting energy. When you’re properly zone 2 training, you may feel like you could go foreeeeeevverrrr.

 

Let’s get into the nitty gritty.

Heart rates are commonly broken down into 5 zones based on the % of your max HR. These may differ from reading source to reading source, but after many times of trial and error of restarting Z2 training and after reading countless articles and books, these seem to be the most accurate representation:

 

Z1: <74% (for training, 65%-74%)
Z2: 75%-85%
Z3: 86%-89%
Z4: 90%-95%
Z5: “Balls to the wall” (ok ok, 96%-100%)


How do I find my max HR? There are very accurate ways to find your EXACT max HR, but let’s go with the basic method:

 

220 -(age)= MaxHR For me, that means 220-25=195 is my MaxHR

 

So my Z2, the zone at which I should keep my heart rate in for most effective cardio endurance training, is 145-164.9 beats per minute. All my runs are done in this zone. It means I had to slow down a lot at first, as most people accidentally train in Z3, but it also means some amazing things are coming of it.

 

Things you will notice upon training properly in Z2:

• Less issues with dehydration
• Less recovery time post long workouts
• Fewer plateaus in speed and distance training
• Resting heart rate will continue to decrease
• Less calories burned per workout
• Less injury-prone

 

These are all AWESOME things. They mean your heart is growing, molding into a more efficient cardiovascular machine.

 

My warnings to you, endurance fiend:

1. You have probably been training in Z3, also known as “no man’s land” or “junk miles zone”. Why? Because it’s just common for people that train in the “at what feels right” pace. We think we must be pushing our breath to be working the system. Z3 is widely considered the most useless zone to train in as you’re teetering between aerobic and anaerobic; so you’re not focused on training just one system per workout. Yes, you’re burning calories and staying active so that’s something. But if you’re seriously TRAINING for an endurance sport, you’re wasting your time.
2. If you’ve been training in Z3, Z2 is going to suck for a while. I mean really suck. Why? Because you will have to slow your pace down to get that heart rate down. When I first started Z2 training I went from an 8 minute mile to a 12 minute mile. It was painfully slow, but it fixed itself quickly because I was properly training my heart. 
3. If you’re endurance training, high intensity work outs should not make up the most of your routine. In fact, if you’re considering yourself an endurance athlete, very little should be high intensity (According to Don Fink, only 10% of workouts). You just don’t need it and it’s wasting time. It’s fine to work some HIIT or do a track workout once a week, but most of your runs/bikes/swims/whathaveyou should be done at this zone for maximum effectiveness. For OCRers, this is a tough balance to find, as both systems are worked constantly during those types of races. 
4. You will feel like you can go on forever. Don’t. No really, don’t. If you’re training plan says run 6 miles, stop at 6 miles. With Z2 training, you won’t want to; but you need to. Injuries still occur when we’re not properly training, so trust the plan you have.
5. Don’t stress your HR zone when lifting, practicing yoga, etc. Those are supplements to an endurance training plan and it’s not necessary to be sticklers about the heart rate there.

 

Books with more information:
Finding Ultra by Rich Roll
Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald 
Be Iron Fit by Don Fink

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