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The Magic of Zone 2 - "SLOW DOWN"

Zonal training is a method that segments your training into different intensity zones based on your heart rate, power output, or perceived exertion. Understanding and applying zonal training can help optimise your performance, improve endurance, and reduce the risk of injury. Zonal training will often appear in running and cycling programs when training for events - but do you have the discipline or the understanding to stick to the correct zones when required? How often have you done an "Easy Run" or Zone 2 Bike ride and just felt good, or got bored, so instead of sticking to your zones, decided to put the hammer down?...Strava PB?

runners racing on the road

High intensity training has it's place, but doing all of your training at the top end of the zones can actually have a negative effect on your body and your overall fitness - it increases risk of injury, can cause overtraining/burnout/fatigue, impairs recovery, elevates cortisol (your stress hormone) and can actually reduce your metabolic efficiency.

cyclists on the road

At JDW as coaches, but also as runners, cyclists and swimmers ourselves, we are massive fans of the magical Zone 2, low-intensity endurance training, as it's highly beneficial. Zone 2 training typically involves exercising at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate, or 6-7 out of 10. Zone 2 is often described as your "All Day Pace"

Professional and elite endurance athletes may spend 80% of their training time in Zone 2

Zone 2 might not feel as gratifying as a tough session - and sometimes SLOWING DOWN, can feel very counterproductive - but it can be absolutely crucial to your success - especially when training for specific events.

By sticking to lower heart rates, over time you will find that you can increase your pace at the same heart rate output as your aerobic efficiency increases.

Want some of the science stuff? - Here's why training in Zone 2 is so magical:

1. Aerobic Base Building

  • Increased Aerobic Capacity: Zone 2 training helps build a strong aerobic base by improving the efficiency of the cardiovascular system. This enhances the body's ability to transport and utilize oxygen, crucial for endurance activities.

  • Mitochondrial Density: Regular training at this intensity increases the number and efficiency of mitochondria in muscle cells, which boosts the muscles' ability to produce energy aerobically.

2. Fat Metabolism

  • Enhanced Fat Oxidation: Training in Zone 2 promotes the body's ability to oxidize fat as a fuel source. This is particularly useful for long-duration activities where fat is a primary energy source after glycogen stores are depleted.

  • Glycogen Sparing: By improving fat metabolism, Zone 2 training helps preserve glycogen stores for higher-intensity efforts, delaying the onset of fatigue.

3. Recovery and Adaptation

  • Lower Risk of Injury: Because Zone 2 training is low to moderate in intensity, it reduces the risk of overuse injuries compared to higher-intensity workouts.

  • Active Recovery: It can be used as a form of active recovery, helping to increase blood flow and aid in the removal of metabolic waste products without adding significant stress to the body.

man swimming

4. Improved Endurance Performance

  • Sustained Energy: Athletes can perform at a steady pace for longer periods, which is crucial for endurance events like marathons, triathlons, and cycling races.

  • Efficient Energy Use: Improved efficiency in using fat and oxygen means that the body can sustain prolonged physical activity more effectively.

5. Mental Benefits

  • Building Mental Endurance: Long, steady workouts in Zone 2 help build mental resilience and focus, which are essential for long-duration sports.

  • Stress Reduction: The lower intensity of Zone 2 workouts can be less mentally taxing and more enjoyable, making it easier to stay consistent with training.

6. Heart Health

  • Cardiovascular Benefits: Regular Zone 2 training improves overall heart health by lowering resting heart rate and blood pressure, enhancing heart rate variability, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

How to Implement Zone 2 Training:

  1. Determine Your Zone 2: Calculate your Zone 2 heart rate range, which is typically 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. A common formula is 220 - age (and then multiply that by 60-70%).

  2. Consistent Training: Incorporate Zone 2 workouts into your training plan regularly. This could be in the form of long, steady-state cardio sessions such as running, cycling, or swimming.

  3. Monitor Intensity: Use heart rate monitors or perceived exertion to ensure you are staying within the Zone 2 range.

  4. Mix with Other Intensities: Balance your training by combining Zone 2 workouts with higher-intensity sessions to develop a well-rounded fitness profile.

Incorporating Zone 2 training into your fitness regimen can lead to significant improvements in endurance, energy efficiency, and overall health, making it a foundational element of effective training programs.

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