Feeling confused about training by pace, heart rate, feel and power?
by Phil Mosley
As a self coached athlete, one of the most important things you can do is get a set of triathlon training zones.
What are training zones?
They are simply a way of grouping all your different training intensities, from super easy to all-out sprint. Once you're armed with a good set of zones, you can begin to differentiate between junk miles, quality and recovery.
There are lots of ways to set yourself training zones, but the method I use is the only system I know that blends together heart rate, power, pace and perceived exertion.
The benefit is that no matter what gear and gadgets you have, this will be the only set of triathlon training zones you'll ever need.
I came across them while doing the IronmanU Coach Certification Program. The image below shows the IronmanU Training Zones table. It's a pretty small image, hence there's a downloadable PDF version underneath it.
Download and print a copy, and then follow the advice in this blog about how to use them.
Things To Know Before You Start
1. When it comes to setting triathlon Training Zones there is no cast-iron right or wrong. They are simply a way of differentiating workout intensities. It's worth remembering that the benefits of one zone will often crossover with the benefits of another. So don't panic about being 100% accurate all the time.
2. Younger athletes tend to have higher maximal heart rates, which means that their heart-rate training zones will have a wider range. And vice versa.
3. There might be some overlap between your heart rate, power and pace zones. So don't worry if that's the case, it's normal.
4. If you're using a heart rate monitor as a guide, remember your heart rate will take a while to warm up and settle into a steady rate. Which means it's not a good measure for short, sharp efforts because it takes too long to get going.
If you train by feel, you can go right ahead and use these zones now. Just follow the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) guidelines.
However, if you want to use pace, heart rate or a power meter, you'll need some baseline data first. Here's how...
Heart Rate Monitor User?
If you have a heart rate monitor, you'll simply need to know your current peak heart rates for cycling and running. That is - the highest you've seen your heart rate go in the last 6-months. This is likely to have occurred during a race or a tough training workout. The two heart rate figures may be different. Most likely your peak heart rate will be higher during running.
Once you have these figures, you can use the columns called "%HRmax" (percentage of your heart rate max) and "Beats Below MHR" (max heart rate).
NOTE: Heart rate training is not very practical for swimming, hence it's not included in these training zones.
Power Meter User?
If you have a power meter, you'll need to know your current Functional Threshold Power (FTP). It's a number in watts that equates to your best average power output for a 1-hour time trial. If you don't know this, you should do a CP20 Test as I demonstrate in this You Tube video. Basically it's a 20-minute time trial.
Once you know your result in watts for the CP20 test, multiply it by 95% to get a close estimation of your FTP. You can then use the "%FTP Bike Power" column from the training zones above.
Swim and Run Pace Guidelines
You can use pace as a guide to intensity for swimming and running.
To use the swim pace zones, you'll simply need to know your best pace in training for 100 yards or meters. If you swim in a pool measured by meters, use meters as your guide and vice versa. Use the column called "Swim Pace/100yd (mtr)". You don't even need gadgets to train by pace, as most lane-pools have a wall-mounted pace-clock. Hooray!
To use the running pace zones, you'll simply need to know your current best average pace for a 1-hour time trial. This could be taken from a 10km or 10mile race. You can then use the "%THR RUN" column. If you don't know that data, you can use the "Run Pace" column, which gives guidelines based on your marathon, half marathon, 10km, 5km and 3km race paces. If you know any one of these race paces, you can estimate the others using this calculator.
NOTE: Pace is a useless intensity guide for cycling, because there are too many variables such as wind, road surface, hills, mechanical resistance and weight. Hence it's not included in these training zones.
Once you have your training zones worked out you might want to take things a step further.
You could try my triathlon & duathlon training plans at TrainingPeaks.com. They are designed for all levels of triathlete and duathlete from beginner to advanced. The training lasts from 4-weeks to six months, so simply choose your event and the plan-duration. They all use the training zones I've covered in this blog.
Either way, good luck.
By Phil Mosley.
Triathlon Plus Magazine Coaching Editor & Ironman Certified Coach.
Copyright © 2016 Philip Mosley
The simple tricks that could help you train more efficiently...
Back in the 1990’s world champion triathletes like Paula Newby-Fraser and Mark Allen were dominating the sport, using heart rate for all their key sessions. Six-time World Champion Allen even said: “During my 15 years of racing in the sport of triathlons I searched for those few golden tools that would allow me to maximize my training time and come up with the race results I envisioned. At the top of that list was heart rate training.”
Heart rate training enables you to focus in on different training intensities. For Allen this meant training for several months at a time below 155 beats per minute, to develop his ability to use fat as a fuel. To begin training like this, you need to establish a set of personal heart rate training zones. Here's how:
Step 1. Work out your resting heart rate
- Lie down and relax for twenty minutes, in a quiet room
- Have a clock or watch in clear view, that measures seconds and minutes
- Count your heart beats for one minute, with your finger on a pulse, or with your hand over your heart
- Avoid caffeine on the day
Step 2. Work out your maximum heart rate
Find a good hill that takes you about two minutes to run up. The test begins around five minutes before the hill. Gradually accelerate towards the hill achieving around 85% effort at the base of the hill. As you hit the hill, maintain your speed by increasing your effort. Your heart rate will rise and you will quickly tire. Without falling over, keep an eye on your monitor and make a mental note of your highest heart rate as you work towards the top of the hill.
Step 3. The Benefit of Each Zone
Once you’ve worked out your resting and maximum heart rates, you can divide your heart rates into personalised training zones.
Zone 1: Recovery Zone - 60% to 70% of max HR. Useful for encouraging blood flow, to aid recovery after a tough workout
Zone 2: Aerobic Zone - 70% to 80% of max HR. Training in this zone will boost your endurance and the efficiency with which you use fat and carbohydrates as fuel.
Zone 3: Anaerobic Zone - 80% to 90% of max HR. Training in this zone is thought to enable you to delay fatigue caused by lactic acid.
Zone 4: Maximal Zone - 90% to 100% of max HR. Training in this zone is only possible for short periods, and helps you develop top-end speed.
Step 4: Making the calculation
Step 1: Subtract your resting HR from your maximum HR, giving you a ‘working heart rate‘.
Step 2: Calculate 60 and 70% of your 'working heart rate'.
Step 3: Add these two figures to your resting heart rate, and hey presto you’ve worked out your Zone 1 heart rate range (known as the recovery range).
Step 4: Do the same for Zones 2, 3 and 4 (using the percentages in "The Benefits of Each Zone" (see above) and you’re there.
The Serious Training Blog
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Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and writer.