How To Use Training Zones

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. We also have our own training zone calculators, based on the table below.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.

Getting Started

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 “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.

All my training plans include email access to the coach for support and  last 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

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Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)
Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)

Phil is a recognised expert in the field, having featured on many endurance sports publications. He founded MyProCoach in 2010 to sell premium training plans complete with email coach support for triathlons, duathlons, running & cycling.

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