How To Use Training Zones

Create your own training zones, using power output, pace, heart rate or feel.

Whether you do triathlon, cycling, running or swimming, training zones are a great way to group all your different training intensities, from easy to all-out sprint.

Once you’re armed with a good set of training zones, you can then easily differentiate between things like aerobic endurance, tempo, speed and recovery training. This enables you to train at the right intensity for the session you have planned.

There are lots of ways to set yourself training zones. The method we use is the only one we know that allows you to use heart rate, power, pace or perceived exertion,  for swimming, cycling and running.

The benefit of this system is that no matter what gear and gadgets you have, this will be the only set of training zones you’ll ever need. I came across them while doing the IronmanU Coach Certification Program, but they are originally from a book called: The Training Intensity Handbook for Endurance Sport by John Hellemans.

Your Training Zones Table

  Triathlon Training Zones My Pro Coach

You can view our MyProCoach Training Zones table above. It’s a pretty small image, hence there’s a downloadable PDF version of our training zones table here.

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. This means it’s not a good measure for short, sharp efforts because it takes too long to get going.

Training Zones by Feel or Perceived Exertion

If you want to keep life super simple, you can train by feel or perceived exertion. Go right ahead and use the “Hellemans (feel)” column in our table above.  Or follow the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) column. Ignore the other columns.

You don’t need any gadgets, you can just start training. Simple. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

Training Zones by Heart Rate

If you want to train with 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) in the table above. You can also try our Maximal Heart Rate Calculator, which will also create your training zones for you.

Note: Heart rate training is not very practical for swimming, hence it’s not included in these training zones. It’s fine for cycling and running.

Training Zones by Cycle Power Output

If you have a cycle power meter and you want to create training zones, 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” column from the training zones table above. Or try our Cycle Power Training Zone Calculator.

Note: Speed 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 our training zones.

Training Zones by CSS Swim Pace

To use swim pace training zones, you’ll simply need to know your current Critical Swim Speed (CSS). To test your current CSS pace you need to swim a 400 and 200 time trial within the same session.

Swim as hard as you can for both time trials, with around 5-10 minutes of active recovery in between. Then use our CSS Swim Calculator to get your CSS and your swim training zones. Or use the column called “Swim Pace” in our table above.

Note: If you swim in a pool measured by meters, use meters as your guide and vice versa for yards.

Training Zones by Running Pace

To use running pace zones, you’ll simply need to know your current best average pace for a 1-hour time trial. To save you running hard for an hour, we use a simple 30-minute field test to work this out.

1. Start with a warm up of 5-15 minutes, mainly easy jogging with 3 or 4 short accelerations up to approximate 5km race pace depending on your current fitness.

2. Then begin the 30 minute time trial. Press start on your phone or watch and run at your best pace for 30 minutes. That is, the fastest pace you think you can maintain for the entire test. After you’ve completed the 30-minute test, stop your timer.

3. What was your average run pace throughout the test? This is your new Threshold Running Pace.

4. What was your average heart rate throughout the test? This is your new Running Threshold Heart Rate.

Note: Do this test alone. Why? When you’re alone (versus running against others) you’ll push yourself fractionally less hard. By doing this test alone your 30-minute time-trial pace should reflect what you might do when forced to push yourself 100% in a 60-minute race situation.

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Creating training zones can be as simple or as complex as you like. You can just use feel or heart rate, which makes life easy. Or you can be more in-depth by using pace and power too. If you use pace and power, you may need to conduct the field tests mentioned above. Training zones will help you train at the right intensity, for the workout you have planned.

In our training plans, we schedule field tests for our athletes every 6-8 weeks. This helps set goals, measure progress and update training zones.  Click here to learn more about our triathlon, cycling and running training plans, which include email support.

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

Phil is a recognised endurance expert who founded MyProCoach in 2010 to offer smart training plans that still leave quality time for your family, friends & career - complete with highly-rated coach support (he has sold over 40,000 so far). Learn more here!

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