“Ride more miles” is simple advice given to beginner cyclists when asked how to get better at cycling. It is effective. But, does the same apply to intermediate or advanced cyclists who have practiced the art for years? No.
The professionals look at numbers to define their riding performance and gauge progress. Measurable results drive their training and improvement efforts. And one of the most important metrics is Training Zones. For beginners, this may sound alien but hang in there and let your cycling journey thrive.
So, What Are Training Zones?
Think of training zones as the cycling equivalent of standards or grades in the education system. They are a set of demarcations made based on the intensity required for cycling. They are designed as per the response of the body to a certain intensity of training.
Significance of Training Zones
There are various benefits of incorporating these into a cycling workout and practice routine:
- They help the cyclist to set a particular set of times just for rest and recovery so that he or she is not unnecessarily putting a lot of effort during those zones
- The most important is that they help to get the best of your abilities based on your body ability and fitness levels.
- They define a structured way of training and helps to avoid any stagnancy in training and performance
- They also help to manage stress for the body in certain situations in sprints or races and helps the body to adapt to such occurrences over time during training.
- Training zones are individual to each cyclist. A zone that is hard for Z would be easier for X.
Training Zones are divided into 5 zones :
Before that, here are two terms we need to understand.
Maximum Heart Rate (MHR): It is the maximum heart rate that one can sustain during physical activity. It also lays the basis for training zones to be developed.
Now, moving onto the training zones –
Zone 1: This first one feels easy with less pressure on the body. The cyclist can breathe comfortably and can even have a full conversation with another cyclist at ease. This stage is primarily to help recovery after a sporting event or it can also be done when they are warming up for a ride. In this zone, cyclists ride at around 50-60% of MHR.
Zone 2: This next stage is comparatively more intense than zone 1. It leads to heavier breathing while conversation will still be pretty easy. It can go on for about 3 hours for trained professionals and they use it for long rides. It leads to a slight amount of perspiration and gets you ready for harder training sessions. In this zone, cyclists exert themselves to nearly 70% of their MHR.
Zone 3: During this level, breathing becomes difficult now as the body temperature also rises. It is ideal for sustaining long efforts and leads to much more perspiration. This is a good zone to train for both professionals and beginner cyclists. This is not completely exhausting for cyclists but does exert riders to a substantial extent. The threshold heart rate in this zone is between 70% and 80% of their MHR.
Zone 4: This zone is where professionals differentiate themselves from beginners. Riding in this zone pushes the physical limits of riders. It requires a higher level of concentration and determination to ride in this zone. Also, riding in this zone means a day or two of active recovery. Consecutive days of cycling in the range of zone 4 impedes the cyclists’ health and fitness. The threshold heart rate, here, reaches around the 90% range.
Zone 5: This is the zone where breathing becomes extremely heavy and it gets all the more difficult to maintain the efforts. Riding in this zone should last no longer than 15-20 minutes. If a rider can cross 20 minutes, that equates to the intensity being less for them. And if the rider is unable to ride in this zone for even 5 minutes, then their working capacity is low and will need some practice.
In this zone, ideally, riders will be cycling at nearly their MHR. After riding in the zone, complete recovery is a must.
Understanding training zones is only the first step. Moving on, keeping them in mind, cyclists can frame their training plan. A general plan would aim at a few repetitions of Zone 1-3 gradually building the working capacity. Then, cycling in higher zones to be a better rider.
And if you are preparing for a competition, using these zones to create a training plan is recommended. Your weaknesses can be the basis for the plan. Furthermore, you can strategically plan to peak as the competition date nears.
This will provide a direction to your training which is required to progress consistently and be a better cyclist.