Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Quick Guide to Setting Zones

I returned home from Oslo last night and seem to be very close to the Mountain Time Zone already. Traveling west is so much easier than traveling east. But that's not the topic for this post. Perhaps at another time. Now is when most northern hemisphere athletes are thinking about setting their training zones for the Base period. And since I tend to get a lot of questions about how to do that it's a good time to explain the process for heart rate, power and pace.

This Quick Guide will help you get the intensity of your workouts dialed in for your heart rate monitor, power meter, and runner’s speed and distance device such as a GPS or accelerometer. Swimming pace is also described here.

For a more complete guide to training with heart rate, power and pace please see my book Total Heart Rate Training. You will also find more detailed information on the subject of measuring intensity in my Triathlete’s Training Bible, Cyclist’s Training Bible and Mountain Biker’s Training Bible books. Feel free to share this Quick Guide with your training partners.

Setting Heart Rate Zones (Running and Cycling)
Step 1. Determine your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) with a short test. (Do not use 220 minus your age to find max heart rate as this is as likely to be wrong as right. This is explained in detail in Total Heart Rate Training.) This LTHR test is best done early in the Base and Build periods.

To find your LTHR do a 30-minute time trial all by yourself (no training partners and not in a race). Again, it should be done as if it was a race for the entire 30 minutes. But at 10 minutes into the test click the lap button on your heart rate monitor. When done look to see what your average heart rate was for the last 20 minutes. That number is an approximation of your LTHR.

Note: I am frequently asked if you should go hard for the first 10 minutes. The answer is yes. Go hard for the entire 30 minutes. But be aware that most people doing this test go too hard the first few minutes and then gradually slow down for the remainder. That will give you inaccurate results. The more times you do this test the more accurate your LTHR is likely to become as you will learn to pace yourself better at the start.

Step 2. Establish your training zones. Use the following guide to establish each zone by sport.

Run Zones
Zone 1 Less than 85% of LTHR
Zone 2 85% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 94% of LTHR
Zone 4 95% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

Bike Zones
Zone 1 Less than 81% of LTHR
Zone 2 81% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 93% of LTHR
Zone 4 94% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

Step 3. When following the heart rate-zone directions in my training plans or the workouts in the appendices of my books or my workouts in the menu of workouts at TrainingPeaks use the zones as established above.

Setting Power Zones (Cycling)
Step 1. Establish your Functional Threshold Power (FTPw). Use the same 30-minute time trial test above for LTHR to determine your FTPw. The only difference is that the average power for the entire 30 minutes is an approximation of your FTPw (not the last 20 minutes). This may be done on the road or on an indoor trainer. The road will generally give better results so long as it is relatively flat and free of stop signs and heavy traffic. (Keep your head up. Time trialing with your head down is very dangerous. I have a friend who is in a wheelchair now because of this.)

As with LTHR testing, the more times you do this test the more accurate the results will become since there is a learning curve associated with such an effort. This is best done early in the Base period and then every 4 to 6 weeks thereafter. The more times you do this test the more accurate your FTPw will become.

Step 2. Set up your personal power training zones using the following guide (from Allen and Coggan, Training and Racing With a Power Meter).

Zone 1 Less than 55% of FTPw
Zone 2 55% to 74% of FTPw
Zone 3 75% to 89% of FTPw
Zone 4 90% to 104% of FTPw
Zone 5 105% to 120% of FTPw
Zone 6 More than 120% of FTPw

Step 3. When following the power-zone directions in my training plans or workouts in the appendices of my books use your zones as established above.

Setting Pace Zones (Running)
Step 1. Determine your Functional Threshold Pace (FTPa) using either a runner’s GPS device or an accelerometer. To do this, warm up and then run for 30 minutes just as described under “Setting Heart Rate Zones, Step 1” above. Your FTPa is your average pace for the entire 30 minutes (not the last 20 minutes). This is best done early in the Base period and then every 4 to 6 weeks thereafter. The more times you do this test the more accurate your FTPa will become.

Step 2. Compute your pace zones with the following guidelines using your pace as minutes and seconds per mile or kilometer. It is easier to work with this if you convert seconds to tenths of a minute (or work entirely in seconds). For example, 7 minutes 30 second would be 7.5 minutes (or 450 seconds).

Zone 1 Slower than 129% of FTPa
Zone 2 114% to 129% of FTPa
Zone 3 106% to 113% of FTPa
Zone 4 99% to 105% of FTPa
Zone 5a 97% to 100% of FTPa
Zone 5b 90% to 96% of FTPa
Zone 5c Faster than 90% of FTPa

Step 3. When following the run pace-zone directions in my training plans or my book workouts or from my workouts in the menu at TrainingPeaks use your zones as established above.

Swimming Pace
Step 1. Determine your T-time. There are many ways of doing this. One of the most common is to swim a 1000-meter/yard time trial at your pool. It may help to have someone on deck counting laps as it’s easy to lose track in such a test. What you are trying to determine is your average 100 pace for the test. Simply swim 1000 and then divide your finish time by 10. This is your T-time. This should be done early in the Base period and every 4 to 6 weeks thereafter. The more times you do this test the more accurate your T-time will become as there is a learning curve that has to do with pacing in the first few minutes when doing this test.

Step 2. In my training plans, book workouts (in The Triathlete’s Training Bible) and in the workout menu of TrainingPeaks the swim workouts will often refer to pace as T-time plus (+) or minus (-) a few seconds. For example, T-time + 5 seconds would mean swimming at a pace that would be the equivalent of your T-time plus 5 seconds. So if your T-time is 91 seconds this workout would be calling for you to swim at 96 seconds per 100. If it is a 50 meter/yard set you are doing, the time you are shooting for is 48 seconds (half of 96). In the same way, if the set calls for you to swim 150 meters/yards at T-time + 5 you would swim the distance in 2 minutes and 24 seconds (96 sec + 48 sec).

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stress-Based Training

I've been traveling a lot this month including 10 days vacationing in the Caribbean. I'm now in Norway with some time to kill after speaking to a large group of athletes on Saturday. So I've been thinking a lot. The following is something which grew out of having a lot of uninterrupted thinking time.

Training for racing is all about adapting to stress. Pushing yourself to the limits of your abilities in a race is highly stressful. This stress comes in the form of some combination of intensity, duration and perhaps frequency. For example, the duration of a 20km cycling time trial is relatively brief, but the intensity is quite high. A 5km running race has a similar distribution of intensity and duration. Heart rate and perceived exertion are near their upper-end limits in both types of racing. In an Ironman triathlon, however, the duration is quite high while the intensity is quite low. That's another kind of stress. A cyclist competing in a stage race has a third variable with which to be concerned – frequency. This could take the form of two stages in a day or stages on consecutive days. The combination of intensity, duration and frequency is what makes events such as the Tour de France so challenging.

We can measure and quantify stress if we know duration and intensity (we’ll mostly ignore frequency for now). It’s easy for duration. Just use a stopwatch to determine how many minutes you exercised. Frequency is also simple. Count the number of races or workouts completed in a given number of days.

Intensity is more challenging. Endurance athletes are not very good when it comes to expressing how intense a race or workout was. The most basic way, the one athletes have been using for as long as there has been competition, is perceived exertion. “That was a hard race,” always means the same thing - intensity was high relative to the duration. In a similar way athletes typically use terms such as “easy” or “moderate” to describe intensity when compared with duration. But since this is al somewhat vague, ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) have been used to quantify the intensity-duration combination. The most popular systems were developed by Gunnar Borg. Here is his 10-point scale [1]:

RPE Zone - Level of Exertion
5 - HARD

About 30 years ago the heart rate monitor was invented. By the late 1980s heart rate zones were being used to express intensity. For example, in the system I’ve been using for the last 20 years there are seven zones based on a percentage of your lactate threshold heart rate which can be found with a 30-minute time trial [2]:

HR Zone* - % Lactate Threshold
1 - less than 0.81
2 - 0.81-0.89
3 - 0.90-0.93
4 - 0.94-0.99
5 - 1.0-1.02
6 - 1.03-1.05
7 - more than 1.05
For the purpose of this discussion I've changed my normal normal zone titles for the anaerobic zones: 5a zone to "5," 5b to "6," and 5c to "7." You'll see why shortly.

For cycling, intensity may also be quantified with zones using a power meter in a way which is similar to heart rate zones. In this case the reference point is something called Functional Threshold Power (FTPw) which is very similar to lactate threshold. This also may be found with a 30-minute time trial. Then by using percentages of FTPw power zones are established that are unique to you.

Power Zone - % FTPw
1 - less than 0.56
2 - 0.56-0.75
3 - 0.76-0.90
4 - 0.91-1.05
5 - 1.06-1.20
6 - 1.21-1.50
7 - more than 1.50

Using the idea of FTP, running zones based on pace may also be determined. Only in this case “FTPa” stands for Functional Threshold Pace [4] and found by - you guessed it - a 30-minute time trial.

Pace Zone* - % FTPa
1 - greater than 1.29
2 - 1.29-1.14
3 - 1.15-1.06
4 - 1.05-1.01
5 - 1.00-0.97
6 - 0.98-0.90
7 - less than 0.90

Besides simply expressing intensity of a workout at any given time, these RPE, heart rate, power and pace intensity zones can be used to determine how long and how intense the key “breakthrough” workouts need to be to prepare you for stress of the competition. This is based on what the race will be like in terms of stress. Given some experience in racing you should be able to estimate what the stress of your race will be. For example, if you are doing a 90-minute, steady-state bike race that will be conducted entirely in zone 4 (using whichever system from above you prefer) then the stress of that race could be expressed as a "training stress score" (TSS) of 360 (90 x 4).

Now that you know the stress demand of the race the next step is to determine the key breakthrough workouts to prepare you for the race. In the early to mid-Base periods those workouts would involve low intensities, especially zone 2. So to do a 360 TSS workout in the first half of the Base period you could train for 180 minutes at zone 2 (180 x 2 = 360). This is a grea way to improve aerobic endurance.

By the late Base period you would be training with more zone 3 time so this would require 120 minutes (3 x 120 = 360). But by this stage it is wise to break the workout into intervals since this duration-intensity combination is becoming exceptionaly demanding. So if you did 165 minutes (2:45) including 5 x 20 minutes at zone 3 (300 TSS) with 4 x 5-minute recoveries in zone 1 (20 TSS), a 30-minute warm up with half in zone 1 and half in zone 2 (45 TSS), and a 15-minute cool down (15 TSS) you would again create a 360 TSS workout. Excellent muscular endurance trainng as you normaly should be doing at this time in the season.

In the Build period interval training would again be the way to go. And since we want the workouts to become increasingly like the race these intervals would be done in zone 4. A 367-TSS workout (a little over our 360 but not by much) may then look like this.

30-minute warm-up with half in z1 and half in z2 (45 TSS)
9 x 8-minute work intervals in z4 (288 TSS)
8 x 3-minute recovery intervals in z1 (24 TSS)
10-minute cool down (10 TSS)

You wouldn't want to do a workout like this too often. It's very hard. Probably no more than once every week or two would be best. This would depend on how stressful the workout must be to prepare you for the race and what your fitness is like at the time. Runners would also have to take into consideration the potential of injury from long and intense workout combinations.

This is a lot of work but it may be a way of getting you prepared for the stress of your race. You can do all of this or you can simply use WKO+ software ( with your power meter and/or accelerometer and GPS device. This software automatically determines a Training Stress Score (TSS) for each workout. You can also use this software to estimate the TSS of your races. This is what I do. Much simpler. And very effective.

1. Borg, GAV. Borg’s Rating of Perceived Exertion and Pain Scales. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1998.
2. Friel, J. The Cyclist’s Training Bible. Boulder, CO: VeloPress, 1996.
3. Allen, H. and A. Coggan. Training and Racing With a Power Meter. Boulder, CO: VeloPress, 2006.
4. Friel, J. The Triathlete’s Training Bible. Boulder, CO: VeloPress, 1998

Labels: , , , , , ,