Power training zones can be broken up into many or few depending on who you talk to and what “kool aid” you are drinking. For this blog, we will be using the 7 zones developed by Dr. Andy Coggan as they are the zones I train with and prescribe to my athletes with great success. Before reading further though, please go back and read my previous posts “What is power and why do we use it?” as well as “What is FTP, how do we test it, and why do we use it?“. This will save you a lot of confusion reading this article 🙂
Without further ado…
Zone 1 – Active Recovery – <55% of FTP or <81% of LTHR
This is the easiest zone on the continuum and is employed for times when you want to keep your legs open, but do not want to add any fatigue to them. During times of intense training, active recovery workouts can help athletes recover faster because you are mobilizing blood-flow to the muscles and joints which will help deliver nutrients to them faster versus just taking a rest day. Active recovery can be very hard for some people to adhere to however and I will sometimes prescribe a day of rest instead of active recovery if the athlete cannot keep their wattage output <55% of their FTP. So, if you are one of those athletes who can’t just spin the legs easy and need to crush every workout, active recovery days would not be of benefit to you.
Zone 2 – Endurance – 56-75% of FTP or 81-89% of LTHR
This is the “all day zone” where you could literally spin forever as long as you have enough water, fuel, and chamois cream…Zone 2 is the zone I tend to spend the most amount of time in and heavily prescribe it to my athletes in the volume and endurance building phases (base I and base II). I like this zone because you can spend a ton of time in it, increase base fitness, and be able to recover in <24 hours to be ready for the next workout.
Zone 3 – Tempo – 76-90% of FTP or 90-93% of LTHR
Tempo is another one of those buzz words in cycling that can have different meanings based on who is saying it. To me, tempo is the pace in which you ride while sitting in the peloton getting to the more exciting parts of the race. You aren’t exactly spinning easy, but you definitely aren’t crushing it either. You can also spend a lot of time in this zone, but you probably wouldn’t want to either. Tempo is the black sheep of power zones; it’s not easy enough to spend a lot of time in, but it’s also not hard enough to generate a decent amount of training stress and the fitness gained is usually not worth the fatigue generated.
Zone 4 – Threshold – 91-105% of FTP or 94-99% LTHR
Now we are getting to the fun stuff! The threshold zone is where most TT, cyclocross, and crit racers spend the majority of their time. A highly-motivated and well-rested athlete can maintain threshold for upwards of 1 hour. This zone is usually prescribed during the build through peak phases of periodization and is almost always broken down into intervals with periods of rest between. This is a crucial zone for the “time-crunched” athlete and can generate a high amount of training stress in a short amount of time. Be aware though that rest periods are required after multiple days of threshold work to avoid over training and injury.
Zone 5 – VO2 Max – 106-120% of FTP or 100-105% of LTHR
The track pursuiter zone! Now we are talking short, but very intense efforts. This zone is also a little misleading because you can’t improve upon your VO2 max once you hit your genetic ceiling. That is to say each one of us has a different amount of oxygen we can utilize at a maximal effort based on our genetic makeup. We can train to increase this up to a point, but eventually it will reach a ceiling where it will not increase any more. Unsurprisingly, professional cyclists have crazy high VO2 Max’s and usually come from an ideal gene pool where the family has other professional athletes in it, i.e. Taylor Phinney.
Zone 6 – Anaerobic – >121% of FTP
Even harder, but reduced efforts here. Think of a short (<3 minutes) final climb in a road race or a kilo effort on the track. In this zone we are working to increase an athletes anaerobic capacity (duh!) and functional reserve capacity by doing short but very hard efforts with a lot of rest between to allow for full recovery. As an athlete’s anaerobic capacity increases, so will their lactate tolerance and ability to push harder for longer above their FTP. This is the difference between making the race winning break or summiting the climb with the front group versus being shelled.
Zone 7 – Neuromuscular – ALL OUT!
This zone is where you are literally improving the neural connection between your brain and muscles, plus increasing the density of your ligaments and tendons. You are doing maximal intensity effort for <10 seconds. Think of a track cycling sprint race when the athletes are winding up the gears for the final lap. They are going from ~30 RPM to well over 120 RPM in a huge gear in a very short amount of time. Being able to produce this amount of effort requires a tremendous amount of muscle, tendon, and ligament strength as well as excellent brain->muscle connection, a.k.a. neuromuscular power!