Zone 2 Training: Cycling Endurance Training Guide

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During a long and steady ride, you probably don’t think of what heart rate zone you are in. But there is a good chance you are zone 2 training for a large portion of these long-distance rides, especially if you ride regularly.

The great thing about zone 2 cycling is that you experience a whole host of health benefits, especially the boosting of your aerobic fitness.

But is it the right method of training for you?

In this article, we’ll be covering:

  • What Is Zone 2 Training?
  • The 2 Key Health Benefits Of Zone 2 Cycling
  • When You Should Incorporate Zone 2 Training Into Your Workout Plan
  • How Much Zone 2 Training Should You Do?
  • Zone 2 Training Vs. Sweet Spot Training
  • How To Fuel Your Body For Zone 2 Training

Ready to improve your endurance?

Let’s get started!

Zone 2 Training

What Is Zone 2 Training?

Zone 2 training is also known as endurance training.

When you go on a zone 2 ride, you’re riding at between 55% and 75% of your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) – the highest average power you can maintain for one hour.

Zone 2 sits between the active recovery zone and the tempo zone, and is the pace you naturally fall into when you are endurance training.

Zone 2 training engages your Type 1 slow-twitch muscle fibers, which can continue to work pretty much without limit, as long as you continue to fuel them.

Training at this low level of intensity means that you don’t fatigue very quickly. However, your body does have to adapt more than if you were riding in the recovery zone, improving your fitness.

Most cyclists associate zone 2 training with long and slow rides, which is correct. But, you can stay in zone 2 for extended amounts of time, even during more intense rides.

This is because nobody can maintain their maximum effort for very long. For example, riders will often sit in the pack at zone 2 and the recovery zone between bursts during a race.

You don’t have to be racing in the Tour de France to experience prolonged stints in zone 2. If you are on a hard workout ride, such as doing high-intensity interval training, you will often be zone 2 training between the big efforts.

The thing with zone 2 training is that most cyclists will spend a lot of time in zone 2 throughout the year. This is the case no matter what cycling discipline or style you choose.

Zone 2 Training

The 2 Key Health Benefits Of Zone 2 Cycling

#1: It Improves Your Aerobic Fitness

Zone 2 training is nearly entirely aerobic; therefore, it is the ideal intensity to improve your aerobic fitness.

These long and low-intensity rides enhance your mitochondrial density and increase capillarization and enzyme production. In addition to this, your body burns fat to fuel your ride. The extra bonus is that all this improves the more you do zone 2 training.

So if you are looking to refine your body composition, zone 2 training is an excellent weapon in your arsenal.

When you use zone 2 training, you will notice that the benefits come slowly. Since zone 2 training is low-intensity, you need to do a lot of it to stimulate your body enough for it to adapt.

With this in mind, even though zone 2 training is effective, it does take up a lot of time, making it inconvenient for many cyclists. However, you can use sweet spot training to get the same results in much less time – we’ll go into sweet spot training later in this article!

#2: It Allows You To Refine Your Pedaling Technique

Long rides are useful for practicing and perfecting your movement on the bike and your pedaling technique. As you spend so much time on your bike, you get the opportunity to become accustomed to long periods of cycling

These rides are ideal for experimenting with your riding position, dialing your proper cycling form, and perfecting your nutrition and hydration strategies.

Zone 2 Training 3

When You Should Incorporate Zone 2 Training Into Your Workout Plan

Your aerobic fitness – the key target of zone 2 training – is essential to your cycling ability. Aerobic fitness is the foundation of every element of your training and cycling skills.

It is a good idea to incorporate aerobic fitness training into your workouts throughout the cycling season, especially during base and build phases of your training.

As aerobic fitness is so vital for your cycling prowess, zone 2 training should also be a significant part of your training early on in the season. So, doing some zone 2 cycling when the weather starts to improve will help you get a solid foundation to build on.

Therefore, it is best to kick start your cycling season with lots of long and low-intensity rides once spring comes around!

Zone 2 Training 5

How Much Zone 2 Training Should You Do?

Determining the correct balance of zone 2 training with your other workouts depends on your training phase, spare time, and goals.

As we have already mentioned, zone 2 training does not produce results as quickly as more intense types of workouts. So if you are a low-volume workout type of person, you should focus on other methods that are more productive in less time.

As you increase your training volume, you will spend more time in zone 2. Even people who train with high volume can only fit in so many productive hard workouts each week. Therefore, the rest of their workouts are at a much lower intensity.

This is why many high-volume training plans include endurance workouts instead of adding hard days. It is also why professional athletes who train up to 25 hours a week actually spend most of their time riding in zone 2.

If you want to lose weight and build general fitness, it is recommended that you do 150 total minutes of zone 2 training every week. However, other professional coaches recommend 90 minutes twice a week if you can fit it in.

Some people may have extra time for training. If this is you, why not add a few extra zone 2 training sessions into your week for extra aerobic conditioning?

But be careful to not overtrain though, as the additional muscle fatigue will interfere with the rest of your scheduled workouts.

Zone 2 Training 9

Zone 2 Training Vs. Sweet Spot Training

Earlier, we mentioned that you can improve your aerobic fitness with zone 2 training or sweet spot training. Both of these methods are effective, but they are also very different approaches to getting results.

Traditional zone 2 training requires you to have lots of time to train, riding at a slow pace. But sweet spot training requires less time and is better for people with a tight schedule.

Sweet spot training is often utilized by non-professional cyclists, as it makes up for lack of duration with increased intensity. People find sweet spot training more beneficial, as you can get fitter in less time than grinding away during zone 2 cycling.

If you can squeeze two or three sweet spot training sessions into your week, you can see measurable and motivating fitness gains in less time.

But zone 2 training still has its benefits!

Cyclists who have lots of time to train, are burned out from lots of activity, recovering from injury, or preparing their body for high volumes and intensity during the build phase can benefit from adding a zone 2 ride each week.

Zone 2 Training 10

How To Fuel Your Body For Zone 2 Training

As zone 2 training is less intense than other forms of exercise, you would be forgiven for thinking that fuelling them is not as important. Though you could get through a zone 2 ride fasted, the benefits are not as prominent as the risks.

Even if weight loss is your primary goal, you need to fuel your workouts properly and base your calorie deficit on other aspects of your life.

You should take in some quality carbohydrates to fuel your zone 2 training properly. Doing this will give you enough energy for your long bike rides, but it will also help you to resist muscle damage.

Regularly doing zone 2 training will give you the opportunity to fine-tune your nutrition strategy and give your GI system a chance to acclimate to the intake of carbohydrates.

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Now You Know All About Zone 2 Training

As you can see, zone 2 training has its place, but it may not be the best method for you if you are short of time.

But, if you have time and need a more gentle way of improving your aerobic fitness, a zone 2 ride a couple of times a week may be exactly what you need!

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Tom is an experienced freelance cycling journalist and mountain biking expert who competed nationally in the junior ranks. Now based in the world-famous mountain biking destination of Morzine in the French Alps, Tom spends his summers shredding off-road trails by bike and his winters on the same mountains on a snowboard.

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