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: , , ,


At November 26, 2009 12:10 PM , Anonymous Mark Buckaway said...

How do the Power Zones relate the CP zones (CP.2/CP30/CP90/etc.) noted in your books and used for the workouts on Training Peaks virtual coach?

I've done a Cononi(SP) fitness test (Cycling - 10W increments to exhaustion) to develop my power zones, but I am at a loss how to translate these over to the CP zones used by the Training Peaks virtual coach.

I ask because the numbered power zones are used by our club's coach, and I want to use the virtual coach in Training Peaks for the coming year.

At November 26, 2009 5:01 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Mark--Here's a rough approximation. It may well vary between individuals...

CP240 = ~z2 (low)
CP120 = ~z2 (high)
CP90 = ~z3 (high)-z4
CP60 = ~z5 (low)
CP30 = ~z5 (high)
CP12 = ~z6 (low)
CP6 = ~z6 (high)
CP1 = ~z7

At November 26, 2009 5:53 PM , Blogger Dan said...

I'm currently working on increasing my run and bike workout durations to build endurance (trying to stay in Zone 2). I'm using estimated Zones right now because I'm worried that my knees aren't ready for the stress that a TT would inflict. Is that a reasonable short term alternative or should I bite the bullet and do the TTs?

At November 26, 2009 6:08 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Dan--If there is any doubt about your knees then by all means be conservative with high intensity such as testing.

At November 27, 2009 7:25 AM , Blogger anon said...

Joe, sorry to bore you with this basic question, but what about the relationship between 20 min power and threshold power? Until now I've been using my CP20 and multiplying by .93 to get my threshold power, but I don't think the difference between CP30 and CP20 is 7% by any means.

At November 27, 2009 10:33 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

anon--actually, you're getting a couple of things mixed up. Treshold power (FTP) is really CP60, not CP30. CP30 is a test to approximate CP60. The test is done as a workout not a race. Being that it's a workout I know you won't go as hard as you would if it was a race. Just human nature. Easier to be motivated when there are others around.

At November 28, 2009 1:43 AM , Anonymous Lars B said...

Some people claim to be able to run at CP60 speed for 45-50 minutes as a solo workout. So wouldn't a CP30 give those people a LTHR that's too high?

At November 28, 2009 5:16 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Lars--There are no hard and fast rules as there are many variables in training. The most significant is individuality. We're each unique in many ways. Training must accommodate those differences.

At November 30, 2009 8:13 AM , Blogger jim.m.mcknight said...

Joe, a few quick questions:

1. Is my average HR for a 10k road race a good estimation of LTHR? You seem to discourage using a race effort to determine LTHR.

2. In your training bible you describe graded tests on a treadmill or computrainer to determine LTHR for run and bike. If you had your choice, which tests would you prefer to give your athletes to determine LTHR for run and bike?

3. Since Allen And Cogan used zones 1-6 and you use CP zones, which ones do you actually have your athletes use? I'm assuming you use your CP zones, well, since they are yours.

4. What criteria do you use to decide whether to structure workouts based on heart rate or power/pace? I've read in the training bible that you use heart rate in the base periods then switch to pace later on, do you have anything more specific?

Thanks Joe, I read your blog everyday and you help me immensely self coaching.

MAJ Jim McKnight
USA Army

At November 30, 2009 8:49 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Jim--Good questions. Answers...

1. No. If you do a race to determine LTHR it needs to take about an hour. If it's 30 minutes then it needs to be solo workout TT. The reason why is we go harder when racing. Feel sorry for yourself when training so don't go as fast.

2. If I was there with the athlete I'd do GXT. If they are to do alone I use CP30 test.

3. I use Coggan's zones for training. CPs for testing and standards.

4. I use HR in base and power/pace in build as you mention.

Good luck!

At December 1, 2009 11:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was reviewing my HR zones against your article , youtr training bible and Hunter Coggans's book and while the power zones are the same the HR % are different, why ,
eg your article
Z1 <81%
Z2 81-89
Z2 90-93
Z4 94-99
Z5a 100-102
Z5b 103-106
Z5c >106

Hunter Coggan (table 3.1)
L1 <68%
L2 69-83
L3 84-94
L4 91-105
L5 >106
L6 n/a
L7 n/a

If the powers are the same why aren't the HR ?

At December 2, 2009 9:29 AM , Anonymous Shane84 said...

How much does Lactate Threshold pace or power improve during the 2Peak microcycles and Race microcycle leading to an A-Priority race if at all?

At December 2, 2009 2:25 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

anon--One is the cardiovascular system. The other is the muscular system. At 106% of LTHR you are much closer to max (HR in this case) than when you are at 106% of FTP.

At December 2, 2009 2:27 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

shane84--It may not improve at all, or only slightly. What's happening is that you are shedding fatigue which allows you to take advantage of the power you have without fading.

At December 3, 2009 8:25 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Great stuff. I just posted the following at, and then someone told me you have a blog!


I've got Friel's great book Total Heart Rate Training. I love it, it is making me good friends with my heart rate monitor, and even though I am a biologist I have learned some useful biology that is relevant.

In the book, he suggests training by heart rate zone. There are five zones from easy aerobic (zone 1) to hardcore anaerobic (zone 5c). He gives zones for swimming, but my problem is it is a pain to get heart rate in the pool. My monitor slips off and such.

Any suggestions for an alternative way to convert from something like pace, RPE (rating of perceived exertion), or something similarly easily measurable, to his five-point scale? Has he written anything about this, perhaps in his Triathletes Training Bible?

Now I see you have a cool swim-pace based measure here on this post, is there a rough way I can convert from the values there to the five zones in your book?

At December 3, 2009 12:20 PM , Blogger Fabiano - FCA Sports said...


Could you please give more details on the differences between using the cardiovascular system and the muscular system to determine HR training zones?

What is the observed differences between threshold HRs in LTHR and FTP? I mean since protocols to determine them are quite similar, how far is one from the other that would change HR zone definitions and ranges so much?

At December 3, 2009 12:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re differences in your HR and the Hunter Coggan zones, the numbers I refer to in table 3.1 are actually HR not power , ie Table 3.1 in Hunter Chggan's book lists "Average HRs" for the equivalent "average power" zones. TBH your zones seem much more believeable. But if you use his Power zone prescription then it implies your zone definitions are the same and therefore you would think his HR prescription applies as well

At December 3, 2009 3:15 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Blue...--Pick up a copy of The Triathlete's Training Bible. That has a table of paces based on those zones. Also, I'm told you can get swim suspenders for the HR chest strap. Never seen one but that may help.

At December 3, 2009 3:19 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Fabiano--FTP and LTHR are approximately the same thig in the real world of endurance training. So when you are at LTHR you should be riding/running at about FTP. But the upper ends are far different. My LTHR is 152 but my max HR is 172. So my LTHR is 88% of my max HR. My FTP is about 250w. My max power is about 800w. So my FTP is 31% of max power. Make sense?

At December 5, 2009 7:30 AM , Blogger Fabiano - FCA Sports said...

It makes sense but what is difficult for me is the fact that some of the zones refer to the same physiological system being "trained" (eg. anaerobic capacity) but with different percentages of HR in relation to the threshold.

At December 7, 2009 3:15 PM , Blogger Bruce said...


I am reading your Cyclists' Training Bible and Thomas Chapple's Base Building for Cyclists. Your training zones seem to match up except for the HR zones in 5a-5c. Yours (with my numbers):

5a: 101% to 102% of LTHR (157 - 159 bpm)
5b: 103% to 105% of LTHR (160 - 164 bpm)
5c: > 105% of LTHR (> 164 bpm)

5a: LTHR to 15 bpm higher (156 - 171)
5b: 15 bpm higher than LTHR to within 5 bpm of maximum (171 - 180)
5c: within 5 bpm of max to max (180 - 185)

Can you help me to understand the difference?

Thanks -

At December 7, 2009 3:30 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

bruce--No, I really can't explain what Thomas is using. Can only explain mine. You might ask him. Altho I'd have to say that his LTHR is quite broad. 15bpm above LTHR is really high. That's the difference between discomfort and agony.

At December 8, 2009 10:43 AM , Anonymous Bryan said...

Just wondering where in the Phoenix valley you can find a safe place to do a 30 min uninterrupted solo TT in order to find LTHR?

One place I can think of is the climb up to South Mountain, which for me is about a 30 min ride from San Juan Junction. My personal best is around 28 min. However, that ride involves a lot of hill climbing, and has stretches of downhill. Is a hill climb a good test, or is strictly flat better? Will riding as hard as possible on the downhill sections keep the test up South Mountain valid?

Another place I can think of is maybe along Carefree Hwy west of I-17, or up the Beeline Hwy, or perhaps up Usery Pass? Now that I think of it, Nine Mile Hill coming up out of Rio Verde would provide a good long stretch of riding at at a 2-3% grade.

In summary, just wondering where others do these tests safely, and how hill climbing affects the results.

At December 8, 2009 10:58 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

bryan--A gradual uphill works fine. I use 9 mile hill.

At December 13, 2009 7:20 AM , Blogger Steven Kral said...

Hi Joe,

I'm coming a bit late to the heart rate training and would be very grateful for your advice on my current situation. Next weekend I'm running the RockCreek 100Km in Chattanooga.

Just got a heart rate monitor a month ago.

Had been living and training in Silverton, CO at 9300' (not sure if that's pertinent). Arrived in TN 5 days ago. A few days ago I got on the treadmill and did the 'Tony Krupicka Uphill Challenge (see youtube)' 15 minutes at 15%. Went 1.36 miles and heart rate rose to 175.

Yesterday (for better or worse), did a 5km race with additional 5km before and after. Warmup 5km comfortable 24 minutes, avg HR 145. Didn't hit start button at beginning of race, but one mile in hit start and for final two miles ran 6.15s steadily with Hr avg of 170 and max of 178 (some hills). This I reckon is not too unlike your recommended 30 minute trial workout...not counting the first ten. Obviously, I have either a slow, long job today or tomorrow left, but no time for additional stressful workouts.

So....what HR would you suggest I use as a starting point for the 100KM. And if all other factors go well, when could I start kicking up that HR and by how much?

A friend suggested your website and book. Will be venturing out into the Xmas throngs this afternoon to look for it! Many thanks!

At December 13, 2009 2:04 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

steven k--I wouldn't want to draw conclusions about your zones from just a bit of sketchy info. You simply don't have enough yet to know what to expect. And your zones at 9300' will be a lot different than at much lower as in TN. Good luck!

At December 25, 2009 6:28 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
And you et an account on Twitter?

At December 25, 2009 2:06 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

anon--You may quote any of my blogs without asking permission. Please provide a link to my blog with the post. Thank you.

At January 21, 2010 1:00 PM , Blogger jayfb said...

Hi Joe, as far as setting hr zones, in the Mountain Biker's Training Bible, it says specifically to do the LTHR test on the road. Any reason why this couldn't be done indoor on a trainer?


At January 21, 2010 5:21 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

jayfb--It could be done indoors. Just takes a lot more motivation I've found. Cooling is also critical. Needs fans.

At February 4, 2010 12:19 PM , Anonymous JimAZ said...


Curious how many calories are burned in each HR zone.


At February 4, 2010 1:41 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

JimAZ--Not a simple matter. Read this...

At February 8, 2010 7:34 AM , Blogger chris said...

Hi Joe i bought your book over the holidays, training for my first season road racing (in fort collins!) after many years of 10,000 mile a year commuting and touring/distance riding in the mountains. 2 questions:

1: any thoughts on base-building for someone with a really well established aerobic base but very little high intensity race prep?

2: i did an LTHR field test, i did a 10 mile out and back TT, in about 25 minutes. avg HR for the WHOLE thing was 169. then i split it at 9 minutes, since it wasnt quite 30 minutes and my back 16 minutes was 171bpm, so, i went harder on the back half than the front.

in your book you offer 2 different formulas, one says that the TT effort will = 102% of LTHR, and then other says the back 20 minutes will roughly = LTHR. i get two different values form these different formulas. from the first i get 167, and from the second i get 171. enough of a difference in zone programming that i'd like your clarification if you have a second.

commuter chris

At February 8, 2010 2:40 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

chris--There's a lot of stuff here. Way too much for a commet. Could I suggest a consultation with one of my coaches? If so write to Adam at Sorry I can't be of immediate help. Simply not enough hours in the day. Good luck!

At February 8, 2010 5:07 PM , Blogger chris said...

fair enough... but heres a shorter version of the 2nd question that should be easy enough: when theres a discrepancy between the "last 20 minutes of a 30 min TT" formula and the 102% formula, which is a better LTHR indicator?

Thanks for your time and thanks for all your efforts over the years!


Post a Comment

<< Home