Zones are just a way to be more objective and concrete when it comes to telling you how hard or easy you should train. Rather than just saying “go easy” or “maintain a medium effort” (which can be open to wide interpretation) zones give you a more specific area to hit.
Note that zones are “general” areas, they are not exact. They’ll vary a bit day to day, so it’s not an exact number or exact science. Consider them a reality check. In general, you want to train and race by a combination of feel and zones. Almost always, if it feels too hard, then you should back off (in training or racing).
training (and racing) by feel vs. training by the #s
In general, the more experienced the athlete, the more she should train and race by feel vs. the #s, since she has probably developed an accurate sense of feel. An experienced athlete might go by feel during all workouts and look at their pace, power, heart rate just as a reality check and as feedback on how they are performing.
On the flip side, newbies should probably train by the numbers (targeting their zones), but use feel as a reality check. Keep a close eye on how your body feels at various intensities and try to develop your sense of feel.
How to set your bike zones:
In all 3 sports we set zones as a percentage of your “threshold” effort. In general, “threshold” is a fairly hard effort, but it’s sustainable for a fairly long time. In the bike and run, it’s the effort you can sustain for an hour.
Setting your bike zones
STEP ONE: DO A 30 MINUTE TIME TRIAL
30 min TT: Warm up well then do a 30(ish) minute time trial (race effort) on a flattish route where you can crank it nonstop with few interruptions.
Threshold HR: take your average HR for the last 20 minutes and that is your threshold HR
STEP TWO: FIGURE OUT YOUR THRESHOLD HEART RATE AND POWER
Threshold Power: If you were feeling good going into the ride and you managed to push it at a full-on hard race effort, then take 95% of your power from the TT and that is your threshold power/ FTP. (Since FTP is what you can hold for an hour at a full race effort, your 30 minute effort will be lower than that). If you were tired and didn’t manage a full-on race effort, then we can take closer to 100% your power.Take your threshold #s an enter them into the calculator in your benchmarking spreadsheet to find your zones(based on the zones created by Andy Coggan).
STEP THREE: ENTER YOUR ZONES INTO TRAININGPEAKS. Having your accurate zones in trainingpeaks will let trainingpeaks crunch your workout numbers accurately. Most importantly it will give you your “IF” (intensity factor) which tells you what percentage of threshold your workout averaged (after adjusting for hills, etc) as well as creating an accurate TSS (training stress score).
setting bike HR zones in trainingpeaks: click – your name – settings – zones – hearte rate – bike heart rate – enter your threshold HR – choose type: lactate threshold – choose method: andy coggan – click “calculate” – click “apply” – click “save” at the bottom of the screen.
setting bike POWER zones in trainingpeaks: click – your name – settings – zones power – default power (or bike power if you have that) – enter your threshold power – choose type: lactate threshold – choose method: andy coggan – click “calculate” – click “apply” – click “save” at the bottom of the screen.