Understanding Your Workouts & Zones

Understanding Your Workouts


  • WU: warmup
  • CD: cool down
  • MS: main set
  • 10″ = 10 seconds or minutes
  • S or Z2 = steady / zone 2 effort (or heart rate, pace, power)
  • E or z1 = easy / zone 1 effort
  • Tempo / z3 = tempo / zone 3 effort
  • Threshold z4 = threshold / zone 4 effort
  • CSS or T-pace= critical swim speed or threshold swim speed (roughly the same) it’s about what you can hold for 150o in a race
  • f/s = freestyle
Training Zones:
Zone 1 / Easy  (E / z1): this is a recovery effort; doesn’t feel like “a workout”
  • Swim: probably around CSS pace + 8 seconds or slower
  • Bike: heart rate zone 1, <65% of threshold power
  • Run: heart rate zone 1, 2 minutes / mile slower than marathon pace
Zone 2 / Steady: (S / Z2): this is our endurance building zone; this is where most athletes race in an Ironman Race.  The bottom of this zone (“lower steady”) is where you’ll notice a subtle increase in respiration if you try to breathe through your nose (it becomes labored to keep nose breathing).  This zone typically starts somewhere in your upper zone 1 HR zone (the Friel HR zones are a bit too agressive.)   On the bike it’s a reasonably comfortable intensity for a long ride.  On the run, it’s about :30 to 1:30 / mile slower than marathon pace.  In the swim it’s probably about 5-10 seconds / 100 faster than your CSS / threshold / 1500 time trial pace.
Zone 3 / Tempo: feels “a little hard.”  This is where most people work out.  This is an effort you can hold for WELL OVER an hour (or even a few hours for a fit & motivated athlete), but it might be uncomfortable.  You aren’t feeling any real accumulation of lactate.  This is where fairly strong athletes race in a half ironman or  marathon.   This typically starts in upper HR zone 2.  It’s about 80-87% of threshold power.  In the swim it’s about 3-4 seconds / 100 slower than threshold / CSS pace for most athletes.
“Sweet Spot”  This is the borderline between zone 3 & zone 4.  It’s called the sweet spot because you get the benefits of training at your threshold but this effort requires alot less recovery than a full on threshold effort.   If you’re in your tempo zone and gradually increase your effort / pace / power, it’s where you start bumping against an effort that feels a bit harder & you feel just a bit of lactate in the legs.  It’s about 88-94% of FTP (1 hour max power) on the bike, zone 4 heart rate, or open half marathon pace for quicker runners.  It’s about an olympic distance effort for a fairly strong triathlete (i.e. just a notch under threshold effort, so you’re not so completely fried that you can’t run).
Zone 4 / Threshold: This is your 1 hour max effort on the bike or run and your 1500 pace on the swim (CSS pace / T pace).  So if you are doing 3*10 minutes at threshold effort, do the 10 minutes at the max effort you could hold for an hour in a race (or 30 min to an hour in training).   Most people push their threshold workouts too hard.  The best way to pace in these workouts is to start off by pretending you need to race for :30 to 1 hour.  Don’t be a slave to the power / pace zones we set– if you are having a bad day, dial the workout back to an effort you can hold TODAY.
Zone 5  / VO2:  this is about the max effort most athletes can hold for about 6 minutes.  We only do small amounts of this work.
Max: maximum effort

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