9: Tuesday Topics | What is Power Zone Training?

 I am doing NaBloPoMo this month. 30 blog posts in 30 days. Come join me. #nablopomo2021

If you paid attention lately, you heard me talk about the Power Zone Challenge that Tanja and I were doing on the Peloton. You might have wondered, what in the world even is a power zone challenge? Before I fill you in on what these challenges are about, how about I first introduce you to the concept of Power Zone Training?

Good idea, you say? Great!

In a nutshell, power zone training is personalized training on the bike. It’s structured training that uses seven different zones, called power zones, with 1 being the easiest and 7 being the hardest effort. The zones are defined by your output on the bike, which in turn is dependent on your gender, age, height, weight, and current fitness. The concept is based on the research by Dr. Andrew Coggan in the book “Training and racing with a power meter“.

While everybody works with seven power zones, the output range for each power zone is specific to your fitness level. Output is created through a combination of cadence and resistance. Higher cadence and lower resistance, or lower cadence and higher resistance can create the same output, so training within a certain zone can still be challenging by varying these two factors.

The Peloton bike makes the training extremely easy, as it provided a visual guide on the screen, so you don’t have to memorize your output ranges to know which zone you’re in. You can just focus on the power zone bar on the bottom of your screen (when enabled in Settings) and try to stick to the middle of each zone. With time, you’ll remember the output numbers that go with each zone.

Initially, the bike will suggest zones based on your profile (gender, age, etc.), but that’s just a general guideline. To get real numbers pertaining to your individual level of fitness, you need to take an FTP test.

An FTP (Functional Threshold Power) test is a (pretty intense, I won’t lie) 20-minute ride to find out how much average power you can produce over that time span. I will say that you might think you’re going to fall off the bike and drown in your puddle of sweat when the 20 minutes are over. Here’s your fair warning.

But the test is necessary because based on the average output, your new and more accurate power zones will be calculated. You can calculate them manually, but if you have a Peloton, the bike will calculate your zones for you and update the power zone bar on the bottom of your screen. From now on, you’ll be working with these new output ranges to achieve new goals! So, what exactly are these zones, you might wonder.

The seven power zones can be defined by the percentage effort of your newly-discovered FTP value, or by the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) on a scale of 1-10. (Before I had a Peloton, I attempted some power zone classes just by effort because I didn’t know my output.)

The seven power zones

  • Zone 1 (<55% of FTP)
    This is the aerobic, active recovery zone. It’s mostly used during warm-up and for rest intervals between hard efforts, allowing you to catch your breath, lower your heart rate, and clear waste products from your muscles. RPE: very easy/2.
  • Zone 2 (56-75% of FTP)
    This is the endurance zone. Instructors call this your all-day, conversational pace, something you can do for hours. RPE: easy-moderate/6.
  • Zone 3 (75-90% of FTP)
    This is your tempo zone. It’s sustainable for well over an hour, but conversation becomes difficult. RPE: moderate/7.
  • Zone 4 (91-105% of FTP)
    Zone 4 is called Lactate Threshold. It means that your body is making lactate faster than the body can flush it out. This is the zone that contains your average output value from your FTP test. It’s only sustainable for an hour. RPE: moderate-challenging/7.
  • Zone 5 (106-120% of FTP)
    VO2 Max. That is actually the formula that determines how much oxygen your body is able to use when you exercise. And when you’re exercising in Zone 5, you are breathing hard. Sustainable for 10-15 minutes. RPE: hard/8.
  • Zone 6 (121-150% of FTP)
    This is when you hit anaerobic capacity, your body’s ability to move without getting enough oxygen. Sustainable for 30 seconds or up to 3-5 minutes max. RPE: very hard/9.
  • Zone 7 (>151% of FTP)
    Neuromuscular power and max capacity. Sustainable for only a few seconds. RPE: maximum effort/10.

The awesome thing about power zone training is: everybody can do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or seasoned cyclist. The training will be tailored to wherever you’re at in your fitness journey, which will never make you feel like you’re failing, but in fact, will at all times feel like just the right amount of pressure to challenge yourself to new output goals which will get easier to achieve over time when you’re fitness level improves.

It’s recommended to regularly update your FTP test so that your power zones are always up-to-date to your current level of fitness. That also means that sometimes, your FTP values might go down, e.g. after an injury or after some time away from the bike. It happens and is no reason to despair. It just means that you are jumping back into your training at your exact current fitness level.

You won’t start from scratch, but you also won’t overexert yourself when you return to regular exercise after a break. Pretty genius, eh?

There is more to power zone training, e.g. three different types of training (Power Zone Endurance (PZE), Power Zone (PZ), and Power Zone Max (PZMax) and they focus on particular areas of fitness. I can share more about this when I finish my first Power Zone Challenge in a few weeks.

Have you taken Power Zone classes? Or, do you have any questions?

  1. Although I enjoy Peloton, I don’t have a Peloton bike, so no way to measure all that. Which is too bad, I do love stats!

    1. I am all about the stats LOL (that’s partly why I caved and bought the “real deal” after spinning on an off-brand bike.)

  2. This really sounds interesting! I’m just getting back on Sebbe (he’s my indoor bike) for the cold season, so I’ve been getting reacquainted with him and my cadence, etc. I much prefer to be outdoors (I know, big surprise), but I really like spinning inside when the outdoor temps and conditions are not biking-friendly.

    1. I know you’re so dedicated to your outdoor exercise (kudos to you!) but I am very much a fair-weather runner and definitely prefer the spin bike over riding on the street. So this is perfect for me.

  3. This must be an amazing way to train. If you’re doing running workouts (correctly,) you want to make sure you’re at the correct pace, i.e. tempo pace, 5k pace, marathon pace, but it can be hard to get it right. This takes away all the guesswork. I’ll be interested in your thoughts when you finish the challenge!

    1. I always loved about the treadmill that you can set it at a pace or incline and get exactly the training that you need to do. Unfortunately I don’t have a treadmill at home (and haven’t been to a gym in forever) and it’s much harder outdoors to get it right.

      I love this about the indoor cycling that it takes all the guess work out of the training and I just have to ‘show up’ and do the work LOL

  4. Today’s Power Zone Max class was so hard but I love how one can feel how it gets “easier”. This challenge is AMAZING and I have become an even bigger Power Zone training fan.

    1. Power Zone Training is amazing – I see us doing a lot of challenges together. The structure is just awesome and everybody trains at their capacity!

  5. I don’t own a Pelaton bike, but actually participated in a research study at a university a few years ago that was loosely based on this method. They had different groups (I was in a HIIT training group – with my riding plan dictated by pre-study assessments that were exhausting; my husband got the long, slow burn which took forever and was so much harder, I think) and measured all sorts of cognitive and physical function before and after the 6ish or so weeks we trained over. It was really cool (and a great way to get access to free trainers), but I have to admit this all feels so daunting! Kudos to you, though.

    1. Oh that sounds super-interesting. I am so intrigued by sports-related research studies.

  6. I tried it last year and just could not get into it. I found the classes too boring. I should probably try it again sometime. A couple of my friends really like it

    1. Oh interesting. I can see how some of them get a little boring… but I love that it’s really tailored to your fitness level and you can really only compete with yourself :)

  7. I don’t have a Peloton bike, but I can see the benefits of this type of training.
    I wish there was something visual like this when running outside. I sometimes do heart rate zone training with my Garmin, but it’s quite tricky to get it right.

    1. Oh I know, I wish there was something similar for running – HR zone training probably comes close, but yeah, you’re right, it’s so hard to get it right.

  8. I’m glad you wrote this, I have never once taken a power zone class and I didn’t even really know what they were. I tend to take “music rides” like disco or hip hop or 80s rides :) but maybe I’ll give this a try!

    1. I love the music and tabata rides, but yeah, you should give the power zone classes a try. I find them highly satisfying!

  9. I did the Learn your Power Zones program last year. I definitely saw improvement via the FTP test but decided not to exclusively take PZ classes. I really like the music themed classes so I decided to primarily do those.

    1. I get that. While I really enjoy the power zone classes (and the challenge that I am part of right now), I do miss not being able to fit more “fun” (music, tabata) classes into my workout schedule right now. I need more hours in the day (or days in my week) LOL

  10. This sounds very difficult and hard and I am not sure I even understood exactly what its all about. But it looks like you are enjoying it and that is great to read. I guess I was and always will be more of a team sports person.

    1. Oh, I am sorry if I wasn’t perfectly clear in this post. I think the main takeaway is that power zone training is tailored to each individual and that my effort for, let’s say, zone 4, is only similar to yours in perceived effort, not in the actual watts that you and I can produce by pedaling on the bike. Does that makes sense?

      So, instead of the instructor saying “everybody produce 150 watts” (which will be difficult or impossible depending on your fitness level), (s)he’ll just say “pedal in your zone 4” …. and then everybody can get the same training effect, regardless if you’re a beginner or a pro.

  11. Thanks for sharing this San! And well done for doing a 30 blog post challenge! That’s amazing :-)

    1. Thanks so much, Shathiso.

  12. Very interesting. When I did spin classes at the Y, they sort of had something equivalent, although it was not precise since it didn’t factor in as many things, but you had a zone color that you were supposed to target so you’d adjust speed or resistance to stay in that zone. It was a fun challenge especially for a competitive person because everyone could see your light! I don’t have anything similar now that I am just running and doing at home workouts but I like to look at the zone data from my fitbit after a workout.

Comments are closed.