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?