Zone 2 Training

After last weekend’s hill training with Austin Cycle Camp, I was looking forward to the last of their free November sessions.  This one was scheduled to take place in Cedar Park, northwest of Austin.

Their web site didn’t indicate what kind of training would be involved, but on Friday evening, I got a confirmation email from AC2 (Austin Cycle Camp) that said we should bring heart rate monitors, because we would be doing heart rate training.  Hmm.  I’ve got one, but its strap was broken, so it wouldn’t be of any use to me.  The email indicated that there would be a limited number available, so I figured I’d get to the location early and try to get one.

The morning was chilly.  I even had thoughts of forgetting it and crawling back into a warm bed.  But a check of the online weather sites revealed that they were predicting a temperature of about 40ºF (4ºC) by the time we were to start, so I loaded up on cold weather gear and drove up there.

It turned out that the reason for the heart rate monitors was to make sure we stayed in Zone 2 — the easy training zone.  Coach Dave even set the HRM he lent me to indicate not heartbeats per minute, but percent of maximum heart rate.  We were to start out in Zone 1 — 55 to 70 percent of max — then after a short warmup ride, head out on the highway and maintain a Zone 2 effort — 70 to 85 percent.

As Dave predicted, the group (about 15 people turned out) spread out quickly on the highway.  Those in better condition could maintain a higher speed in Zone 2 than those who were more casual riders.  We were to go for 20 minutes, then turn back.

Gently rolling hills along the route made maintaining a Zone 2 effort difficult.  The coaches encouraged us to keep pedaling, even if on a downhill.  Going uphill, we had to shift down to very easy gears to keep from going above 85 percent.

Back at the start, after a little less than an hour in the saddle, Dave told us that the effort we had just put out was where we should be for most of our winter training.  With no major organized rides or races on the horizon, the emphasis should be on building or maintaining a base.  That will improve your aerobic capacity, and teach your body to burn fat instead of glycogen.

I had done slow training rides before, but always had trouble maintaining an easy pace for a full hour.  There’s always the temptation to attack this favorite hill, or carve that upcoming turn.  But it turned out that even at a sedate Zone 2 pace, we weren’t really lollygagging.  My average speed for the session was over 16 mph — about what it is when I’m out on my normal neighborhood rides.

So now that I know what Zone 2 feels like, I’ll be riding it more often.  I’ll reserve one ride a week to turn on the afterburners — you have to remember what it feels like to go fast — but otherwise, I’ll be the guy pedaling in a fast cadence who just glides along the street.


  1. Tim says

    I was surprised the first time AC2 had us do this drill. But it felt like I could ride forever at that pace.

    It’s hard to maintain zone 2 on some routes in Austin so I either go to the Veloway or do it on the stationary bikes at the gym. I have also found that my errands and commutes on the city bike tend to be zone 2, as long as I pay attention to which gear I use.

    • says

      They urged us to really gear down when we had to go up hills, but even then I quickly got into Zone 3 by the time I reached the top. However, as soon as cresting, my heart rate dropped fast. Dave threatened to make us do 100 pushups for every minute we were over 85%, but it turned out to be an empty threat.

  2. says

    Great post. I love following your blog. I have been talking to a lot of people recently about sensible training to lose weight, and recently blogged about a friend of mine who is a triathlete and everything points to teaching your body to eat fat by going easy. I read someplace that even a super light person has enough fat storage for 5 marathons! One question, although I know what an easy pace feels like in terms of breathing and cadence I would like to do some exercise more science based, but how do you calculate what your maximum heart rate is?

    • says

      First, DON’T use the 220 minus your age formula, which is notoriously inaccurate. Coach Joe Friel says your lactate threshold heart rate is a better measure than max heart rate anyway. To find it, he says you should do a 30-minute time trial, where you go all out for the full 30 minutes. Hit the lap button on your HRM 10 minutes into the ride. The average heart rate over the last 20 minutes of the ride will give you your lactate threshold.

  3. johnt says

    I’ve found that riding Escarpment east from Davis and loop back up Beckett is a good route to manage your heartrate. Now that you are riding slower maybe I’ll have a chance to keep up.

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