Why is Zone 2 training important
Zone 2 training can have a dramatic impact on our overall health. It does so by improving metabolic fitness and flexibility. Both of which are topics I cover extensively in my new book, Longevity Simplified.
What is Zone 2 Training
Mitochondria… the key to a healthier life.
- the number of mitochondria you have.
- the metabolic “flexibility” of your mitochondria- in many diseases, the mitochondria can only process glucose, and not fat. This inflexibility leads to significant downstream effects.
- Mitochondrial efficiency. How well do your mitochondria process the various substrates– glucose, fat, and lactate.
Wendy hit the trails on a bright chilly Sunday in February. But this day was different. She stayed near the back of the pack. Hills made her more short of breath than usual. Perhaps it was just one of those days.
Zone 2 Heart Rate Training…
Goals, Longevity, and Zone 2 Training.
Benefits of Zone 2 Heart Rate Training.
- Increase in the number of mitochondria
- increase in mitochondrial efficiency
- increase in “metabolic flexibility”
- lower resting heart rate
- a decrease in blood pressure
- lower risk of injury
- improves insulin resistance
- improve your ability to run/cycle longer
- improve your resilience and ability to deal with increasing load.
- Improve your Zone 4,5 function/performance
- improved longevity
Zone 2 heart rate training optimizes your muscles’ mitochondrial function.
Zone 2 training even improves your faster training.
With polarized training, 80%+ of your training is completed in zones 1 or 2. The harder efforts or the 20% are important too. As I discussed here, the best way to improve your lactic acid threshold performance is with a strong aerobic base. The only way to build a strong aerobic base is with months of base training in zone 2. Training more in higher zones isn’t going to improve your overall performance as much as your lower HR efforts. Once you cross the ceiling of zone 2 you are burning more glucose (glycolysis); this will cause your lactate to rise. Well-trained athletes can “shuttle” that lactate back into the mitochondria to use as fuel. How can you build that shuttle’s capacity? Correct, zone 2 training. Lactate, the lactate shuttle, and the science behind lactic threshold training are discussed in this article.
What is Zone 2 Running?
Simply put, zone 2 running is an “easy” run. You can talk during the run, you can breathe through your nose during the run. It is a pace that is slow enough to allow you to stay in your Zone 2 heart rate target zone. If you live in a hilly area, you may find that you need to walk those hills at first to maintain your heart rate in Zone 2. Some very well trained runners need to run pretty hard to stay in zone 2. For the rest of us, we need to slow down to stay in zone 2, but as your aerobic base becomes stronger, you will be able to run faster and longer while staying in Zone 2.
Why is Zone 2 running so hard?
How do you know when you are in Zone 2?
Until recently athletes needed to go to a performance lab, or stick themselves to measure lactic acid to try and determine where they transitioned from aerobic (fat oxidation) to Zone 3 and above. That transition point goes by many names. We’ll call it the first lactic acid threshold or LT1. Anything below your LT1 is considered aerobic. You are mainly using fat oxidation for energy production in this zone.
For performance athletes and high level endurance athletes, it is well worth your effort to go to a performance lab for a professional determination of your LT1 and LT2. These will precisely determine when you transition in and out of Zone 2.
Methods to calculate your Zone 2 heart rate.
Heart rate: When you are in Zone 2 your heart rate is somewhere between 65-75% of your maximum heart rate. Using your heart rate (HR) is probably your best way to identify what zone you are in. For an accurate assessment, we need to know your maximum HR and your resting HR. I’ve hit my max HR on some trail races- a most unpleasant experience! Your resting HR is your HR in bed as soon as you wake up and before you get up.
Breathing: If you can speak easily and in full sentences without having to pause at all you are probably in Zone 1 or 2. If you can breathe through your nose for the entire run, you are likely in zones 1 and 2. If you can speak or sing, but need to pause occasionally to breathe you are probably in Zone 2. If you cannot speak more than a few words before you need to pause, you are in Zone 3 and above. The above may hold true for most people. But as I alluded to earlier, for many of us, we are still capable of holding an uninterrupted conversation well into zone 3. By all means, if you can “hear” yourself breathe, you are not in zone 2.
If you really pay attention to your breathing you will notice an inflection point. That is, you will notice that you take a deeper breath every so often, or open your mouth to take a deep breath. You should be able to identify this inflection point during your workouts. At that point, you are at the high end of zone 2.
DFA-Alpha1: HRV Logger App.
The science behind using DFA-Alpha1 is very complex… and way over my head. This technology is available to everyone with a heart strap (preferably Polar) and a smart phone. Your HRV or heart rate variability is considered to be a barometer of your parasympathetic nervous system activity. Your HRV or heart rate variability changes during exercise. By detecting these changes, you can calculate the DFA-Alpha1. A DFA-Alpha1 value of 0.75 or above correlates with zone 1 or zone 2 heart rates. A DFA-Alpha1 of 0.75 MIGHT be your first lactic acid threshold or LT1. Recent literature shows that there is a good correlation between an alpha 1 of 0.75 and your upper zone 2, however, recent literature shows that there are many outliers. Some folks were 20 beats per minute higher than their actual zone 2 heart rate. That could be the difference between zone 2 and zones 4-5. If you want to use the DFA apps, you need to correlate it with your heart rate, breathing, and preferably lactate testing to be sure that your DFA-alpha1 level of 0.75 is an accurate predictor of your upper level of zone 2.
How long should I stay in Zone 2?
What is Overtraining?
Training hard seems like a logical way to proceed if your goal is to increase performance, and perhaps your lifespan. Many athletes train really hard. Most runners run too hard on their easy days and too slow on their fast days. Base building is hard. You may need to run far slower than you think. Your times will improve, but much slower than you anticipate. When most runners notice that their time/mile is increasing, or their heart rate at a certain pace is higher than usual, they often push harder … but this is a recipe for poor performance.
Uncoached, or poorly coached, some athletes and even causal runners or cyclists often train too hard. One day you start to notice that your performance is suffering, or you just don’t feel good. You think you need to push harder to get through it, but that doesn’t work. What’s going on? You’re “overreaching”… the first stage of overtraining. If you’re tired, feeling run down, your times are increasing and you feel sorer than usual then you are in an overreaching phase.
If you monitor your heart rate, you see that your resting heart rate is increasing. Your heart rate variability will likely be dropping. Your body temperature is elevated. If you have a Peloton you notice that your wattage is decreasing. Maybe not dramatically, but you’re achieving less work with a higher heart rate.
“Recovery is a weapon.. respect your body’s need to rest”
What are the warning signs of overtraining?
Some of the more obvious signs of overtraining include:
- increased soreness
- you’re less than enthusiastic about training today
- moodiness: you may be more depressed or angry
- your motivation lags
Physical manifestations and warning signs of overtraining include:
- You don’t feel well.
- Increased resting pulse or blood pressure
- weight loss
- Gastrointestinal issues such as constipation.
Please Avoid Overtraining:
- Going hard every workout will increase your risk of injury. Stress fractures and various tendinopathies will occur more frequently when overtraining.
- Overtraining: Overtraining can be a problem for weekend warriors as well as professionals. Some of you, maybe even most of you won’t be able to recognize that you are overtraining until it’s too late. I will discuss how causal runners and cyclists go off the rails later on.
- Overtraining doesn’t necessarily result in sore muscles… it results in higher resting heart rates, higher basal body temperature, lower heart rate variability (HRV), and a gradual decline in your performance. At its worse, it starts to affect your mood, your immune system, and even your desire to exercise. Overtraining has ruined the career of many athletes.
- In the past, 20-40 years ago, a watt was considered a watt… so coaches just pushed people… hard. And then we started to follow certain physiological and performance parameters like those mentioned above and we started to see overtraining and its manifestations: illness, burnout, and injuries.
- Over the long term, chronic overtraining and overexertion can lead to permanent heart damage.
Training too hard and too often might actually take years off your life
The Reverse J Curve of All-Cause Mortality Benefit From Exercise:
It’s very easy to get lost in the weeds if you spend any amount of time reading about how to exercise online. Whether you are optimizing for longevity or performance, zone 2 heart rate training — or base training — offers very significant benefits. Many of the world’s top trainers and athletes follow a polarized training schedule which emphasizes that 80% of your training is aerobic and in Zone 2. Perhaps we should take our queues from the best :-).