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How To Establish Your Training Zones

In Endurance Training Zones Explained, it was said that training in certain intensity zones is the best way of structuring training and gauging intensity. But how do you figure out your zones? Continue reading to found out how.

One of the beauties of swimming is there isn’t a lot of outside variables that can affect your performance. Unlike running or biking, there are no down hills, wind, or terrain barriers that can disrupt a test. However, HR monitors don’t work very well in a pool so the best way to gauge effort is through pace and perceived exertion.

The easiest test for determining your swim zones is doing a 1000 meter or yard time trial. Record your time then determine your swim pace per 100 meters or yards. This is your as your “T-time”, use this to gauge your effort and determine your speed when training. Unlike the run or bike, swim training zones aren’t as easy to measure because only pace and perceived effort can be used. However, below is a rough estimate of your zones will bebased on your “T-time.”

Zone 1: +20 seconds
Zone 2: +10 seconds
Zone 3: +5 seconds
Zone 4: T-Time Pace
Zone 5: -5-10 seconds

Determining your zones on the bike is fairly simple. All you need to do to determine your lactate threshold (also known as anaerobic threshold) is a 30-minute (all out) time trial, preferably on the trainer. Record your HR for the last 20 minutes of the time trial and congratulations that is your lactate threshold! After this is established, use the charge below adopted by the great Joe Friel and you’re all set to determine your HR training zones!

Zone 1 Less than 81% of LTHR
Zone 2 81% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 93% of LTHR
Zone 4 94% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5 100% to 106% of LTHR

If you have a power meter, record your average watts for the entire 30-minute time trial above. This is your Functional Threshold Pace (FTPa), use the chart below adopted from Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggans book Training and Racing with a Power Meter to determined your training zones in bike watts.

Zone 1 Less than 55% of FTPw
Zone 2 55% to 74% of FTPw
Zone 3 75% to 89% of FTPw
Zone 4 90% to 104% of FTPw
Zone 5 105% to 120% of FTPw
Zone 6 More than 120% of FTPw

Establishing your run training zones is very similar to bike zones. Find your run lactate threshold by doing an all out 20 minute run on a flat course or treadmill at 1% incline. Record your average heart rate for the last 10 minutes of the run and congratulations that is your run lactate threshold! After this is established simply use the charge below, again adopted by the great Joe Friel, and you’re all set to determine your run HR training zones!

Zone 1 Less than 85% of LTHR
Zone 2 85% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 94% of LTHR
Zone 4 95% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5 100% to 106% of LTHR

I also encourage you to record your distance for the 20 minute run test and use this calculator to determine your pace for each training zone.


    • Always Warm-up thoroughly before each test.
    • Ensure you are well rest before each test (Don’t do a field test the day after hill repeats).
    • Don’t go out too fast in during your test; try to keep your effort steady slightly increasing effort throughout the test.
    • Retest every 4-8 weeks. Your heart rate, watts, and effort can change your established zones, as you get fitter. Retest during or rest week to ensure your zones are accurate.
    • After establishing your zones use more than one way to gauge your heart rate. For example you can use heart rate, watts, and perceived effort when training on the bike.

About The Author

Brad Haag is a Triathlon Coach, Personal Trainer, and a National Qualifying Triathlete. As a graduate of Ben Greenfield’s Superhuman Coach program, Brad specializes in coaching endurance and warrior class athletes to peak performance. He can be found at HaagsAthletics.com or as a featured coach at PacificFit.net

About Eric H. Doss

Eric is a triathlete and writer. He has competed in all distances of triathlons, from sprints to full Ironman distance races. He founded FitEgg.com in 2009 to meet the increasing need for professional, unbiased reviews of triathlon gear.

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