Zone 2 Training: Notes from the Rabbit Hole

While I wait for my Etape du Tour tour to fill up, I’ve been digging into my future training plan for next year’s Haute Route Alps. I’ve followed structured programs (thanks Rob!) in the past and even made my own for a couple of seasons. And so it surprised me to discover that what I was doing back in 2013 (and especially later) is possibly considered old fashioned today.

A friend WhatsApped me a while back and asked if I was going to be doing ‘polarized‘ training, which is what got me thinking that I really should take a look online and see what I’ve been missing. Well, it turns out that there IS such a thing (also known as 80/20) and the short of it is:

80% of your time should be spent in Zone Two (endurance), while 20% is to be devoted to high intensity intervals – Zone Four and above, depending on how you count zones.

Then, out of the blue, another friend sent me a link to the video I mentioned in my last post. In that video a guy was talking about how nearly all your time should be spent in Z2 and that the ‘middle zones’ (well, ‘zone’ – Z3) should be ignored.

This guy, it turns out, has some knowledge and street cred because he is Tadej Pogacar’s coach: Iñigo San Millán. For those of you who’ve been following most of the popular training sites for the past decade or two, yes, Sweet Spot is now considered a garbage zone.

I’ve now listened to no fewer than 5 podcasts and videos on the subject and I almost understand something. It seems like the good ol’ slow twitch fibers that we produce in Z2 (and that have been dissed for so long by the HIIT devotees), clear lactate much more efficiently than fast twitch fibers do. Why does this matter? Because lactate can be turned into energy and the better we make this happen, the more performance we can expect when we need it.

It’s essentially a shift in training philosophy from that of training your body to tolerate higher lactate levels (by training at threshold or above) to teaching your body to use lactate as energy more effectively.

For me, there are a couple of important takeaways so far:

  1. You still need to train really hard 20% of the time.
  2. This training is ‘training’ and is preparing the athlete (Tadej) for ‘racing’, where his coach says he gets all the other ‘adaptations’ he needs because in a race you end up in every zone there is.

I haven’t heard this last point addressed adequately yet, but I do know that pros can race themselves into shape, apart from the training that they do. Mere mortals don’t. What this tells me is that a good Fartlek every week or two will not be detrimental to my health.

Will I give this training philosophy a go? Yes, probably. It’s nice to mix things up a little and, in the long run, I’m only hoping to finish Haute Route with some dignity. Hell, I’d even be happy to finish without it. It wouldn’t be the first time.

2 thoughts on “Zone 2 Training: Notes from the Rabbit Hole

  1. All the science points towards this kind of training as being most effective. Zone 2 is easy, pushing you’re body so hard that you can see you’re heart jumping out of your chest requires a next level dedication to masochism. It’s the difference between the pros and us mere mortals. Let us know how the 20% goes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s