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Zone 3 -- Good or Bad?

Old 04-15-24, 12:34 PM
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Zone 3 -- Good or Bad?

So what's everyone's opinion about zone 3?

If you do a google search, you'll see it called the "grey zone" or the "mediocre middle". Not much love for zone 3 from the coaches.

The argument against zone 3 seems to be that it's not hard enough as zone 4 to elicit adaptation, but it is more fatiguing than zone 2.

I tend to do a fair amount of zone 3 on long climbing days, and it seems to improve my muscular endurance and the ability to spend more time just below my threshold.

On a weekly basis, I'm doing roughly equal amounts of zones 2 and 3. I figure that's decent training. Change my mind?
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Old 04-15-24, 12:53 PM
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Originally Posted by terrymorse
So what's everyone's opinion about zone 3?

If you do a google search, you'll see it called the "grey zone" or the "mediocre middle". Not much love for zone 3 from the coaches.

The argument against zone 3 seems to be that it's not hard enough as zone 4 to elicit adaptation, but it is more fatiguing than zone 2.

I tend to do a fair amount of zone 3 on long climbing days, and it seems to improve my muscular endurance and the ability to spend more time just below my threshold.

On a weekly basis, I'm doing roughly equal amounts of zones 2 and 3. I figure that's decent training. Change my mind?
Just redefine your Zone 2 so it's really wide, spend almost all your time in Zone 2, and avoid talking specifics with the Zone Nazis.
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Old 04-15-24, 01:44 PM
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Itís probably more of an overtraining risk if you are doing high volume training. If you feel fine then I wouldnít worry about it.
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Old 04-15-24, 02:44 PM
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IMHO, zone 3 is one above zone 2.

Honestly, if you look around, there are so many definitions for zones. One author's zone 4 could be another author's zone 3, or vice versa. Since I'm not trying to race anyone, and I usually have time to spare, my favorite training maxim is the old "Ride lots."
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Old 04-15-24, 02:48 PM
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Do what you like to do and do as much of that as you can without getting overtrained. If you're having fun, you're more likely to get the volume up. I mostly do the boring Z2 stuff on my rollers, weekdays. Weekends are for fun and the real training. Did my 2nd Sunday ride of the year yesterday, hilly ride, almost no Z1 or Z2, lots of Z3 and almost as much Z4. I'm way out of shape but I'm on my way back!.
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Old 04-15-24, 07:14 PM
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The relevant question is, is your training making you faster or are you accumulating fatigue and bogging down? If you’re making progress, feeling good, and recovering, your intensity is appropriate for your volume. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

I have no zone discipline at all, but I’m only putting in 12-15 hrs a week.
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Old 04-16-24, 05:26 AM
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Originally Posted by MoAlpha
The relevant question is, is your training making you faster or are you accumulating fatigue and bogging down? If youíre making progress, feeling good, and recovering, your intensity is appropriate for your volume. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

I have no zone discipline at all, but Iím only putting in 12-15 hrs a week.
That's actually a pretty high volume that could potentially dial up a lot of unhelpful fatigue without discipline. I've just been re-reading "The Midlife Cyclist" by Phil Cavell and he strongly recommends staying in Z2 (60-70% of max HR) for at least 80% of the time at this kind of volume. I'm trying this approach myself now as I feel that I've been digging a bit of a fatigue hole over the last few months with too many hard efforts, although at only around half your volume.
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Old 04-16-24, 07:47 AM
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Originally Posted by PeteHski
That's actually a pretty high volume that could potentially dial up a lot of unhelpful fatigue without discipline. .
It sure could, but more time trying to stay with the local knuckleheads in Z3-5 would be even worse.
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Old 04-16-24, 08:59 AM
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If one is a Coggan follower and subscribes to the validity of TSS as determining a training stress score and fatigue then a TSS of 100 generated in either zone 2 or zone 3 provide the same amount of fatigue. Zone 3 produces the fatigue in a shorter period of time. Coggan is a smart guy so it he would have thought that zone 3 produces more fatigue, he would have used a different formulation for calculating TSS. By formula, the only way to increase TSS faster is to have normalized power increase for greater than 30 seconds. That adds a quadratic component to the TSS equation versus having TSS solely generate by linear function - force X time.

As I remember, in the bookTraining and Racing with a Power meter, the formula for NP was about the rate of change of lactate at efforts above FTP.

And another fact that I am sure Coggan is aware of is that as power increases there is a point where more glycogen is burned for a unit of ATP produced. I assume that occurs somewhere in high zone 2 / zone 3. Does that effect generate more fatigue. If Coggan thought it did, then he could have included it in the formula.

What do I think? I just ride these things. My personal experience is that zone 2 is just as fatiguing as zone 3 with the proviso that I ride at constant power with few if any "mini rests".

When I climbed Mount Hamilton with constant force in my muscles in both zone 2 and zone 3 it kicked my ass. Riding flat to rolling terrain in silicon value with traffic lights, stop signs and etc zone 2 was easy.

IMO, I self select zone 3 when I need more / higher constant power. For me, it is the constant effort that generates more fatigue not the zone.

Time trials ridden in zone 4 which is very fatiguing but once again, may produce the same TSS as a 2 hour zone 2 ride. However, during a TT, I try to make every pedal stroke count which tends to be quite different from a ride through Silicon Valley in zone 2.

And then there is the San Millan zone 2 and the protocol he requires during the ride. For me, riding a San Millan zone 2 ride where I am producing power at a point where talking is just starting to feel labored is a tough and fatiguing ride.

Hopefully, the above provides enough right and wrong information to provide all the zone 2 v zone 3 nazis something to complain about.
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Old 04-16-24, 11:06 AM
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Isn't zone 3 basically a race pace? Seems like you have to train in it occasionally if you're a racer, but like already said, if the fatigue is accumulating from too much time in zone 3 then you'll just have to back off, but I know that's easier said than done. I'm not a racer, but I am a life-long commuter that needs to get places in a fairly quick time, so I do spend a lot of time in zone 3.

My recommendation is to get comfortable in all zones, but have the smarts to know when to take it easy...again easier said than done -- I wish my body could handle what my brain/ego wants to do


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Old 04-16-24, 11:49 AM
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Originally Posted by MoAlpha
The relevant question is, is your training making you faster or are you accumulating fatigue and bogging down? If you’re making progress, feeling good, and recovering, your intensity is appropriate for your volume. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

I have no zone discipline at all, but I’m only putting in 12-15 hrs a week.
Wise words.

I guess it all boils down to "are you improving", suggesting the "all roads lead to Rome (or Tokyo)" wisdom.

I don't have much zone discipline, either. Every ride seems to be a mix of sorta-easy, sorta-hard, pretty-hard, and a dash of really-hard. About all I can glean is "the more I ride, the stronger I get".

12-15 hrs per week is a decent amount. I can thrash myself pretty throughly in 15 hours.

Originally Posted by work4bike
Isn't zone 3 basically a race pace? Seems like you have to train in it occasionally if you're a racer, but like already said, if the fatigue is accumulating from too much time in zone 3 then you'll just have to back off, but I know that's easier said than done. I'm not a racer, but I am a life-long commuter that needs to get places in a fairly quick time, so I do spend a lot of time in zone 3.
Yeah, I figure a large portion of a road race is spent doing zone 3. I do a 1 or 2 long-ish zone 3 rides per week, when I climb Mt Hamilton (about 1:45 at zone 3). It seems these workouts help me go longer at the "almost threshold" pace. Some of the training coaches promote these as "sub-threshold intervals":
..
Sub-threshold intervals should be an integral part of any training plan to build aerobic endurance. When you train at an intensity slightly lower than threshold power, you can work for a longer time with minimal anaerobic metabolism.
Because these intervals are performed at an intensity safely below threshold power, you can perform impressive amounts of these without overshooting. So sub-threshold intervals improve your aerobic performance and have almost no impact on your anaerobic endurance.
..
So not all coaches hate zone 3.

Originally Posted by Hermes
When I climbed Mount Hamilton with constant force in my muscles in both zone 2 and zone 3 it kicked my ass. Riding flat to rolling terrain in silicon value with traffic lights, stop signs and etc zone 2 was easy.
Yeah, the muscle fatigue that Mt. Hamilton produces is serious stuff. That constant stress from a mostly unrelenting grade seems to be much harder than shorter climbs. I'm trying to improve my fatigue resistance, doing Ham twice per week (weather permitting -- didn't get out of the 30s on Sunday).
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Old 04-16-24, 12:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Hermes
If one is a Coggan follower and subscribes to the validity of TSS as determining a training stress score and fatigue then a TSS of 100 generated in either zone 2 or zone 3 provide the same amount of fatigue. Zone 3 produces the fatigue in a shorter period of time. Coggan is a smart guy so it he would have thought that zone 3 produces more fatigue, he would have used a different formulation for calculating TSS. By formula, the only way to increase TSS faster is to have normalized power increase for greater than 30 seconds. That adds a quadratic component to the TSS equation versus having TSS solely generate by linear function - force X time.

As I remember, in the bookTraining and Racing with a Power meter, the formula for NP was about the rate of change of lactate at efforts above FTP.

And another fact that I am sure Coggan is aware of is that as power increases there is a point where more glycogen is burned for a unit of ATP produced. I assume that occurs somewhere in high zone 2 / zone 3. Does that effect generate more fatigue. If Coggan thought it did, then he could have included it in the formula.

What do I think? I just ride these things. My personal experience is that zone 2 is just as fatiguing as zone 3 with the proviso that I ride at constant power with few if any "mini rests".

When I climbed Mount Hamilton with constant force in my muscles in both zone 2 and zone 3 it kicked my ass. Riding flat to rolling terrain in silicon value with traffic lights, stop signs and etc zone 2 was easy.

IMO, I self select zone 3 when I need more / higher constant power. For me, it is the constant effort that generates more fatigue not the zone.

Time trials ridden in zone 4 which is very fatiguing but once again, may produce the same TSS as a 2 hour zone 2 ride. However, during a TT, I try to make every pedal stroke count which tends to be quite different from a ride through Silicon Valley in zone 2.

And then there is the San Millan zone 2 and the protocol he requires during the ride. For me, riding a San Millan zone 2 ride where I am producing power at a point where talking is just starting to feel labored is a tough and fatiguing ride.

Hopefully, the above provides enough right and wrong information to provide all the zone 2 v zone 3 nazis something to complain about.
For me the fatigue really kicks in when I ride close to FTP or higher for a significant length of time eg a 1 hour Zwift race or a full gas mountain climb. Then I need much more recovery than the TSS would suggest compared to the same TSS accumulated in Z2 or Z3. Fatigue in Z2 and Z3 feels pretty similar for the same TSS. My mental fatigue is a little higher in Z2!

Since most of my training rides are sub 2 hours I like to mix in a few harder efforts. Riding only in Z2 doesnít seem very efficient on these relatively short rides. If my training rides were longer I would probably stick more to Z2 in order to manage fatigue. But while Iím only riding about 6 or 7 hours per week I donít see much point in holding back. When I ramp my volume up over 10 hours per week I try to pay more attention to zone management ie easy vs hard percentage split.
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Old 04-17-24, 08:17 AM
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Personally, I find zone 3 sort of a happy spot. In zone 3, I ride faster, and although the effort feels sort of hard, it is not as awful as zone 4 and above and not much different from zone 2. And I get to my goal distance faster or turn around point faster. Zone 2 seems more boring.

Many times consensus data is very accurate. I am sure RChung can comment on this.

By consensus (BF consensus), I mean that to build mitochondria (genesis) one has to ride long hours. This favors zone 2 riding. Zone 4 and above generate more mitochondria and mitochondria enzymes and turns on genes but generates more fatigue. Zone 3 is over too fast i.e. the mitochondria meter does not run long enough.

Conclusion: Long z2 rides build the number of mitochondria and zone 4 and above bulks them up. Zone 3 is a meh and may over a long period of time cause one to get slower - too much time in a happy spot causes malaise, genes turn off and mitochondria reduce their numbers: think plateau. And one could just ride zone 4 and above and metabolically do great and generate and bulk up mitochondria. Alas, one generates too much fatigue, burns a lot of muscle glycogen per hour and does not get enough saddle time to support one's weight and posture on the bike for any substantial goal distance.

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Old 04-17-24, 08:50 AM
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I try to spend the majority of my time in zone 2, as I'm doing 12-15 hours a week, with occasional weeks with much more than that. That being said, I live in the mountains and my "flattest" route is still more than 75'/mile. So it's hard to actually maintain a strict zone 2 pace outdoors. I don't worry about zone 3 that much, just do what I can to keep it low without pedaling at an insanely slow pace. I also do a couple high intensity days a week...I don't do too many structured intervals, usually it's either one of the weekly XC MTB races or I'll go hammer some climbs.
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Old 04-18-24, 05:49 AM
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Some qualifications to my statements:
-I am not a natural/born athlete
-I don't recover well and accumulate fatigue quickly
-I'm limited to a low carb diet, and only add carbs for intensity.

I see the biggest jumps in FTP numbers from long bouts of Z2 riding. Last winter, after 4 3 week blocks of 80/20 training sessions with a bunch of FTP/Threshold work and Vo2 work, I saw little improvement to my FTP, but my RPE and HR at lower levels improved. Allowing me to ride at higher wattages longer, essentially raising my Z2 in terms of HR.

After an entire spring/summer/fall of no real training, "free" riding - mostly in Z2, my pre training FTP was up about 40 watts over the same point last year, prior to my winter training blocks. And my Vo2 max was up about 30 watts. After a few thousand miles of Z2.

This winters training blocs had similar results as last year. Very little gains in FTP and mass amounts of fatigue/poor recovery (and this year I added more food/carbs) - but my Z2 RPE/HR are about 20 watts higher.

I will do Z3 in spurts, on group rides or when I want to go faster - but I need to add carbs, which is an issue for me, and I accumulate fatigue/don't recover well.

Z2 allows me to ride as many miles as I want without fatigue or burnout. For me, it's the best road to Rome.
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Old 04-18-24, 08:46 AM
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it's all endurance and a continuum, it's just a grey area. other coaches I know advocate for riding "z2" easy and focus on time and not the exact power (if anyone follows Empirical Cycling, Kolie Moore and Rory Porteous do not prescribe an intensity for endurance, but will counsel athletes on staying below a certain level). and if they want you to go harder, they'll prescribe sweet spot and above. That's not to say there isn't a place for long tempo, it's just doesn't add as much value as just riding easier or just riding harder. That said, i've personally done, for example, like 2x60 at 85% in a longer endurance ride just to practice being at that level as a way to prepare for my annual solo century PR attempts, for which I try to maintain over 80% for 100 miles.
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Old 04-18-24, 12:07 PM
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Originally Posted by terrymorse
Yeah, the muscle fatigue that Mt. Hamilton produces is serious stuff. That constant stress from a mostly unrelenting grade seems to be much harder than shorter climbs. I'm trying to improve my fatigue resistance, doing Ham twice per week (weather permitting -- didn't get out of the 30s on Sunday).
Long climbs. Zone 3. Fatigue resistance. Boy, I don't know.

It feels like I'm starting to get ahead of the climbing fatigue thing, as I summited Hamilton yesterday without much fatigue at all.

Hamilton is really 3 climbs with intermediate short descents. I tried to dose the effort evenly, middle to high zone 3 all the way.

Climb 1: 34:10, 144 HR, 3.26 W/kg
Climb 2: 18:03, 142 HR, 3.09 W/kg
Climb 3: 42:58, 140 HR, 3.06 W/kg

I've now done this ride 10 times this year, and it definitely is getting less fatiguing.

Hypothesis: Repeated zone 3 rides help improve zone 3 performance. Seems that should be a "yeah duh" statement. Training ought to be target event-specific, don't you think?
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Old 04-18-24, 02:22 PM
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Originally Posted by terrymorse
So what's everyone's opinion about zone 3?

If you do a google search, you'll see it called the "grey zone" or the "mediocre middle". Not much love for zone 3 from the coaches.
I'm a big fan of zone 3, but It depends on the type of events for which you are training. If you are mostly targeting relatively short and fast races (less than a metric century), you will likely benefit from an 80/20 training schedule of Z2 and HIIT. If you are more focused on longer races (century and beyond), long blocks of Z3 SST can be very beneficial.
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Old 04-18-24, 05:56 PM
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Originally Posted by terrymorse

Hypothesis: Repeated zone 3 rides help improve zone 3 performance. Seems that should be a "yeah duh" statement. Training ought to be target event-specific, don't you think?
I think this makes sense in the lead up to a target event. But it is unlikely to be the most efficient or effective method of training all of the time.

For example If your target event included large doses of Z3 and all your training consisted of large doses of Z3 then you might end up just digging yourself into a fatigue hole.
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Old 04-18-24, 10:29 PM
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Originally Posted by PeteHski
I think this makes sense in the lead up to a target event. But it is unlikely to be the most efficient or effective method of training all of the time.

For example If your target event included large doses of Z3 and all your training consisted of large doses of Z3 then you might end up just digging yourself into a fatigue hole.
There is nothing inherently fatiguing about Z3. Large doses of anything without sufficient recovery will increase fatigue and hinder training.
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Old 04-18-24, 11:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Turnin_Wrenches
There is nothing inherently fatiguing about Z3. Large doses of anything without sufficient recovery will increase fatigue and hinder training.
I think thatís right. Every ride induces some amount of fatigue, which ought to be reflected in its TSS number, a function of intensity and duration. I watch my weekly TSS to make sure I donít increase it too quickly.

Two hours of tempo (zone 3), twice per week, is what Iím doing currently for my ďhard daysĒ. Is that more fatiguing than 1 hour of zone 4, twice per week?
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Old 04-19-24, 02:16 AM
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Originally Posted by Turnin_Wrenches
There is nothing inherently fatiguing about Z3. Large doses of anything without sufficient recovery will increase fatigue and hinder training.
I agree, but itís relatively easy to rack up large amounts of TSS in Z3 if your volume is high. If your volume is relatively low then It doesnít really matter. I note that pros do most of their volume in Z2 to manage their overall TSS and stay fresh for the higher intensity efforts. If they did all that volume in Z3 they would be overtraining.

To me Z2 and Z3 are much the same thing, but Z3 accumulates more TSS for the same volume. I find efforts at FTP or above feel very different.
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Old 04-19-24, 04:32 AM
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Originally Posted by terrymorse

Two hours of tempo (zone 3), twice per week, is what I’m doing currently for my “hard days”. Is that more fatiguing than 1 hour of zone 4, twice per week?
From a TSS point of view it is all just fatigue, however you slice it. But I don't believe all units of TSS are equal. I know from my own experience that if I rack up 100 TSS in Z2 I need pretty much zero recovery time. I can repeat that every day no problem. But if I earn 100 TSS for an FTP hour of death then I'm going to suffer for the rest of the day and I certainly can't repeat that kind of effort every day! But on paper they are both equal TSS.
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Old 04-19-24, 06:55 AM
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Originally Posted by PeteHski
From a TSS point of view it is all just fatigue, however you slice it. But I don't believe all units of TSS are equal. I know from my own experience that if I rack up 100 TSS in Z2 I need pretty much zero recovery time. I can repeat that every day no problem. But if I earn 100 TSS for an FTP hour of death then I'm going to suffer for the rest of the day and I certainly can't repeat that kind of effort every day! But on paper they are both equal TSS.
Yep. The model is pretty crude and, I think, provides a better theoretical framework than coaching guide.
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Old 04-19-24, 09:09 AM
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Originally Posted by MoAlpha
Yep. The model is pretty crude and, I think, provides a better theoretical framework than coaching guide.
Yep. "The purpose of models is not to fit the data but to sharpen the questions." TSS and the PMC don't fit the data all that well but they do sharpen our questions, and that has value.

I do use TSS as a (very) rough guide for intensity-weighted volume but more for description than prescription. The same for zones, btw.
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