Setting Training Zones and Improving Performance through Testing




Understanding your training zones is one of the best ways to scale up your performance. These target ranges help identify particular intensities which can provide a specific adaptation. For example, an athlete with poor endurance should do more work in the “endurance zone”.


There are a number of models (3 Zone/5 Zone/7 Zone) to help classify training zones, however we only need to highlight what intensity (pace/power) is moderate, heavy and severe to prescribe training sessions based on your physiology.


How can we classify these three domains?

To assess your zones, we need to establish your aerobic threshold (Lactate Threshold 1 – LT1), anaerobic threshold (Lactate Threshold 2 – LT2) and VO2 max. This help identify the tipping points from Moderate (Zone 1) > Heavy (Zone 2) > severe exercise (Zone 3).


N.B. Confusion with terminology

To make things more complicated, the aerobic threshold is also known as the lactate threshold 1, or ventilatory threshold 1. The anaerobic threshold can also be classed as the lactate threshold 2, lactate turn point, ventilatory threshold 2 or maximum lactate steady state haha


How you measure these markers?


1. Lactate testing

A lactate test is the measure of the lactate build up in the blood of an athlete during an incremental exercise test. During the test, a sample of blood is taken at the end of each period to determine lactate concentration.


The test aims to identify the first lactate threshold, which separates zone 1 and 2 (moderate > heavy). This is the lowest intensity (speed or power) that leads to an increase in lactate concentration above resting values. The second threshold, which separates zone 2 and 3 (heavy > severe) is the intensity that leads to a rapid increase in blood lactate, faster than it can be eliminated during exercise.


The issue with this type of testing is that it can only estimate your VO2Max, so doesn’t provide you with the full picture of which area needs improving when comparing it with your lactate threshold. For example, if you had a strong VO2Max in relation to your LT2, you would know that you would need to focus more on threshold work. If you had a strong LT2 compared with your VO2Max you maybe able to do some VO2Max work.


2. Metabolic testing


A metabolic test measures your rate of carbon dioxide and oxygen exchange through indirect calorimetry.


Metabolic testing covers:

  • Resting metabolic rate (RMR): tests the number of calories you burn while at rest.

  • Maximum volume of oxygen (V02Max): tests your body’s ability to utilise oxygen during an exercise

  • Ventilatory thresholds: comparable with the lactate thresholds (see above), these are turn-points where ventilation rises to ‘blow off’ extra CO2 from an increase in intensity. The Ventilatory Threshold 1 (VT1) splits Zone 1 (moderate) and Zone 2 (Heavy), whereas the Ventilatory Threshold 2 (VT2) splits Zone 2 and Zone 3 (Severe).

Metabolic testing is arguably the gold standard for athlete testing as it provides you with a full picture of what’s going on under the bonnet. This includes kcal, carbohydrate and fat burn to help guide fuelling, thresholds and VO2Max to provide your training zones, as well as measuring economy to monitor your efficiency.

3. Critical speed/power


If you’re unable to get access to testing, critical speed is another good to help establishing your training zones.

Similar to the speed at your anaerobic threshold, critical speed is the speed can you run sustainably for 30-60 minutes.


How do you determine your critical speed?

  • ·Run an all-out 3-minute effort without pacing – the last 30 seconds of your effort is your critical speed. And it’s hard, VERY hard haha


You can then estimate your speed at the aerobic threshold, which is roughly 70-75% of critical speed. Although this method won’t paint a full picture, it does help provide you with some intensity zones to help build your training.


Book Your Test

Metabolic testing gives you an accurate insight into your current fitness, health as well as understanding your metabolic rate, i.e., the number of calories you burn at rest. So you can know how much food to consume per day to maintain, lose or gain weight.


At Box, our Athlete Testing Package helps construct your metabolic profile which includes a VO2 test to establish your VO2Max, fat max and carbohydrate/fat burn during exercise as well as your training zones. Find out more and book now.


Book your full athlete profile



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