Is Zone 2 Training Worth it?
Is Zone 2 training a waste of time? While the easy answer is absolutely not, some athletes may benefit far less than others from spending time in Zone 2. As a cycling coach, I have rarely come across many athletes who wouldn’t benefit from Zone 2 training, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
What is Tempo or Sweet Spot Training?
Zone 2 or tempo or sweet spot training, whatever you prefer to call it, all falls fairly close together in the training band of your power and heart rate zones. This intensity is relatively far below your lactate threshold but still hard enough to create significant amounts of training stimulus.
To put a number on exactly where this zone falls Zone 2 or Tempo is typically 76-90% of your FTP, and “sweet spot” is described as 84-94% of your FTP. Sweet spot training is the natural progression for athletes as they get closer to the racing season and a great stepping stone before getting into Lactate Threshold training.
These types of intervals are long compared to what most individuals think of when they first think of intervals. It’s no shock that most new athletes I work with are shocked to see 20-60 minute long intervals in their calendars until they do the workout.
These efforts help to increase glycogen stores, muscle type conversion from some fast twitch to slow twitch conversion (it’s much more complex than that), and increases in benefits mitochondrial enzymes. All great things for a cyclist looking to improve their fitness.
Cyclist Who Benefit from Zone 2
Riding in this range certainly won’t help improve your sprint or power at VO2 max, but if you don’t spend time training in this zone, you’ll likely end up dropped before the sprint was even necessary. So, similar to all training, you need to look at your goals, strengths, and weaknesses to assess where you need to improve. However, spending too much time in this zone can make you nothing more than a good tempo rider, and that’s it. This means that they are not great at hill climbing or sprinting, just long, steady efforts.
But if you are limited on time and looking to improve muscular endurance Zone 2 or Tempo riding is exactly what you are looking for. When time is at an absolute premium, and you need to prepare for a 100-mile event with only 5-6 hours a week to prepare, you should take advantage of a long ride each week with a big zone 2 effort. With that said, cyclists training for ultra-endurance events, think Unbound Gravel, can see significant gains training for long periods in Zone 2.
Your long ride (2-3 hours) should consist of a 10-15 minute warm-up ride at an easy pace followed by 1.5-2 hours of Tempo and then another 10-15 minute cool down. The goal should be to keep your power within that 76-90% range the entire time. So, no sprinting up hills and, most importantly, maintaining pressure on your pedals on the downhills. Most athletes are shocked to see how much more speed they carry and also how strong they really are when riding with a consistent effort.
Who Would Be Wasting Their Time?
Now that we know who Zone 2 training fits great it is simple to see who likely won’t benefit from this type of training. A cyclist who is looking to improve max power for a sprint or those looking to improve max power at VO2 max would be wasting their time.
So unless you spend massive amounts of time on the track, doing Crit races on Zwift or exclusively race short track MTB you likely will benefit from some time spent in Zone 2.
Is Zone 2 Training a Waste of Time?
Not at all. Almost all cyclists need to remember that getting to the finish line typically requires more than just a sprint unless you are a track cyclist, thus meaning almost everyone can benefit from some time spent in Zone 2. So take advantage of the off-season and early training season and throw some Zone 2 and Tempo effort into your training to see benefits across almost all types of cycling.
Coach Seacat has carved a space for himself as an expert coach in the discipline of cycling. With 15+ years of coaching and prestigious certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), Coach Seacat brings a comprehensive approach to coaching that combines advanced training techniques with fundamental cycling strategies.