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The Many Roads to Intensity
Boost your performance with multi-modality Zone 2 training
Team! We are hearing so much about "Zone 2 training" lately that it's sometimes difficult to make sense of it all. This post puts a different "spin" on the application of zone 2 training and how to execute it to revitalize your mind and body when they are not necessarily on the same page... and don't forget to check out the exciting announcement in the Housekeeping section at the end! Cheers! -Carla
Have you ever had one of those days (or weeks) where your mind was craving a soul-crushing workout but your body wasn’t havin’ it? This week I found myself grappling with that very dilemma.
If you are like me, training is what keeps you sane. The conflict arises when the mind wants and needs one thing, but the body is just not on board, leading to mental frustration and potentially self-loathing.
Life and work stress had me by the throat these last 2 weeks and all I wanted to do was achieve a mental reset with a workout that spiked my endorphins to the moon and had me rolling on the ground to collect my soul afterward. But with some long OR coverage days, < 6 hours of sleep every night, and being off of my eating schedule, my body said “no way” to the soul-crusher workout.
So now what do I do? Fortunately, my amazing Coach @erika_snyder_ assigned me a Zone 2, CrossFit-style workout from Train FTW in my weekly coaching notes. But before we dive into this incredible workout and its benefits, below is a quick primer on heart rate zones and finding your Zone 2.
What is Zone 2 Training?
There are 5 heart rate “zones” based on the percentage of one’s “maximum” heart rate, an indicator of the maximum output the athlete’s body can produce.
An athlete’s maximum heart rate varies among sports and physical activities, but there are generally 3 ways one can estimate their maximum heart rate:
[ 220 – Age ] – most common method
[ 207 – 0.7 x Age ] – more precise for people over the age of 40
[ 211 – 0.64 x Age ] – another method used for generally active people
The 5 heart rate “Zones” as a percentage of calculated maximum heart rate are as follows:
Zone 1 - 50-60% - recovery
Zone 2 - 60-70% - building aerobic capacity, fat burning
Zone 3 - 70-80% - building aerobic capacity and muscle strength
Zone 4 - 80-90% - anaerobic threshold
Zone 5 - 90-100% - anaerobic, sprint/power for short duration
How do I know that I am in Zone 2?
Ideally, an accurate heart rate monitor like a Wahoo or a Whoop! strap can identify your Zone 2 so that you can familiarize yourself with what zone 2 “feels like” to you. But if using technology is not preferable, below are some more subjective indicators:
The “Talk test” - The level at which you cannot speak a 15-word sentence without stopping or slowing down. At rest or in zone 1 (casual walk), you can speak long sentences without pausing to breathe. In Zone 2, your breathing is such that you need to slow the phrase or take a breath in the middle.
The “Breath test” - This was a cue suggested by my coach but assumes you have unobstructed nasal breathing. You are in Zone 2 if you can perform the exercise breathing through your nose. Once you start mouth-breathing, you are in a higher heart rate zone.
TIP! Your Zone 2 will differ depending on the physical activity. A pro cyclist will have a lower heart rate at a higher capacity on a bike, but if she were to do a weight-training circuit, she may hit her zone 2 at a lower capacity. Engaging in Zone 2 training across different physical activities will build aerobic capacity across a wider range of physical challenges.
I approached this workout begrudgingly. I was not in the mood for Zone 2 - I wanted Zone 5. But, this was a long workout - 50 minutes - that had some very challenging movements that I had not done before. I could accept the challenge of the restraint it would require to stay within zone 2 for an extended period of time. So I was game. Erika’s “cue” for this workout was to “feel good” and that means “.. this hurts a little but I could do it forever”.
That cue was gold! Not only did I find that feel-good place, but I could get lost in it. Having multiple movements to keep track of and new movements to learn and practice kept my mind off of the chaos of life and allowed me to focus on the present moment in the workout. This was a full-body effort that targeted mobility, core, and lower-body strength and included 3 slow and steady endurance movements that kept my heart rate out of the stratosphere. By the end, it was a sweat-fest! My body felt great and my mind was energized!
Looking back on this, I appreciated a sense of “cumulative” intensity. I essentially took the intensity of a “soul-crushing” 20-minute CrossFit workout and instead, spread it out over 50 minutes. This achieved what my mind was craving but in a way that my battered body could still achieve. It was the perfect solution that kept me sane, physically and mentally challenged, yet kind to my body at the same time.
Benefits of Zone 2 Training
Reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, according to the CDC
Increases the number and efficiency of mitochondria (The “batteries” that supply power to cells and tissues).
Improves insulin sensitivity
Improves muscle utilization of glucose through insulin-dependent and independent metabolic pathways.
Improved conditioning and efficiency of cardiac (heart) muscle.
Greater oxygen capacity and longevity
By training in zone 2 across different physical movements, additional benefits are gained in the versatility of your aerobic capacity and providing a means for gentler muscle conditioning, joint mobility, and stimulation of the nervous system required for coordination of the different movements.
Now, before we put 5 days of zone 2 training into our schedule, hold up! Zone 2 training certainly has its place, but women - especially midlife women - need other things too. We need resistance training that pushes the margins of our abilities to stimulate our muscles and bones. We need sprint and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for our cardiovascular and nervous systems. We need mobility, active recovery, and mindset work to return our stress response system back to baseline. So although Zone 2 training is important, it is just one important piece of an effective fitness program. A recent blog post by Dr. Stacy Sims What Women Need to Know About Zone 2 Training puts this point in perspective.
Today, I have come out the other side of 2 weeks of nonstop madness and now I am ready for that 20-minute soul-crusher! So the take-home message here, is that including zone 2 activities in your training is not a compromise on “intensity”, it is a necessary part of it - for the body and the mind. So when you are feeling discouraged because your body and mind are in different places, give a workout like this a try and keep it in your back pocket for those challenging times.
The Athlete Blog - 3 Ways to Calculate Maximum Heart Rate and Why it’s Needed
Levels - Metabolic Insights: The Metabolic Benefits of Slow, Steady Zone 2 Exercise by Greg Presto and Dominic D’Agostino, Ph.D.
If you are an Endurance athlete you don’t want to miss this!!!
STRONG. by Feisty is back! This time, with a special focus on the strength-training needs of endurance athletes and some new coaching and community activities with world-class triathlete and coach Lynda Rowan! For a limited time, October 25th - November 1st, here’s what you get:
7 modules that cover everything from mindset and goal setting to injury prevention, nutrition, and strength training considerations by life phase
A mobility routine to help you stay injury-free when lifting
Nutrition guidelines for before, during, and after strength training sessions
Guidelines to help you with any gym setup
An exercise library of over 40 demo videos created for women by women
A 16-week adaptable training program
A weekly community check-in with a certified endurance coach (November-January)
Networking sessions to help you find accountability partners or groups
Opportunities to win fun prizes when you complete community challenges
Off-season cohort pricing: $149.
Are you ready to up your game? Learn more and sign up HERE.