Don’t Forget Zone 1!

Hi guys…here’s a short post to share what I’ve been thinking, and maybe to get you thinking also. These days we hear so much about Zone 2 cardio and all its attributes. But I think there is a tendency to overlook or bypass Zone 1 in the presence of all the recent chattah.

So I guess before we can distinguish between Z1 and Z2 we should briefly discuss the 5-zone model of aerobic training. First of all, multiple models exist, using as few as 3 zones and as many as 7 or even 8. But the 5-zone model is perhaps the most widely recognized. There are many, many ways to describe those 5 zones. We can talk about percentages of maximum heart rate, maximal oxygen uptake, ventilatory thresholds, perceived exertion levels, pace, power, and several other parameters. But for the purpose of this discussion, I think I’ll simply use effort and “talkability.” The talk test is relatively valid and correlates well with all those other metrics. It’s basically how much you can talk while you are exercising. Here’s a table to visualize the zones.

1Very easyFull sentences
2Steady but comfortableShort sentences
3Requires focus but not truly “hard”Brief phrases
4Strong, concentrated output1-2 words only
5All out or very closeCan’t talk
Embrace every aspect of training…and LIFE!

If we appreciate those zones in very general manners, we can now chat about the immense value of Zone 2 training. Research shows that endurance-based aerobic training, with a cumulative sweet spot of between 3 and 5 hours per week, has immense positive effects on health, disease risk, and longevity. So you can make a case for doing some of that type of exercise. Any mode of exercise seems to provide these benefits so hiking, running, swimming, cycling, rowing, and a number of other activities can be very beneficial. 

But as in all things scientific, the true experts will tend to say that even if you don’t quite get that much, as long as you get an hour or two of Z2 training in per week in addition to some other exercise and sports, plus being generally active…you probably are getting most if not all the way there. 

Here’s where I can come back to the Z1 thing. Zone 1 training is really easy and it’s at an effort that you literally can do for hours. For this reason, a lot of people think it’s either useless or unnecessary. Both could be further from the truth. Aerobic fitness literally functions and should be built in pyramid fashion. Doing a lot of Z1 training is really a great thing to emphasize, at least for several months of every year. It’s not difficult and just takes time. But here’s the kicker. Your results in fitness and athletic performance will actually be higher if you spend some time developing your Z1 efficiency. There are specific enzymatic, muscle fiber, and capillary developments which only occur with Z1. In this manner, Z1 actually supports your Z2 and beyond efforts. It’s the true foundation of both health and fitness. 

So my suggestion is to take a chunk or two out of your year, and concentrate on going really easy, but relatively long. Again, this can be in a variety of modes. Many times, you’ll see blood markers, and even how you feel, show very positive results. Then, at other times, when you do less Z1 and focus on more intense outputs, you’ll be able to tolerate higher volumes of training and recover faster. That’s true for intraworkout rest periods with weight sets or intervals as well as in tissue repair windows over hours or days.

Don’t ignore Z1. You won’t be sorry. Embrace the art of going easy from time to time. It’s worth it. Thanks for joining me today!

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