Zone 2 Heart Rate Training–Why You Should Be Doing It

Why You Need to Be in the Zone:

I harp on it all the time in spin class and to my clients…more Zone 2! But why is Zone 2 so important, and how does it get you into aerobic shape?
Our bodies work best when they’re able to utilize oxygen. Oxygen helps us clear lactic acid, tap stored fat to burn as fuel, and much more (physiologists, I know that’s a somewhat watered down and ignorant statement, but we’re keeping it simple here).

This post isn’t meant to be an in-depth review of Zone 2 physiology or give you all the science (you can find that online), but trust me…if you train in Zone 2, the benefits outlined below are real.

Benefits of Training In Zone 2

  • Your body becomes a FAT BURNING MACHINE! When you train in Zone 2, you metabolize fat as fuel, both during the workout and throughout the day. 
  • Your heart gets a workout, becoming stronger and larger, therefore allowing it to pump more blood with each beat through your body.
  • On a cellular level, your mitochondria increase and become powerhouses.
  • You’re not out of breath and can more easily focus on proper form.
  • A Zone 2 session can almost be like meditation, soothing your mind and body.

How Do You Know if Your In Zone 2?

You can do a simple Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test to find your ‘Threshold Heart Rate’ or “Threshold Running Pace” which will then be used to calculate your Zones. I’m not going to give details on how to do the test here, or calculate the Zones, but you can look through this blog to learn more, or do a google search. I like Joe Friel’s methods best. If you’re not interested in a heart rate or speed FTP test, skip on down to the third bullet point.

  • Know If You’re In Zone 2 by Heart Rate
    • In my opinion, the best/easiest way to know if you’re in Zone 2 is by heart rate. I wear a monitor when I’m training so I can see exactly where my beats per minute are.
    • The best heart rate monitors are the ones with a chest strap, but if you have a wrist model or a watch that takes your pulse from your fingers, they’ll work too.
  • Know if You’re In Zone 2 by Speed
    • This one’s a bit trickier when it comes to accuracy because other factors can influence your speed, but if you don’t have a heart rate monitor, it’s an option. You’ll need to calculate your FTP speed using a method of your choosing…again, I like Joe Friel’s formulas and tests best.
    • Your Zone 2 speed will be below your ‘tempo’ speed.
    • You’ll need to factor your minute-per-mile pace in with your ‘perceived exertion rate’ to make sure you’re in Zone 2.
  • Know if You’re In Zone 2 by Perceived Exertion Rate (PER…aka Rate of Perceived Exertion, RPE)
    • So when I said that the best way to know if you’re in Zone 2 is by using a heart rate monitor, I lied! Understanding how your heart rate, speed and perceived exertion all come together is the ultimate goal. Heart rate numbers will help you realize the connection quicker.
    • Perceived exertion is basically how you feel. PRE is measured either on a scale of 1 to 10, or 1 to 20 (depending on who you’re talking to). I like to use the scale from 1 to 20 and tell my clients that a 6 is the intensity they feel when they’re just up, moving around and living (in other words, not very intense). Zone 2 would be a 9 through 11 on that scale.
    • Finally, the easiest test to know if youre in Zone 2 is by asking yourself if you can repeat the phrase, “I’m having the best time ever,” without struggling or pausing to take a breath.

Zone 2 FAQ

Q: How can I calculate my Zones?
A: If you know your FTP heart rate (threshold heart rate), you can use my calculator to get your heart rate Zones. If you don’t know it, visit Joe Friel’s Blog.

Q: My heart rate is sky high when I run, but I’m going slow. To bring it down any more I feel like I will have to walk. What should I do?
A: The simple answer, walk! Do all you can to stay in Zone 2. You’ll notice after awhile you need to walk less and less. In this case, you might also benefit from working with someone on your form to make sure that when you are running, you’re as efficient as possible.

Q: I’m training for a race in two months. I haven’t done a lot of Zone 2 work, should I start?
A: Yes! If you’re a seasoned runner, you probably have a decent aerobic base and continue working outside of Zone 2, but there will be payoffs for revisiting this zone before your race. If you’re new to running, spend all your time here…even if it means you’ll likely ‘walk/run’ your upcoming race. Put the time in now and it will pay off!

Q: Why don’t I feel like I’m working hard enough? Will I get faster?
A: You will get faster! Professional endurance athletes spend 80%+ time in this zone. By building your aerobic base, strengthening your heart and lungs, you’re setting up the foundation for speed to naturally occur.

Q: Am I burning as many calories in this zone?
A: No, but that’s okay! The calories your body is burning are being taken from energy stored as fat, not carbohydrate. So if your ultimate goal is weight loss, you’ll be burning through stored fat which is ideal!


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