How to Use Cycling Power Zones: Guide for Triathlon

This guide is for cycling and triathlon athletes who are looking for structured workouts. You will learn what training zones there are, which zones are the best for training, and how long to work for. You will understand how to make an FTP matched training plan to get the best results.

What Power Zones Are and What They Are For

Power zones in cycling are a structured way of categorizing and understanding the intensity of your efforts based on the power output you can sustain. These zones are commonly used by cyclists, including triathletes, to plan and analyze their training and racing efforts. Power zones are typically determined relative to your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), which is the highest power output you can maintain for approximately one hour.

In the context of triathlon, cycling is one of the three disciplines, and understanding power zones is essential for optimizing your training and race-day performance.

Understanding power zones in cycling for triathlon is crucial for several reasons:

  • Training Prescription. Coaches can prescribe workouts targeting specific zones to improve different aspects of an athlete’s performance.
  • Pacing Strategy. Triathletes can use power zones to plan their race pacing, ensuring they don’t overexert themselves on the bike leg and have enough energy for the run.
  • Progress Tracking. Analyzing power data helps athletes and coaches track progress over time, making it easier to identify areas that need improvement.
  • Efficiency. Staying within the appropriate power zone during a race helps optimize energy expenditure and race performance.

Power zones in cycling for triathlon provide a structured framework for training, pacing, and performance analysis. They help triathletes develop the specific fitness and skills needed to excel in the bike leg of their races while conserving energy for the other disciplines.

Training Systems: 5-Zone vs 7-8 Zone Model 

In the world of triathlon, especially long-distance events, understanding power zones in cycling is crucial for effective training and performance analysis. The choice between a 5-zone or a 7-8 zone model depends on an athlete’s specialization, coaching methodology, and the specific demands of their race. Let’s delve deeper into this concept.

5-Zone Model

This is a simpler approach to categorizing power zones, with broader ranges.

Here’s a typical breakdown:

  • Zone 1: Active Recovery. Very light effort, often used for warm-ups or cool-downs.
  • Zone 2: Endurance. A sustainable pace, close to your aerobic threshold, often used for long rides.
  • Zone 3: Tempo. A moderately hard effort, sustainable for extended periods.
  • Zone 4: Threshold. Just below or at your FTP, used for improving FTP and race pace.
  • Zone 5: VO2 Max. High-intensity intervals, often well above FTP, to improve aerobic capacity and anaerobic power.

Example. In a 5-zone model, you might do a workout with intervals in Zone 4 (threshold) to improve your FTP, followed by a set of short, intense bursts in Zone 5 (VO2 max) for anaerobic development.

7-8 Zone Model

This training system offers more granularity in training zones, allowing for finer-tuned workouts and a better understanding of an athlete’s performance. It’s particularly useful for analyzing statistics and progress.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

  • Zone 1: Active Recovery (as in the 5-zone model).
  • Zone 2: Endurance (as in the 5-zone model).
  • Zone 3: Tempo (as in the 5-zone model).
  • Zone 4: Threshold (as in the 5-zone model).
  • Zone 5a: VO2 Max – Aerobic. Lower range of VO2 max efforts.
  • Zone 5b: VO2 Max – Anaerobic. Higher range of VO2 max efforts.
  • Zone 6: Anaerobic Capacity. High-intensity efforts just above FTP.
  • Zone 7: Neuromuscular Power. Very short, maximal efforts to improve sprinting and acceleration.

Example. In a 7-8 zone model, you might have separate zones for lower and higher-intensity VO2 max work (5a and 5b). This allows you to fine-tune your intervals, targeting different aspects of VO2 max development.

The choice between these models depends on various factors:

  • Athlete Specialization. Sprint triathletes may focus more on the higher-intensity zones, while long-distance triathletes might prioritize endurance and threshold zones.
  • Coaching Methodology. Some coaches prefer the simplicity of a 5-zone model for their athletes, while others prefer the precision of a 7-8 zone model.
  • Race Demands. Consider the demands of your specific triathlon event. If there are significant climbs or sections requiring high-intensity efforts, a more detailed model might be beneficial.

Remember, these zones are primarily used for analyzing training data, tracking progress, and making informed adjustments to your training plan. Regardless of the model you choose, it’s essential to regularly assess your FTP and power profile to tailor your workouts effectively and improve your triathlon performance.

Power-Based Training 7 Zones (Coggan Power Zones)

Power-based training using 7 zones, commonly referred to as the Coggan Power Zones, is a structured system for categorizing an athlete’s effort levels during cycling based on their power output. These zones were developed by Dr. Andrew Coggan and Hunter Allen and have become a widely accepted and utilized method in the cycling community for training and performance analysis. The Coggan Power Zones offer a more detailed and nuanced approach compared to simpler models like the 5-zone system.

Here’s an overview of the Coggan Power Zones:

Zone 1 – Active Recovery (Active Rest). Power Range: Less than 55% of FTP

This is the lowest-intensity zone and is used for active recovery or extremely easy rides. It helps in promoting blood circulation and aiding in recovery between more intense training sessions.

Zone 2 – Endurance. Power Range: 56-75% of FTP

Zone 2 is a sustainable, aerobic effort that forms the foundation of endurance training. It’s often used for long, steady rides that build aerobic capacity and improve fat metabolism.

Zone 3 – Tempo. Power Range: 76-90% of FTP

Tempo efforts are moderately hard and are used to increase both aerobic endurance and muscular endurance. This zone is often employed in long, steady-state intervals.

Zone 4 – Threshold. Power Range: 91-105% of FTP

Threshold efforts are challenging and just below or at an athlete’s FTP. Training in this zone aims to improve FTP and increase an athlete’s ability to sustain high-intensity efforts.

Zone 5 – VO2 Max. Power Range: 106-120% of FTP

Description: VO2 Max efforts are high-intensity intervals well above FTP. This zone focuses on improving an athlete’s maximum oxygen uptake and is often used for short, intense intervals.

Zone 6 – Anaerobic Capacity. Power Range: 121-150% of FTP

Description: Anaerobic Capacity efforts are very high-intensity intervals, often used for improving an athlete’s ability to tolerate and recover from short, intense bursts of power.

Zone 7 – Neuromuscular Power. Power Range: Above 150% of FTP

Description: Neuromuscular Power efforts are maximal sprints and very short-duration bursts of power. Training in this zone focuses on improving sprinting and acceleration capabilities.

These power zones offer a detailed framework for structuring training plans and workouts. Athletes can use them to target specific energy systems and physiological adaptations based on their goals and race demands. Additionally, power meters and cycling computers often provide real-time data to help athletes stay within their desired power zones during training and racing, ensuring efficient pacing and performance optimization.

The Coggan Power Zones have revolutionized the way cyclists train and race by providing a precise and objective way to measure and improve their performance, making them a valuable tool for serious athletes and coaches in the cycling and triathlon communities.

How to Use Your Power Zones Correctly

Understanding how to structure training intensity for a triathlon is indeed crucial for achieving peak performance. While the concept of training zones is valuable, a triathlete’s focus often lies in effectively balancing low-intensity volume training and well-targeted interval training. Let’s delve deeper into this concept and provide some examples.

  1. Low-Intensity Volume Training (64-74% of FTP – Volume/Aerobic Intensity):
  • Triathletes rely heavily on building a strong aerobic base, as it forms the foundation for enduring the long and grueling triathlon events. Low-intensity volume training primarily falls within the range of 64-74% of FTP.
  • This training zone emphasizes steady, sustainable efforts that can be maintained for extended periods. It enhances aerobic capacity, promotes fat metabolism, and builds muscular endurance.

Example. A triathlete might embark on a long, steady ride at 70% of their FTP for several hours. This type of training is essential for developing the ability to maintain a consistent pace during the bike leg of a triathlon.

  1. Interval Training

Interval training allows triathletes to target specific physiological adaptations and improve their race pace. Two common interval workouts used in triathlon training are Tempo (Sweet Spot) and Threshold intervals.

  • Tempo or Sweet Spot Intervals (88-93% of FTP). Tempo intervals are performed at a relatively high but sustainable intensity, typically in the 88-93% of FTP range.

Example. A triathlete might include a workout consisting of 15-minute intervals at 90% of their FTP, followed by 5-10 minutes of active recovery at a lower intensity. This type of workout can be repeated several times within a training session.

  • Threshold Intervals (100% of FTP). Threshold intervals are performed at FTP intensity (100% of FTP) and are aimed at improving an athlete’s ability to sustain a high pace.

Example. A triathlete could structure a threshold workout with a 15-20 minute warm-up, followed by 6 intervals at FTP level (100% of FTP) for 5 minutes each, separated by 2 minutes of active recovery (60-70% of FTP). This workout helps increase the athlete’s threshold power and race pace.

It’s important to note that these workouts can be integrated into long volume training sessions to mimic race conditions. For instance, during a long ride (low-intensity volume training), a triathlete might include tempo or threshold intervals to simulate race efforts and practice maintaining race pace while fatigued.

While understanding training zones is valuable, triathletes benefit most from knowing how to structure their training based on the specific demands of their events. A combination of low-intensity volume training to build endurance and well-planned interval workouts to improve race-specific intensities is a key strategy for triathlon success. Ultimately, the ability to balance and adapt these training components is essential for achieving peak performance on race day.

How to Workout Using Your Power Zones

To be well prepared for your triathlon start, you only need to do 6 workouts per week. You should do one interval and one volume workout in each discipline. This will allow you to get in the best form for the start and maximize your results.

Such a training load is enough to make your Ironman faster than 11 hours. This training system is proven by the results of our athletes.

Tatiana Leonova