Know Your Aerobic Training Zones

VO2 Max, Steady, Threshold….what does it all mean?  Do you know your aerobic training zones and how can knowing these paces assist you with your training?

Have you heard runners talk about the Tempo run they did today, or the VO2 Max session they did on Monday?  In simplest terms, different aerobic training zones will stimulate your body in different ways to achieve different adaptations. Whilst training at a variety of different training zones is encouraged, depending on your specific running goals, different training zones should be targeted to specifically enhance the adaptations that are specific to your running training and racing goals.

Training Session Structures, Paces & Associated Physiological Variables

Your 5 aerobic zones can be used to prescribe workouts that will best stress the cardio-vascular (CV) and muscular-skeletal (MS) systems to the desired degree.  Below is a description of all 5 aerobic training zones and their main purpose: –

Zone 5 (VO2 Max)

  • Interval efforts < 6min
  • This is the pace where the body utilises all of the available oxygen in the lungs to diffuse into the bloodstream that can be carried to the working muscles. It is important to remember that runners can go quicker than this pace, BUT if they do run faster than this pace, it is due to anaerobic contribution.
  • An acidic environment is created due to accumulation of hydrogen ions (H+), making the pace sustainable for short periods of time only.
  • Fatigue is caused by CV (cardiovascular) and anaerobic sources

Zone 4 (Threshold)

  • Longer Intervals efforts (>6min) or a continuous run less than 30min total.
  • This is the pace where the body has H+ present in the system but they do not accumulate, aligning with your anaerobic threshold. It is important to note that any increase in pace will result in H+ accumulation and therefore the pace may not be sustainable for the planned time period of the session.
  • Fatigue is caused by CV sources.

Zone 3 (Tempo

  • Long efforts (>12min) or continuous runs for between 30-60min total
  • This is the pace that sits between your anaerobic and aerobic threshold. The body has a small amount of H+ in the system but again does not accumulate if tempo pace is maintained
  • A tempo run is often the junction point where fatigue can come from either CV fatigue (high heart or breathing rate) OR MS fatigue (sore or heavy legs)

Zone 2 (Steady)

  • The pace that aligns with your aerobic threshold
  • This should be the quickest pace you run for any continuous run (e.g. easy or weekly long runs)
  • As you do not go above your aerobic threshold, fatigue is caused by MS sources only if you go far enough

Zone 1 (Easy/Recovery

  • The pace that sits below your aerobic threshold
  • This should be the slowest pace you should run for any continuous run (e.g. easy or weekly long runs)
  • As you are below your aerobic threshold, there is only fatigue from MS sources if you go far enough
  • If you cannot sustain your easy run pace, you should be resting and not running, as clearly your body is recovering from a large stress

To learn more about how to apply these aerobic training zones towards your running goals in the most effective way, our specialist coaching team are here to help!  Contact us

Know Your Training Zones

Ben Green
B.Sc (Hons) Exercise & Health
Level 4 Distance Coach IAAF