The low-intensity, aerobically-powered Endurance training zone really doesn’t get much attention. But if you regularly ride and race bikes, you probably train at this pace more often than you realize, and it can carry some significant benefits. Let’s take a look at the details of this oft-overlooked training zone.
- The Endurance zone is completely aerobic and relies on slow-twitch (type I) muscle fibers.
- Most cyclists ride at this pace all the time, even during intense races and group rides.
- Training in this zone can stimulate aerobic adaptations, but requires a lot of time to make a big impact.
- Sweet Spot training can stimulate similar adaptations in much less time.
- The Endurance zone can be used to add volume to a training plan without adding much extra fatigue.
- All TrainerRoad plans include some Endurance riding, but we prioritize more productive workouts when time is limited.
What is the Endurance Training Zone (Zone 2)?
The Endurance zone is commonly known as Zone 2 and includes riding from 55% to 75% of a cyclist’s FTP. Sitting between the Active Recovery and Tempo zones, Zone 2 is a natural endurance pace, as its name suggests. This is because riding in the Endurance zone exclusively utilizes Type 1 (aerobic) slow-twitch muscle fibers, which can sustain themselves almost indefinitely with proper fuel. Training at this intensity is relatively low-fatigue, but it does trigger more adaptive stimulus than riding at a pure recovery pace.
Most riders equate the Endurance zone with long/slow rides, and it’s true that most long rides naturally fit this description. However, even hard events like criteriums include a surprising amount of time in Zone 2. Since no athlete can sustain maximal efforts for long, riders sit in the pack between surges at Endurance or Recovery pace for much of any race. This is true for hard workouts too, as endurance often fills the gaps between more challenging intervals. Cyclists inevitably spend a lot of time at Endurance pace throughout the year, whatever their chosen discipline or riding style.
What are the Benefits of the Endurance Training Zone?
Since the Endurance zone is almost completely aerobic , it should come as no surprise that riding in this zone can improve aerobic conditioning. One of Endurance’s most significant aerobic benefits comes through developing mitochondrial density; increased capillarization and enzyme production also occur. The body can effectively use fat to fuel Endurance riding, and this ability improves with repetition. This makes Zone 2 a beneficial training zone for refining body composition.
Building an Aerobic Base with Zone 2 Training
Training effects come quite slowly through Endurance riding. Since Zone 2 is so low-intensity, you need to do a whole lot of it to create a meaningful amount of productive stimulus. This is why traditional endurance base training is so time-intensive and requires lots of very long workouts. This type of base training can certainly be effective, but it’s neither convenient nor practical for most athletes. Luckily, Sweet Spot base training can trigger most of the same benefits in dramatically less time.
Movement Patterns and Saddle Time
Apart from its aerobic effects, long rides in Zone 2 can be useful for practicing and reinforcing movement patterns and pedaling technique. Endurance rides offer a great opportunity to get accustomed to sustained saddle time, and for low-stakes experimentation with riding position and nutrition/ hydration strategies.
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When Should you Include Endurance Training in Your Training Plan?
The aerobic conditioning that endurance training facilitates is the backbone of any cyclist’s abilities. If you imagine fitness as a structure built with the most intense efforts at the top, aerobic endurance is the building’s durable foundation and it supports every other facet of your training and racing skills. Whether achieved through Endurance workouts or through more time-effective Sweet Spot training, some training for aerobic conditioning should occur throughout the entire cycling season, especially during base and build phases.
The foundational role of aerobic fitness is also why the Endurance zone is so closely associated with base training. Base training is the first phase of an athlete’s season and lays the groundwork for more intense and specialized training later on. Thus, the biggest emphasis on aerobic training does come in the early season. This means lots of sustained endurance riding in a traditional base approach.
In most TrainerRoad training plans, we use Sweet Spot workouts to build aerobic fitness because they require much less time than Endurance training. In all training phases, Low-volume plans include Endurance workouts during recovery weeks to keep your legs moving without adding much fatigue. Mid- and high-volume plans also use endurance workouts to add volume and facilitate recovery on days between more intense workouts.
How Much Zone 2 Should Be in Your Training Plan?
The right balance of Endurance training depends on your training phase, available training time, and specific goals. Because Zone 2 is not as immediately productive as higher intensities, low-volume athletes should prioritize training at more productive workloads that can bring the same adaptations in less time.
As training volume rises time, spent in the Endurance Zone inevitably goes up too. Even extremely high-volume athletes have a limit to how many hard workouts they can productively handle each week and the rest of their time is spent at low-intensity. This is why TrainerRoad’s high-volume plans add endurance workouts instead of adding additional hard days, and why pros that train as much as 25 hours a week actually spend most of their time riding at Endurance pace.
So how much Endurance is right for you? The easiest answer is to follow your training plan, which is designed to progressively challenge you with the most effective workouts possible. If you have spare time, feel free to add some extra endurance riding for additional aerobic conditioning, but be careful to never cause so much fatigue as to interfere with your regularly scheduled workouts.
Zone 2 Training vs Sweet Spot Training
There are two effective and proven ways to strengthen your aerobic base fitness—traditional Zone 2 training or Sweet Spot training. While each one is effective in its own way, there is a massive difference in the time required to achieve aerobic adaptations.
Traditional Zone 2 training assumes you have almost unlimited time to ride at a slow pace. Whereas Sweet Spot Base assumes you have a limited schedule like most non-professional cyclists, which compensates for the lack of duration with an increase in intensity. Sweet Spot training is more all-inclusive and can get you more fit in less time. Just two or three of these workouts each week can bring measurable and motivating fitness gains.
Fueling Your Zone 2 Workouts
It’s easy to think that since Zone 2 workouts are low-intensity, they don’t need to be fueled like an intense workout. And while it’s true that you can make it through an endurance workout fasted, the risks generally outweigh the benefits. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, you should properly fuel your workout, then create your calorie deficit off the bike.
We recommend fueling your Zone 2 workouts with carbohydrates. Not only will this ensure you’re fueled for subsequent workouts, but it will also help fend off muscle damage. Zone 2 workouts proved an excellent opportunity to hone your nutrition strategy and train your GI system to handle carbs.
For example, if your FTP is 240w and you complete Pettit, you can expect to burn 535 kJs or calories. Even if you take in 80g of carbs with two SiS gels and a bottle of GO Electrolyte mix, you have only eaten 318 Calories—meaning you’re still in a calorie deficit from the ride.
Example TrainerRoad Endurance (Zone 2) Workouts:
Two of the best-known TrainerRoad endurance workouts are Pettit and Baxter. Pettit is included in almost all of our training plans, and is a straightforward hour at 60%-70% FTP. It also includes some optional form sprints, cadence intervals, and pedaling quadrant drills.
Baxter is a bit more dynamic, with frequent cadence-based pacing changes. It stays between 55% and 80% FTP, venturing slightly above Endurance pace but not for long enough to add fatigue. In addition to the normal aerobic benefits of Endurance training, Baxter can help improve pedaling efficiency.