Is Zone 3 better than Zone 2?

Question: Is Zone 2 even that important if you get the same, and even better, physiological adaptations at Zone 3? (Coggins table provided)

Lately, I’ve been so bored w/ zone 2, that I simply opt for Zone 3 weekend rides. What am I missing out on w/ this method? (Thank you )

The theory is that you use Z2 to get in the training without overtaxing yourself and therefore give your body the proper recovery it needs to make your hard days hard. Z3 used to be referred to as “junk miles” because they were not hard enough to stimulate growth/adaptation, but not easy enough to facilitate recovery. So, you’re working too hard on your easy days, which means you’re not able to work hard enough on your hard days, your body isn’t able to progressively adapt, and you plateau.


We need a bot that just replies “it depends” to every training question.

As @Pbase implied, you need to look at your whole plan when answering this question. Are you doing just Z2 and feeling like you can handle more without hurting yourself the following weeks? Either add time in Z2 or make some of your Z2 harder (i.e. Z3).

Is Z2 work done in between intensity days? Turning it into Z3 might not be productive, if you stand a chance of affecting the quality of your hard workouts.



“ just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”, Coach Chad :cry:



Z3 has its place and role…as I am now focusing more on gravel events, it is playing a larger role in my training. My weekend rides are incorporating more Z3 work as that is where I will be spending a lot of my race days.

But it is not ALL of my training and it certainly doesn’t replace my Z2 work…the eternal question in training is the right dose at the right time. So as noted “it depends”.

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I’m in base phase of an Ironman Triathlon phase; “A” race is in Oct, a 112 mile bike. My RPE is low in Z3, but my heart rate mataches the wattage so it’s not like my heart is having an easy time.

All tempo all the time is a fast track to being over tired, better to do z2 for as long as you can. However, I’ve been doing tempo intervals on my long weekend rides, I’m aiming to do a solo century at tempo so just keeping myself up for that. I did the following yesterday, def was a workout, it’s supposed to be 85% power reading is slightly off lol


IME when trying to ramp CTL Z3 vs Z2 can good if you are able to recover for the Z3 work and still maximize TSS on subsequent training days of the block. For example, my work schedule often allows 3 to 4 days of consecutive riding followed by 2-4 days of work in which I’m unable to ride for those calendar days (I need to really ride a lot on my days off to ramp). If I do too much Z3 on day one or days one and two of four I will usually under TSS on day three and maybe four. Total four day block overdoing Z3 might be 700 TSS while doing less Z3 on day one might yield 800 TSS.

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I hit my highest FTP last year with a tempo build (mostly 3x20minutes and then finally working up to 4x20 minutes). It’s very fatiguing and you really have to pay attention to the training load and inserts rest periods.

I made the mistake of going 8 weeks without a rest week and then hit the wall. I didn’t rest other than a day here and there because I felt great.

So, IMO, long tempo can be a great builder of TTE and muscular endurance but you need to treat those sessions as they are an interval workout and factor in recovery.

I also have been doing short tempo intervals to break up the monotony of pure Z2. Inserting a series 1 or 2 minute tempo intervals can spice up Z2 so that it is less boring. My mind likes counting while on the trainer. Like 1 minute tempo, 4 minutes Z2, repeat every 5 minutes for some period of time.


What everybody said above and from now on ignore the chart. You’ll go down countless rabbit holes and Coggan won’t be around to say “yeah but here’s what I actually meant by that”.

Zone 3 is only useful for boosting your average speed a bit on Strava. That’s why you find 99% of average cyclists hanging around that place.


I’d say zone 3 is good stuff. Top of zone 3 is what we call ‘sweet spot’. When I’m building a base, I’ll work up to multiple 15-20min climbs at zone 3 on a weekend long ride. Then push the watts to ‘sweet spot’ over the weeks. I wouldn’t ride zone 3 everyday but it’s a good workout to add into the mix.

I’m currently considering something like this:
M off
T 30/30s
W tempo (z3)
R endurance (z2)
F recovery (z1)
S long with tempo or sweet spot
S endurance (z2) or off

I think the issue with zone3 is that it’s not a race pace. It is for world tour pro domestiques who sit on the front of the peloton to control for race in a 4-6hr race. For a road racer at any level we will ever achieve, we won’t be riding zone3 efforts in a race. For a triathlete (depending on distance), they actually do zone 3 as a race pace, so it’s much more important. So unless you’re a ‘tri-guy’, you might be better off riding in a more race specific way. If you don’t actually race, we’ll then maybe ignore what they’re telling you!

IME, it doesn’t matter that it’s not a race pace. After a tempo build with long tempo (3 x 20 minutes in one workout), I was hitting all time high 3 and 5 minute power without having done any VO2max blocks.

I’m not saying not to do higher intensity intervals but I was pleasantly surprised by my results.

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All due respect, 3x20 tempo is not long tempo at all, a well trained athlete should be able to do tempo for a couple of hours continuously at least. My 5hr power is 80% and I’m nothing special


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If you follow Dr.Inigo San Millan’s recommendations you’ll find yourself spending lots of time bouncing between upper Z2 and lower Z3, and accumulate an awful lot of hours in Z3 each week.

Keegan admits to doing a bucketload of Z3 rides (hours on end), and he doesn’t seem to pay he price for grey zone riding.

The whole Z3 is a grey zone thing is a myth if you ask me. Personally I have spent all winter in the ISM zones. That has enabled me to increase volume from 8-10h per week to 16-20h per week. Interestingly my TSS accumulation tracks very closely to previous years while my kJ accumulation is much higher.

I definitely feel mentally and physically much fresher than last years through that process… Your mileage may vary!

I think Z3 is extremely potent when done very intentionally. That means focus on recovery, limit unnecessary surges during the Z3 workouts, and hit Z4-Z5 very intentionally for 1 to 2 workouts a week.

Can do and what is a good training dose are two different things. By long, I was talking about the length of the intervals.

I was doing Steve Neal’s protocol and he suggests 3x20 as a starting point. I was @ 85% - square in the middle of my tempo zone. I extended it out to 4x20. I could have done more but two hours on the trainer was my mental limit.

In any case, what a “well trained athlete” should do is besides the point.

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I’m on a polarized plan. I’m either doing long z2 progressions or very hard vo2 and/or threshold (near or at ftp) depending on where I’m at in my block.

However, my long gravel races are primarily spent in Sweet Spot until I can no longer hold Sweet Spot and it turns into Tempo.

From my race today:

A handful of high vo2/anaerobic efforts with some longish threshold until I’m holding Sweet Spot and Tempo.

I hardly ever train sweet spot or tempo.

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You’re oversimplifying it. Of course they can. So can I. So can you.

That’s not the point. I bet you can ride Zone 2 for even longer, and yet, you incorporate that intensity into your training plan.

That’s like me saying: “you only did 1.5hrs of Zone2. why didn’t you do 8 hrs. It’s not really Zone 2 unless you ride 8 hrs” (of course I would caveat that with all due respect). Also, can you do it without a drift upwards in lactate, HR, respiration. What about muscle soreness after stacking days? Did you base it strictly on power and fall apart after a few weeks? Tempo: simple concept, tricky to do right.


If you’ve ridden enough endurance (in a given week/cycle), then 20mins of tempo a few times is not trivial. If you haven’t ridden enough endurance, then:

  1. that would be problem #1, fix that
  2. mitigate the shortcoming by riding more tempo, but only to point

I’ve had enormous improvement and success since 2019 riding Steve Neal style tempo and endurance (10-12hrs/week), with occasional blocks of focused intensity.


I’ve had good results with tempo bursts, working up to about an hour of work, instead of 90min-3h tempo per session. Much less fatigue and more fun.
Less tempo more Z2.

And according to the table, “threshold and sweet spot are better than tempo”. However, this table does not list all adaptations nor does it list the “cost” incurred when you train in each of these zones.

The physiological cost (e. g. in the form of fatigue) is much higher at tempo or sweet spot than in Z2. Otherwise you overdraft your body’s account and get into a state that you cannot recover from in time for the next workout.

Unless you are in a particular circumstance, you want to alternate hard days and easy days. Whether a workout is hard or easy is determined by the time it takes you to recover from it: if you can recover from it within a day, it is an easy workout, if you need more than one day to recover from it, it is a hard day. That means a 5-hour Z2 ride is a hard ride for most athletes.

Hence, most training plans will usually alternate hard and easy days (and I am counting rest days as easy days, too).