Zone 2 rides in hilly area

I live in the SW of the UK and there is very little flat. My question is, if you are doing a Z2 does it matter if you stray in to Z3 or Z4 on hills? A lot of my rides vary between Z1 and Z4.


Probably a question of degree- how much time are you spending above z2, and how hard are you pushing?
I personally wouldn’t stress about a few short hills or being slightly above/below your target range- that’s part of outdoor riding, and z2 is pretty forgiving. However, if you’re really hammering, having to significantly drop the power in order to recover, or finding yourself above z2 more often than not (guilty), it might be worth a bit of thought/adjustment.

At the end of the day though, the most important thing is that you’re recovering sufficiently to get the most out of your key sessions and for your total load to be sustainable in a wider context, so as long as that’s the case I wouldn’t sweat the details too much :slight_smile:


I have a similar issue in the Highlands, I use a route planning app (e.g. Garmin, Strava, BikeHike) to plan a flat-ish course if that’s what I want, then just accept on the hills I encounter I will go very slowly. I’m not light, but can usually get up hills with my gearing set-up without going way over my target, although some hills do just require a bit more oomph.

Depending on your set-up, a 32 or 34 on the back might be a worthwhile investment to make sure you’re not muscling gears you don’t want to up steep hills. It might also help having average power and normalised power on a screen to get an idea of your variability index during a ride to keep you steady and honest.


Good input from @toribath97 and @swgregg

I also live in an area with many rolling hills…actually, only rolling hills (for context: Pennsylvania, US…so not Colorado or huge mountains in Europe).

Back when I was coached (and via various consults over the last few years), I would bring this up as a concern. The feedback I received (almost unanimously) was similar to what they have already posted.

The most important thing is to try to minimize time in the extremes (so coasting and smashing it), especially coasting and low Z1. Also, it’s ok to use HR and RPE as your primary metrics on these rides, and look at power post ride.

I’ll add one thing, but it’s definitely something that might be too much. Again, I think they’ve covered it.

Based on feedback from a coach one time, I tried to implement a “<10% coasting” rule. I nearly died. LOL. It just wasn’t safe. But I understood the importance of avoiding coasting for a time-limited rider (not exactly needed for time-rich athletes).

So one day I went out on a pretty standard loop of mine and did a “baseline”. Basically, I focused for that particular ride (because who would want to do this all the time) on pedaling. All of my focus was “am I pedaling right now…pedal, pedal”, etc. Didn’t stop thinking about pedaling for 2 hours. It was tedious and that is why I only did it once. :slight_smile:

I got it down to 13% coasting + low Z1. Best I could do (and be safe). From that point forward, I used 13-15% coasting + low Z1 as my “goal” for that loop and others in same area. And then I just lowered cadence by necessity and went as slowly up hills as I could without falling over.

That’s my Z2 riding, and it’s fine.


2 weeks ago i was in Andalucia, Spain. My plan was to ride in Z2, therefore i rented a bike with the proper gearing and not worried about average speed. If you want to keep in your zone, then gear appropriately.
But even with appropriate gearing, if it’s a 20% gradient, you will go above Z2 occasionally. It’s fine.
Also as mentioned above. Z2 = focus more on RPE

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I’m in the South West too! Hard to avoid hills in Devon and there’s steep sections all over the place. Planning on doing some zone 2 rides in the coming months and yesterday I did an experiment to see how little power I could put out going up hill whilst still moving forward. It was kind of fun and I could get away with putting out less power than I thought I’d have to (I’ve got the easiest gears i could buy fitted to my bike)


Are you talking heart rate or power zones? I’d say that if you can keep your heart rate under control, it doesn’t matter if your power isn’t strictly within Z2. But depending on the hill and your level of fitness, it might mean that you’re going VERY slowly up the hills. Agree with the idea about a nice low gear.

Also, trying to keep the pace low enough where you can comfortably breathe through your nose is a good test.

This is one of those areas where it pays to be a member of a club - fellow members will often have their “secret” routes. I ride in Surrey and Kent which is very hilly, but I still know some routes which for the most part never go above a gradient I can’t comfortably manage without going into the red.


Yes Power is what I am aiming to keep in Z2. I have lived in Devon for 25 years and cycled most of them so not sure I’ll be able to flatten it out :slight_smile: I guess I can always get off and push, lol.

Yes I have a sub compact 30-46 and and a 32 on the back but still stray in to Z3 on some of the hills. I am keen to add some Z2 for the mitochondrial effect as an add on to the workouts.

Personally, I don’t believe in the strict z2 idea. Just ride ‘endurance’ and don’t worry too much about where the power is. Obviously, don’t smash it up every hill, but otherwise, I think you need to learn to ride according to the terrain you live in.

I also find it harder to hold power on downhills, and, as said above, its just not safe to do that everywhere. Again I think you have to be realistic and keep the ride safe.

Third point, z2 might be enough for the hills if you have a 300W+ FTP - if your FTP is lower, your z2 tops out sooner, and you might not be able too ride that slow.


Clearly the answer is a new bike. I’d recommend a mountain bike. My MTB has a 32x52 and you can keep z2 on most hills with that gearing.


if you have a 300W+ FTP I wish :slight_smile:

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@tshortt I’m curious why limiting coasting was unsafe. I haven’t chased a strict percentage but I rarely coast unless I’m cornering with a lot of lean or coming to a stop. Whenever I am on a road with few/no stoplights, my time coasting is nearly zero.


Me too. In fact when I visit my Mom in Arizona, the variability index on my rides is similar to what I see for indoor rides, without even thinking about it. Similar in Texas (more family).

I don’t have roads like that near me until I get out to farm country (about 20km away), so better on weekends.

Also, about half the hills on my local weekday loops I spin out, and then have to brake at the stop sign at the bottom.

I can still get in decent riding, but 30 miles for me will see about 2000 ft elevation. Not bad but couple that with suburban roads and a few blind intersections (that’s the nearly dying part…trying to pedal through those), and I play it safe. I ride early enough to avoid the worst traffic but there is almost always a pickup truck who would rather me not be there.


really good advice. Keep it steady as much as possible, and don’t sweat any small excursions outside z2.

Yes, it matters.

Doing Z3/Z4 on every climb is a totally different stimulus.

The solution. Get far lower gearing. I began my Z2 training on my MTB, as it was the only way to stay remotely in zone where I live.

Fast forward 3 years. I’m doing it reasonably comfortably on my road bike with a 34-32 gear combo.

Most amateur cyclists are wildly over geared. If you can’t stay close to your optimum cadence on a majority of your climbs in your lowest gear… you need lower gearing.

34-36 might be enough. Experiment.


Run a 34x40…I commuted daily 1hr+ with a category 4 climb to finish my ride home. I could keep z2 hr in check with power spiking into z4/5. Also power is lower if you can train to pedal at 40-60rpm sitting/standing.

I find this very hard. I have a 260 FTP and 50-34 / 34-11 on my aero road bike and as soon as I push even just a little on almost any hill I am over 300w. On a 13-15% hill this on my lowest gear I felt I was almost slowing to a stop to get sub 280w. I can hold 280w for 10 mins but I have an event soon where I have a 20 min climb so not sure what I’ll do…

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You should be able to “average” 270-275” for that duration. Training over unders 280-250 should be good training for that event.

^ that’s an interesting suggestion. Ultimately climbing comes down to W/kg. What is the average grade on that 20 min climb?

that isn’t almost any hill around here - are all your “hills” that steep? We have 'em, for example a 0.4 mile 13% local climb. Last time I did it at an FTP of 261W (like yours) and 2.8W/kg.

Definitely not possible to do zone2 with such a low W/kg, but with 34x34 gearing I can grind at 48rpm and finish in 6.5 minutes mostly at threshold/tempo:

but like you said, if I push a little then power is going over 300W.