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Getting Out of Zone 3

By Ryan Turbyfill

biking on trailHave you plateaued in your running or cycling? Do you do a majority of your training in Zone 3 at 70 to 80 percent of your max heart rate? This could be the reason why. Zone 3 workouts provide some great benefits such as increasing cardiorespiratory capacity, pace training and even sport specific strength.

The downside of doing most of your workouts in this zone is that your body never learns how to go fast. I have many athletes ask me such questions as “How do I run faster than 8 min/mile in a 10k?” I ask what does your training consist of and they typically say “I run five or six days a week around 6 miles a day at an 8 minute pace.” There is the answer to the question. This type of training is good for maintaining a pace, but your body isn’t being trained to do anything different.

By doing short, fast intervals in Zone 4 (80-90 percent of max heart rate) with recovery, you train to go faster than race pace and, in turn, your body will adapt to make you faster. This type of training also increases lactate threshold, which is the level of where your body can no longer remove the lactic acid it is producing.

On the other side, many athletes feel their time is wasted if they train in Zone 2 (60-70 percent of max heart rate) as it seems too easy. However, this zone is the best at teaching your body to metabolize fat as its primary fuel. This recovery zone also improves the ability for your heart to pump blood and your muscles to utilize oxygen. Zone 2, also referred to as LSD (long, slow distance), helps build distance for long runs or rides and the muscles learn how to “fire” for increased time on your legs or in the saddle.

Try switching to some of the workout examples below to end a plateau and achieve new personal bests.

Run: 6 mile run with the first quarter of miles 2-5 at 10 seconds faster than 5k pace, then the remainder back to Zone 2 efforts.

Bike: 10 minute warm up, then 5 minutes at Zone 4 or 110 percent of functional threshold power (if tracking watts), then a 3-minute easy spin. Repeat this effort five to seven times and finish with a 10-minute easy spin cooldown.

Also, don’t be afraid to go out and run or ride at a conversation pace for a couple hours and enjoy being outside — maybe even stopping with friends for coffee. Trust me, there is a lot of benefit to this type of workout, such as teaching your body to burn fat as fuel as well as time to work on technique.

Ryan Turbyfill is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach and USA Cycling Level III Certified Coach. Having a family and as a cancer survivor, Turbyfill believes setting priorities in training and racing are paramount to a happy and successful life. He has competed in sprints to a full Ironman, as well as ultra-marathons and running the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim. Whether you are interested in improving your health, completing your first race or competing at your highest level, feel free to contact Turbyfill at and visit his website at