September 25, 2022

Zone 2 training will make you a better endurance Athlete

Many moons ago, in the early 1970s, I started distance running. At first, I ran as hard as I could every day. It worked, but occasionally, I got hurt. I’d go out and run 8-10 miles at a 6-minute pace. In the spring of my freshman year in high school I ran a 4:32 (4:31.8) mile and a 9:58 2-mile. Fast enough to get second place in a national mile championship.

Between my freshman and sophomore years, I switched high schools. My new coach at Watchung Hills Regional High School, WHRHS, was Bill Peiffer. Now, “Coach” was a proponent of doing doubles, i.e., two workouts per day. And, being the animal I was, I started doing doubles in the Fall of 1973 after we won the NJ Group 4 state Cross-Country title. Coach’s advice for doing doubles was based on LSD (long-slow distance), not the drug. LSD was in vogue in the 1970s. LSD involved just putzing along at a comfortable pace. Usually, members of the distance team would train together.

Doing doubles meant you ran once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Generally, you’d start the morning with an easy 2-3 mile run. The afternoon workout was 8-10 miles of easy distance. Eventually, your morning run would grow into 6 miles of easy distance. Double workouts are essentially used to gain strength. You should see an improvement in your performances in 2-3 months of running doubles. By the end of my sophomore year in track, I’d run a 9:24 2-mile. Not too shabby for a sophomore.

I ran my 2-mile in what was called the sectional meets to qualify for the state meet. The track was an old cinder track. Nothing fancy here. (I don’t remember how I did in the state meet the following week. ) I learned one thing about myself in running the 9:24, I had a kick because I ran the last 1/4 mile in about 62 seconds!! From that race on, I consistently ran around 60 seconds for the last quarter of most races. Having this in your tool chest is pretty useful. I credit doing doubles with this ability.

Many years have passed and I stopped doing doubles because of injuries by the end of my sophomore year in college. I still kept trying to run, deluding myself that I’d “get back into shape.” I somehow forgot about doing LSD. You see, as I got faster and faster on the track, my training got faster and faster. I went to Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The distance coach there, Bob Parks, was running a distance program and had little time for training individual runners. He just let me keep pounding away and I eventually got injured to the point of being unable to train. Bob was more of a coordinator than a coach.

So, my running career was over by my sophomore year in college. I tried to run for many years, but injuries kept holding me back.

Everything comes back around

Fast forward to today. I run a little bit, but being in my 60s limits my recovery. I was watching Dr. Peter Attia on Youtube one day and he started talking about Zone 2 training. What the heck is Zone 2 Training? And, how does it apply to running? Dr. Attia didn’t bother to explain what Zone 2 Training is. I was dimly aware that Zone 2 training has to do with heart rate. Most of us know the old calculation for aerobic and anaerobic effort, i.e., (220-age) * 0.80. For me now, that’s about 125 bpm. A heart rate below 125 is aerobic, above it’s anaerobic. Then there’s MAF maximum heart rate calculation, i.e., 180-age, and the Karvonen method.

Figure 1 – Calculated heart rates for my age of 64 with 220, MAF, and Karvonen methods. Numbers are Beats Per Minute (BPM)

Well, I finally figured out that Zone 2 heart rate is 60-70% of your calculated maximum heart rate. As you can see from Figure 1, MAF and 220 are similar, while the Karvonen 60-70% is comparable to the other two’s 70-80%. I feel pretty comfortable around 120 Beats Per Minute (BPM.)

OK, so now you basically know what Zone 2 training is. So, what are the benefits? Below is a list of benefits that are attributed to Zone 2 Training.

Benefits of Zone 2 Training

  • Increase the number of Mitochondria in your cells. Mitochondria are the power centers of your cells. This is where Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is converted to Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP) and vice versa (see figure 2) generating energy for your body to function. This is all part of the Krebs cycle and basically how respiration works in the cell.
How ADP and ATP work in the mitochondria (www.khanacademy.org)
  • Make the mitochondria you have more efficient. This should make sense, stress the body and the mitochondria become more efficient
  • Improve your moods. This is a side benefit of exercise. I tell people who are depressed to go out and walk. it does a body good.
  • Improve your cardiovascular system. Stressing the cardiovascular system makes it more efficient.
  • Improve your endurance (duh!!)
  • Reduce your chances of getting injured. This occurs because you’re not pounding away and putting too much stress on your body.

How much Zone 2 training a week?

Peter Attia basically says 150-180 minutes in Zone 2 per week. This is like 4-45 minute Zone 2 workouts per week. I don’t know if they adjust for age, but I’d say if you’re over 50, then 3-45 minute Zone 2 workouts should suffice. Actually, any amount of Zone 2 effort is good for you, but these are the minimum amounts for the average person.

Hopefully, you have a better appreciation for Zone 2 training. But, man does not live by Zone 2 alone. You need to put more stress on your cardiovascular system than just Zone 2 training. That means interval training, too. I’ll cover some techniques I use in my blog.