Your guide to zone 2 training: What is it, benefits and how to start
There are numerous advantages to taking your exercise down a notch.
Think exercising is as simple as running as fast as you can, cycling as long as you’re able and sweating as much as humanly possible? Think again.
Instead, experts now believe there are numerous advantages to taking your exercise down a notch and adding plenty of low to moderate-intensity activities to your regimen.
It’s a concept known as zone 2 training, and you may just find it makes all the difference to your exercise routine, your health and possibly even your weight.
What is zone 2 training?
First up, a bit of background on exercise and how it relates to your heart rate.
When you exercise, your heart rate goes up, and the intensity of the exercise you do affects how much your heart rate increases. Taking a walk around the block, for example, might only raise your heart rate slightly. On the other hand, a HIIT class may boost it pretty significantly.
In terms of exercise, there are 5 heart rate zones. Each zone relates to a percentage of your maximum heart rate (or max HR), which reflects how vigorously you’re exercising. The higher the zone, the higher the exercise intensity.
This means that zone training relates to a level of exercise that gets your heart to that percentage. Like the heart rate zones, there are 5 training zones. Zone 2 is where your heart rate goes up to about 60-70% of its maximum.
When you’re in zone 2, you’re doing a fairly low-intensity type of aerobic training, like an easy jog or cycle, and can usually still hold a conversation. You can also maintain the exercise for at least 30 minutes.
If you’re in zone 5, though, you might be getting up to 100% of your max HR, unable to speak while you’re moving, and only able to sustain the exercise for a very brief period. Think high-intensity training like HIIT or sprinting.
Why is zone 2 training important?
If you’re used to doing high-intensity exercises, zone 2 training might feel really, really easy — almost too easy. You might also worry that if you focus too much on zone 2 training, you’ll lose the athleticism you worked so hard to gain.
If you’re new to exercise, you might worry that zone 2 training doesn’t have the intensity required to help you get fit and possibly lose weight.
But, it should still be a crucial part of your overall exercise routine. This is because it offers a number of significant benefits to your health and can make your recovery periods much more effective.
We’ll dive into the health benefits of zone 2 training a little further down.
Does zone 2 training burn fat?
Your body has 3 different energy systems, but their combined goal is to produce energy through the creation of adenosine triphosphate or ATP. Every single cell in your body uses ATP for energy, which means that every action you perform relies on ATP.
Your body produces ATP in different ways, but one of these ways is exercise. In zone 2, you’re actually encouraging the mitochondria in your body to produce the most ATP.
This means the more you do zone 2 exercises, the more mitochondria your body will make to keep up with your activity and the more efficient these mitochondria will become.
The result? Improved fat-burning abilities.
You’re also burning fat another way. Beyond relating to varying percentages of your max heart rate, each zone also relies on a different fuel source. In zone 2, your body turns to fat. But, if you were to do more intense exercise and bump up your heart rate to enter a higher zone, your body would start using other fuel sources like carbs.
That being said, many experts agree that all forms of exercise — from zone 1 to zone 5 training — can be effective for losing body fat. They say it really comes down to your preferences and whether a particular exercise regimen is sustainable.
Others still say that there are numerous factors that contribute to your body’s ability to burn fat, including genetics, diet and the fact that the body doesn’t actually burn a whole lot of fat during exercise anyway .
What are the other benefits of zone 2 training?
Beyond its fat-burning abilities, here are a few extra reasons to incorporate zone 2 training into your workout routine.
It improves mitochondrial function
Those mitochondria we mentioned earlier also play a key role in your overall health. Dysfunctional mitochondria are linked to conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, as well as the excess fatigue often associated with chronic conditions .
However, research shows that zone 2 exercises have the ability to improve the health of your mitochondria .
It boosts aerobic capacity
Familiar with the concept of VO2 max? It’s the maximum amount of oxygen your body is able to use, and it’s effectively also a reflection of your aerobic fitness. Zone 2 training is great because it can actually increase your body’s VO2 max, making you not only fitter but healthier.
In fact, research shows that people with a higher VO2 max (like elite athletes) live longer, have better brain function and cardiovascular health, and have a lower risk of heart disease, hypertension and stroke .
It aids in recovery
Doing too much high-intensity exercise can overwork your body and lead to a build-up of lactate in your muscles. As a result, you feel tired, and recovery is made all the more difficult.
On the flip side, zone 2 training works your muscles and heart but doesn’t lead to a lactate accumulation — meaning you can use your recovery period more effectively (think low-intensity exercises like yoga or walking).
How do you calculate your zone 2 heart rate?
To determine your zone 2 heart rate, you’ll first need to figure out your max HR. To get this number, many fitness professionals recommend using a formula based on your age . You simply need to deduct your age from 220 and you’ll get an estimate of your maximum heart rate.
If you’re 40 years old, for example, your max heart rate would be 180 beats per minute/bpm (220-40 = 180). If you’re 55, it would be 165 (220-55 = 165).
In the first example, zone 2 would sit between 108 and 126 bpm. In the second, zone 2 would be between 99 and 115 bpm.
A smartwatch or heart rate monitor can help you figure out your heart rate while you’re exercising. Alternatively, you can take your pulse manually by counting the number of beats across 1 minute.
If all of that seems too complicated, the talk test is another good way to gauge whether you’re in zone 2. While you’ll likely be a bit out of breath, you should still be able to talk comfortably.
Examples of zone 2 training
Luckily, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to zone 2 training. There are numerous exercises that fall into zone 2, meaning you can choose one appropriate for your fitness level and what you enjoy doing.
In short, you basically want to find an exercise that gets your heart rate to the zone 2 target of 60-70% of your maximum.
You also want to ensure that your heart rate remains more or less consistent to avoid drops and sharp increases. This will mean sticking to the same pace and incline throughout your workout.
With that in mind, here are some activities to consider:
If you’re new to exercise, a walk on a flat surface or treadmill can be a great way to build up your fitness. Over time, you might be able to try higher-intensity exercises that still keep you in zone 2. If you’re used to walking, you could add a gentle incline on the treadmill.
Whether it’s on the road or a stationary bike, cycling is an ideal form of zone 2 training because it’s low-impact and can be done at a fairly steady pace.
Running or jogging
Running is generally advised for those who are already pretty capable because it does have the potential to significantly raise your heart rate.
As long as you’re going at a steady pace and swimming several laps, you can reach zone 2 in the pool.
At the gym, equipment like the elliptical trainer and rowing machine are ideal for a zone 2 workout because you can maintain a steady intensity.
How do you effectively train in zone 2?
You’ve figured out your target heart rate for zone 2 training, you’ve determined your ideal exercise and now you’re ready to get started. So, how do you do just that?
Your exercise sessions should be at least 30 minutes long to reap the benefits of zone 2 training, although ideally around 45 minutes to 1 hour. As far as frequency goes, aim for 2-4 sessions per week to see noticeable results.
In total, you want to complete around 3-4 hours of zone 2 training every week. But if you’re only just starting out with exercise, you can begin with 2 hours each week.
Engaging professional help
If you’re finding it hard to figure out what kind of training you should do, for how long and how often, consider reaching out to a professional for guidance.
Juniper’s Weight Reset Program offers 1:1 support from health coaches who understand the ins and outs of zone 2 training, giving you advice, exercises and the confidence to get started with working out.
Combined with the program’s clinically proven treatments, you’ll have everything you need to embark on your fitness and weight loss journey.
Image credit: Getty Images
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