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Understanding the 7 Power Zones

Opdateret: 24. aug. 2018

About the 7 power zones

Zones, be it in Heart rate, or describing energy systems can mislead people in to thinking that the levels are compartmentalized in to set and discrete physiological responses. It has to be emphasized that there is a sliding continuum that blends across one level to the next. There is no physiological 'switch' from one level to the next but a sliding scale of effort across the identified training outcomes. The reason we use zones is that it offers coaches a framework for understanding, to develop a structure for sustained improvement.

A simple way to remember it in relation to time is: “the harder you do it, the less time you can do it for".

Power training levels – basis for the system/number of levels.

Determining the appropriate number of levels is somewhat arbitrary and therefore a compromise must be made between defining more levels, of which there are up to 9, or defining fewer levels for the sake of simplicity.

It should be remembered that physiological responses to rapid changes in exercise intensity are not instantaneous, but follow a predictable time course and the critical physiological responses impacted upon by training e.g. glycogen utilization, lactate production, neuromuscular conditioning has a curvilinear, rather than linear response to exercise intensity. This means they respond with increasing volume and intensity rather than with an incremental increase.

See this great video on the 7 power zones.

For the following we have focused on the 7 original power zones created by Dr. Andrew Coggan.

Zone 1: Active Recovery

"Easy spinning" or "light pedal pressure", i.e., very low-level exercise, too low in and of itself to induce significant physiological adaptations. Minimal sensation of leg effort/fatigue. Requires no concentration to maintain pace, and continuous conversation possible. Typically used for active recovery after strenuous training days (or races), between interval efforts, or for socializing

Zone 2: Endurance

"All day" pace, or classic long slow distance (LSD) training. Sensation of leg effort/fatigue generally low, but may rise periodically to higher levels (e.g., when climbing). Concentration generally required to maintain effort only at highest end of range and/or during longer training sessions. Breathing is more regular than at level 1, but continuous conversation still possible. Frequent (daily) training sessions of moderate duration (e.g., 2 h) at level 2 possible (provided dietary carbohydrate intake is adequate), but complete recovery from very long workouts may take more than 24hs.

Zone 3: Tempo

Typical intensity of fartlek workout, 'spirited' group ride, or briskly moving paceline. More frequent/greater sensation of leg effort/fatigue than at level 2. Requires concentration to maintain alone, especially at upper end of range, to prevent effort from falling back to level 2. Breathing deeper and more rhythmic than level 2, such that any conversation must be somewhat halting, but not as difficult as at level 4. Recovery from level 3 training sessions more difficult than after level 2 workouts, but consecutive days of level 3 training still possible if duration is not excessive and dietary carbohydrate intake is adequate.

Riding in Level 3 causes some of the greatest adaptations in your training stress.

If you have limited time or if you are trying to increase your muscular endurance, then this level is perfect

Zone 4: Threshold

Just below to just above TT effort, considering duration, current fitness, environmental conditions, etc. Essentially continuous sensation of moderate or even greater leg effort/fatigue. Continuous conversation difficult at best, due to depth/frequency of breathing. Effort is sufficiently high that sustained exercise at this level is mentally very taxing - therefore typically performed in training as multiple 'repeats', 'modules', or 'blocks' of 10-30 min duration. Consecutive days of training at level 4 possible, but such workouts generally only performed when sufficiently rested/recovered from prior training to be able to maintain intensity.

Zone 4 can be split into “high” and “low”:

Lower Level 4: Sub-Threshold, or the “Sweet Spot”

The lower part of Level 4 is what we call the Sub-Threshold level, or the “sweet spot.” This sweet spot occurs at about 88–94 percent of your functional threshold power. That means that it is on the cusp of both the Tempo level and the Lactate Threshold level. Although this is not exactly an official level of its own, it is an excellent place to begin building your FTP and pushing it higher.

High Level 4: Threshold

Threshold-level workouts are meant to focus directly on improving your FTP, and they are done right at FTP. They are strenuous and require a solid recovery between efforts and between workouts. Otherwise, they are very similar to the previous level, Sub-Threshold. The only difference is that the intensity is increased a notch to hold you right on your “edge.” These are important workouts to perform, not only so you can increase your ability to handle the level of intensity needed to maintain this type of effort, but also so that you can continually improve your threshold power.

Zone 5: VO2max

Typical intensity of longer (3-8 min) intervals intended to increase VO2max. Strong to severe sensations of leg effort/fatigue, such that completion of more than 30-40 min total training time is difficult at best. Conversation not possible due to often 'ragged' breathing. Should generally be attempted only when adequately recovered from prior training - consecutive days of level 5 work not necessarily desirable even if possible. Note: At this level, the average heart rate may not be due to slowness of heart rate response and/or ceiling imposed by maximum heart rate)

Designed to elicit improvements in your VO2max, or the maximal volume of oxygen up- take, workouts for Level 5 range from 3 to 8 minutes, with most of work typically done in the lower end of this range of time.

Zone 6: Anaerobic Capacity

Anaerobic Capacity (AC) efforts are usually completed in time intervals of 2 minutes or less. They are carried

out long enough to stress the anaerobic capacity system, which means they hurt. These are very intense, short, hard efforts, and they are difficult to do correctly without the use of a power meter. The intensity of these efforts is far beyond what can be maintained aerobically. It is a supra-maximal intensity—that is, it requires more than 100 percent of your VO2max. Severe sensation of leg effort/fatigue, and conversation impossible. These Level 6 exercises should be performed when you are relatively “fresh”. Consecutive days of extended level 6 training usually not attempted.

Zone 7: Neuromuscular Power

Level 7 exercises are super-short, high-intensity efforts (e.g., jumps, standing starts, short sprints) usually lasting less than 10 seconds each. They place a larger load on the musculoskeletal system than on the metabolic systems. In these short efforts, it would be difficult to use power as a guide for training, since the efforts themselves are so explosive and short that you would have to focus more on handling the bike than on reading your power meter.


In summary, all the training levels are continuous: There is no definitive starting or stopping point for any of them. You do not just go from training your aerobic capacity while you are riding in Level 3 (76–90 percent of FTP) to magically training your threshold at 91 percent of FTP in Level 4. The physiological systems in the human body that you are training meld into one another; if you are training in Level 3, you are using a larger percentage of that particular system than you are using for other systems at that intensity. It does not mean that the other systems are unaffected, however. It’s important to remain aware of the big picture, or the philosophy of the workout, and not to get too caught up in becoming a slave to the numbers.

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