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Your guide to Zone 2 cycling: Tips for successful endurance rides

Cycling is an excellent way to build up your aerobic endurance.

Your Guide to Zone 2 Cycling | Juniper

There are many benefits to cycling as a form of exercise. It is versatile, it can be done just about anywhere, it works your muscles, and it is low impact and causes less strain and injuries than many other workouts [1].

Cycling is also a functional form of transport, meaning you can combine exercise with your daily routine by riding to work, school, the shops, or social events.

As a form of cardio, cycling is an excellent way to build up your aerobic endurance and achieve general fitness improvements, which is great for your heart, blood vessels, and lungs.

When you're doing cardio, it's easy to think you need to push yourself to the limit at a high exercise intensity to achieve any kind of results, but that's not actually the case.

Through zone 2 training, you can actually achieve significant progress while working at a lower intensity. Here's what you need to know about cycling and training zones.

What is zone 2?

There are 5 different training zones when you're doing cardio exercise, and they are based on heart rates and perceived exertion [2].

Maximum heart rates vary from person to person and can be impacted by your age, aerobic base, and other health factors. A simple formula to roughly work out your maximum heart rate is subtracting your age from 220 [3].

Zone 1 is very low-intensity training, and should be about 50-60% of your maximum heart rate — for example, an easy warm-up or a recovery ride.

Zone 2 training is a little more exertion, and you should be at about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate or a 6 out of 10 effort.

Training zones 3, 4, and 5 are all higher training intensity and have an important part in structured training plans — but high-intensity efforts should not make up the majority of your workouts.

Instead, most cyclists and endurance athletes can get significant benefits from spending the majority of their training time in zone 2. This zone can improve your aerobic endurance, help prevent injury, work muscles without leading to too much muscle fatigue, and support weight management.

What is zone 2 cycling?

Zone 2 training will look different depending on which type of sport you are doing, but when you are cycling, it's not just about time and heart rate [4].

When cycling in this zone, you should be at about 55-70% of your functional threshold power (FTP), which is the number of watts you can sustain in an hour of steady riding style without your blood lactate levels rising too much.

You can calculate training zones through an FTP test, heart rate monitor, critical power test, or even through perceived effort.

Through utilising training zones in this way — also known as base training — most cyclists can target specific physiological or performance goals, such as increasing maximum power output and aerobic threshold.

A combination of zone 2 endurance rides, high-intensity interval training, and strength training could be an effective formula for improving performance, fitness and aerobic capacity, and burning fat.

What are the benefits of zone 2 endurance rides?

There are many benefits to zone 2 endurance rides, and to cycling more broadly.

For one thing, cycling is easier on your joints than some other types of aerobic training such as running, which is particularly important as you get older, as well as for those who have a history of injuries or those who weigh more [5].

Lower intensity training in particular enables you to build your fitness and make progress without overtraining or pushing yourself too hard too often. Training zones also help support your recovery rides, giving your body the chance to adapt and recuperate.

Additionally, zone 2 training is beneficial for slow twitch fibres, which are important for endurance athletes [6]. This type of training can also increase the capillary density around your muscle fibres, which helps intense exercise performance [7].

Aerobic training and these mitochondrial adaptations can also support weight management through fat oxidation as your body uses fat for fuel during zone 2 training.

When you're working out at higher intensities, or during a particularly hard session, your body tends to use other fuel sources (such as carbohydrate oxidation), which might not be as effective when it comes to losing weight.

If fat loss and changing body composition are your main goals, you could also consider pairing zone 2 training with a programme, such as the Juniper Weight Reset Programme, which offers health coaching from industry professionals, diet plans, and GLP-1 medication for those eligible.

The medication is clinically approved and resets the body's metabolic patterns, resulting in an average of 10-15% body weight loss after just 1 year [8].

The programme also provides you with the tools for a behavioural reset, so you’ll learn sustainable nutritional, exercise, and lifestyle choices to develop healthy habits that actually stick.

How many times a week should you ride at a zone 2 pace?

The amount of rides you do in zone 2 each week will depend on how many times you are riding.

A general formula is that roughly 80% of your rides should be low-intensity training, and you should only go into high-intensity training zones 20% of the time [9].

If you're new to zone 2 training or training plans in general, you might want to consider a guide developed by a coach to help plan out your rides and training intensity.

Your rides don't always have to be outside either — these days, an app or online training program can act as your indoor trainer!

How long should you ride at a zone 2 pace?

The recommended amount of time for zone 2 training varies depending on what type of exercise you are doing and can start from as little as half an hour — but for cycling, it should generally be longer than that.

Typically, a cycling workout in this zone would be a long endurance ride and last for a few hours.

This might sound a bit daunting if you're new to cycling or training zones, and we totally understand that. If you would rather ease your way into it and slowly build up your aerobic capacity at low intensity, you can start with shorter rides (for example, an hour) and work your way up.

5 tips for zone 2 cycling

If you want to try incorporating zone 2 cycling into your fitness routine, here are our top tips:

  • Food is fuel. Even if weight loss is your goal, if you are out on your bike for several hours at a time riding at low intensity, you need to make sure you are eating enough. Fuel up with a good pre-ride meal, and consider having a carbohydrate-based snack during your ride to boost your energy and support glucose utilisation.
  • Don't forget to hydrate. Hydration is always important for your health, but especially during strenuous exercise [10]. If you are doing a long low-intensity ride or a hard training session, you could be susceptible to becoming dehydrated, which can lead to illness. So, stock up on water and electrolytes.
  • Wear a heart rate monitor and check it throughout your ride to make sure you aren't accidentally working at high intensity or low intensity — your effort should be moderate and within your lactate threshold.
  • Check-in on yourself and pay attention to any pain. While sore muscles or a tired body are to be expected (especially if you have increased your training time), it is important to make sure you don't injure yourself. Pain in the neck, back, knees, wrist, or forearm can occur if you have incorrect gear or technique.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. Embarking on a new programme is hard, especially if you are increasing your training volume. If you are confused by zone 2 training and aerobic training, how they can aid weight management, or cycling in general, make sure to speak to a professional — that's what they're there for!

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