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How fit can you get if you ONLY cycled in zone 2?

Updated: Mar 31

Zone 2 training has become what high intensity interval training (HIIT) was for the last 10 years. We know fads exist in cycling training, but how fit can you get if you ONLY trained in Zone 2?

Well, we teamed up with Manon at GCN to find out!!!

Manon will perform 6 weeks of training ONLY in zone 2, with a lab test done pre and post. Although Manon was a seriously good athlete, winning the European U23 Track Championships and silver in the Senior European Track Championships, she hasn't quite trained to the same extent as she used to!

As we can see in her lab report (below), her thresholds are at a rather low intensity, suggesting that her metabolic power, and peripheral adaptations (in the muscle) are a little limited, whilst power at max aerobic intensity (power at VO2peak) isn't too bad.

So, what can we expect?

Well, low to moderate intensity results in more peripheral adaptations, increasing mitochondrial size and density, more than it increases aerobic capacity. This is a good thing for Manon, as this is currently lacking (look at the high blood lactate concentrations), and should be really beneficial to build this area, and really importantly, improve her capacity to train. From there, able now to ride 4-5 times a week, perhaps for 10h a week, Manon will be ready to add intensity in without feeling too tired, reducing training quality or even missing training as a consequence. So, maybe this is a really good way to start back training? Maybe, or maybe not. Probably not.

Cycling at what intensity is best then?

Whilst enhancements in aerobic capacity will likely occur from this consistent low-moderate intensity due to the low starting point (Helgerud et al., 2007), we know that including other intensities is really important to enhance performance (Ronnestad et al., 2020). Thinks like time at power at VO2peak, strength training and sprint training are all really important. If we think about racing, or riding in your group, a high rate of ATP resynthesis (i.e., to maintain a high average power throughout the whole ride) is important, but the ability to accelerate out of corners, grind up hills, sprint over the top, work hard for a few mins to close a gap, are all vital. Whilst low-moderate intensity will help some of these, typically more specific training is going to be more potent!

So, what will happen? Let's find out in a few weeks!


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