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Sports Scientist (PhD),
Ex rower and rowing coach,
Rowing Academy Scientist
INTENSITY ZONES AT HIGH
Training in different intensity zones
It is vital for athletes to record their training in different intensity zones (see more from
here and here) and to analyze zone distribution during the training process. WHY?
• Different intensities have different impact to body by stimulating different adaptation
mechanisms, for example – different energy systems.
• Training too intensively (too much) at high intervals may lead to performance
impairment. Adaptation may also be less effective if training too much at moderate
intensities (Esteve Lanao et al., 2007; Ingham et al., 2008).
The most common method describing training intensity distribution is „time in zone‟
method. When using heart rate (HR) monitor, each heartbeat can be recorded and saved
into particular zone. Analysis of the data is easy and time effective by desktop or online
Figure 1. Analysis of intensity zone distributions using Sportlyzer coaching software
However, this may lead to miscalculation of training zone distributions if high intensity
trainings are used. Athletes tend to spend more time during their interval sessions in warm-
up and cool-down at lower intensities that reflects time accumulation to lower intensity
Moreover, it takes some time for
heart rate to increase to the actual
intensity level if work interval has
started, therefore some HR time of
the high intensity is lost. On the
other hand, it also takes some time
for HR to recover after the interval to
reflect actual intensity of the
Figure 2. Accumulation of time, mainly into the moderate
intensity zone, during three high intensity intervals. Black
line - HR
Seiler & Kjerland (2006) compared different methods for zone intensity quantification by
using heart rate (time in zone), target time in zone (time in zone according to training
prescription) and session RPE method (athlete indicated „how hard“ the session was).
They found that the most commonly used „time in zone‟ method significantly
underestimates the time spent at high intensities while session RPE and target time
approach were similar. Moreover, the last two methods were closely related to lactate
concentrations, therefore more precisely indicating the stress level of the body.
Figure 3. Different zone quantification methods using 3 zone model approach (Seiler & Kjerland, 2006)
Although working very well during constant intensity long lasting workouts, athletes and
coaches must be aware that the traditional „time in zone‟ method underestimates the real
time spent at high intensities. This may result in a higher amount of high intensity training
that can quickly lead to fatigue and decreases in performance.
Therefore, target time in zone should be preferred if interval sessions are used to reflect
the true intensity distributions.
• Esteve-Lanao J, San Juan AF, Earnest CP, Foster C, Lucia A. How do endurance
runners actually train. Relationship with competitive performance. Med Sci Sports
Exerc 2007; 37: 496-504.
• Ingham SA, Carter H, Whyte GP, Doust JH. Physiological and performance effects of
low versus mixed-intensity rowing training. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2008; 40: 579-584.
• Seiler KS, Kjerland GO. Quantifying training intensity in elite athletes. Is there
evidence for an “optimal” distribution? Scand J Med Sci Sports 2006: 16: 49-56.
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• How to analyze intensity zones at high intensity intervals (wiki)
• Distribution of training intensities (slideshow)
• Training intensity (wiki)
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