October 3, 2023

Zone 2 Versus Zone 5 Training

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What are they and how much do you really need?

You may have heard about the importance of Zone 2 and Zone 5 training for health and fitness. But what are these new buzz words? And how much do we really need? Read on!

Zone 2

Zone 2 training is just a new term for what have been doing for years…aerobic steady state exercise…traditionally walking, jogging, swim, and stair climbing done at a relatively easy pace. During zone 2 aerobic training, you can breath in & out through your nose. Nasal breathing is important here as “aerobic” means in the presence of oxygen…therefore oxygen is required for energy production during Zone 2. Think of Zone 2 training as the base or foundation of all zone training. Again, remember the nasal breathing for oxygen as I’m going to go deeper on that after

Zone 5

Zone 5 training, on the flip side, is high intensity or anaerobic threshold training. For years we have known it as HIIT training. Now, we call it Zone 5. “Anaerobic” here means “without” oxygen. Remember when you were sucking wind in your last sprint? That’s your body going anaerobic to fuel your muscles

Why oxygen and nasal breathing matters:

As long as your cardiovascular system delivers enough oxygen to working muscles, the aerobic energy system can keep up with muscle demand for fuel. This fuel source (fat/carbs) can go on for hours. This is why we can walk for hours!

Once breathing intensifies and you find yourself inhaling through your mouth, the aerobic energy system can no longer keep up with the demands of the working muscle.

The anaerobic energy system kicks in to to provide fuel (glycogen) - but that fuel source is limited to a few minutes. Once you find yourself needing to open your mouth to breath, your energy system is leaning away from aerobic and moving towards anaerobic.

By practicing nasal inhalation as long as possible (*note exhaling out your mouth is ok)
during a walk, jog, run, stair climb, spin…you will train your body to stay aerobic (and use more fat for fuel) under increasing exercise stress.

Take away: Control breathing... Control mind... Control body.

Benefits of Zone 2 and Zone 5:

Back in the 80’s & 90’s we used aerobic training to burn calories for weight loss. We know now that is a poor use of exercise time (a blog post for another time). Nonetheless, there are still benefits to Zone 2 work including:

  • Increased cardiovascular health (bullet proof heart and lungs)
  • Increased blood oxygen transport & circulation
  • Increased blood vessel density and mitochondria (power house of every cell) in our muscles
  • Increased ability to burn fat as fuel (the flip side, this isn’t license to eat whatever you want)

For me…the most important benefits of Zone 2 training are regarding the brain. Many scientist agree that exercise is the number 1 preventative measure for neurological decline…even greater than any pharmaceutical drug out there.

  • Just like muscles, your brain benefits from zone 2 training with improved blood supply
    health and mitochondria in the brain!
    • Zone 2 training triggers the same brain centers as meditation
    • This helps you tap into your parasympathetic nervous system or “rest & digest”
    • Improves mental health including stress, emotional resilience, mood, creativity, focus,
      immunity and sleep

Let’s not forget the Zone 5 benefits!

  • Increased power and speed (Don’t think you need this? What about the next time you have to dodge a car out of nowhere on your Zone 2 walk?)
  • Increased lactic acid tolerance in muscle
  • Improved muscle economy and efficiency
  • Most importantly, USE IT OR LOSE IT. Train Zone 5 to hold onto your “fast twitch” muscle fiber. I failed to mention before, Zone 2 uses “slow twitch” muscle fibers which are preserved as we age. As we get older, we lose fast twitch UNLESS we work it.

Ok, you know you NEED both zone 2 and zone 5, but HOW do you fit it all in?

First the bad news…the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends to include 150-300 minutes of Zone 2 training per week. In it for weight loss? Plan for NO LESS than 300 minutes. The good news is it is easy to rack up zone 2 as everyday walking and errands…even parking furthest away from the grocery store and taking the stairs whenever possible. 300 minutes equates to 43 minutes a day of walking. Think about this as being 300 minutes to meditate on your life…
preferably outside to get fresh air and recharge.

With Zone 5, on the flip side, you only need a 10-20 minutes per week or short bursts of intensity during training to reap the benefits. If you’re like me, and as a Semper Stronger Squad member I bet you are, Zone 5 is a piece of cake. A few sessions of 10 minute finishers including ballistic kettlebell swings, cleans or snatches will get you what you need. Barbell olympic lifts…power cleans, snatches, split jerks will do the same. No kettlebell or barbell? No problem…include a few minutes of sprints and plyometrics a few days a week in your training. Unlike Zone 2 training, too much of Zone 5 can have us backsliding in our training. If you “feel the burn” too much, you are likely to burn yourself out.

Still not sure what to do? Semper Stronger has coaches to help you out! We know exactly how to program the what and how of Zones 2 & 5 into your training sessions!

Until next time,

Coach Angela

Coach Angela Pettenon
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I believe that all of us should lean into what we are "bad" at to realize our own potential at any age. 


coaching, fitness coach, online coach, semper stronger, strength coach, zone 2, zone 5

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