The Three Training Zones Explained
By Running Divas Ambassador and Run Coach Lydia Palmieri.
With terms like lactate threshold and anaerobic being thrown around interchangeably, understanding your training can get pretty confusing, and it can even make figuring out a tempo run pace seem complicated.
To help you better target your training and efforts, I am going clarify what the 3 different zones of threshold running are and how you can tell when you are running the right pace to achieve a specific benefit.
Zone 1: Anaerobic Threshold
The anaerobic threshold is often defined as the level of exercise intensity at which lactic acid accumulates in the blood stream faster than it can be cleared away.
The word anaerobic means “without oxygen” and in the world of exercise science it describes strength-building exercises in contrast to longer, endurance training.
In essence, when a long distance runner performs anaerobic threshold correctly, they are running at or very near anaerobic threshold intensity, and their body is producing lactic acid slightly faster than it can be cleared from the blood stream.
Increasing your anaerobic threshold is important for runners who are racing all distances because it allows the body to run at faster and faster speeds before fatigue and lactic acid take over. This is a way to increase our pace for those who love to run PBs.
Which workouts improve my anaerobic threshold?
Speed intervals are the workouts that increase an athlete’s anaerobic threshold most specifically. Some HIIT training is also useful at different periods in a training program.
Zone 2: Lactate Threshold
As you run faster and faster, your body uses less of your aerobic system and more of your anaerobic system that produces energy through glycolysis, essentially the fermenting of the muscles that produces the by product lactic aid.
Many runners confuse the anaerobic and lactate thresholds.
The two terms, while similar, should not be used interchangeably. The terms anaerobic threshold and lactate threshold describe different points
Workouts that are longer endurance workouts or easy speed workouts help to build your lactate threshold.
Lactate threshold efforts are slightly slower than the workouts that target the anaerobic threshold and thus, should feel slightly easier on shorter periods.
Zone 3: Aerobic Threshold
The work aerobic means “with or involving oxygen.”
A runner’s aerobic system uses oxygen and burns fats, proteins and carbohydrates. It is the main energy system used in long distance running.
The aerobic threshold is the level of exercise intensity at which an athlete can run without accumulating significant lactic acid in the blood.
Workouts that target and are run at current marathon pace increase the aerobic threshold.
Workouts that focus on endurance and stamina rather than short bursts of speed are the kind of workouts that benefit the aerobic system. For example your ‘long run’.
So we can think of these three zones like this:
Anaerobic zone activities – High intensity workouts, your HIIT sessions, speed work etc.
Lactate Threshold zone activities- Your hill sprints, tempo runs are a few examples.
Aerobic Threshold zone activities– Long runs, easy recovery runs.