Why zone 2 is the key to running faster

A 100-meter sprint, interval training, steady runs, 800-meter repeats and heart rate-based training are all forms of run specific workouts. But why is zone 2 training the key to running longer distances faster? Before we go further, let’s define what ”longer distances” are. A longer distance would be a distance where your breathing becomes the limiting factor. Let’s take a 100-meter sprint for example, yes, most of us will be a little bit out of breath afterwards but it will not stop you from running a faster 100 meters. This is because there’s no oxygen needed to provide your muscles with energy during this short burst of power and speed. During this effort, muscular fatigue is the limiting factor, not the lung capacity.

If you’d ask a random person on the street how they would train you to run faster, 9 out of 10 people would answer something like: just run faster or do more interval style training.

While running faster is ultimately the goal, it can’t be done without the capacity to do so. Let’s say you’re getting ready for a half marathon, in practice your fastest time was 1:35, during the race itself your time drops down to 1:25. During the race you gave it your all. Does this mean that you could have shaved off a couple more minutes simply because you want to run faster? Obviously not, the limit has to be somewhere.

When we talk about interval style training, that could actually help you run a quite a bit faster. However, most interval-based workouts are burst of energy that will last anywhere from 10 seconds to about 5 minutes (on average). These energy burst will greatly improve your muscular/speed endurance but will only have limited effect on your aerobic/lung capacity.

Zone 2 training

Let’s start by explaining what zone 2 training is all about. In the fitness worlds there are 5 different heart rate zones (ranking from 1-5), this is used to measure intensity during some workouts.

Zone Intensity Percentage of HR max:

  • Zone 1 Very light 50–60%
  • Zone 2 Light 60–70%
  • Zone 3 Moderate 70–80%
  • Zone 4 Hard80–90%
  • Zone 5Maximum 90–100%

Zone 2 efforts can be maintained for longer periods of time, which is why its used by endurance athletes. The effort is low enough that your body can and will use oxygen to produce energy. This is what called oxidation. Over time, your body will get better going through this process (oxidation) which will allow your body to produce more energy using this aerobic/oxygen energy system. In turn this will allow your body to run faster, because your body will eventually be able to produce more energy.

Extra benefits of zone 2 training

An extra benefit of zone 2 training is that your body will be better at recovering between hard efforts, like interval or sprint workouts, since the body becomes better at using oxygen efficiently.

Another reason why zone 2 training is becoming more popular by the day is because it seems to burn more fat. It is believed that the intensity of a zone 2 workout is low enough, your body doesn’t tap into the carbohydrates as its primary fuel source, but rather fats.

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