High Intensity Distribution in Training Plans | 80/20 Endurance

High Intensity Distribution in Training Plans

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    I have trained with an 80/20 plan the last season and I was quite happy with it. Now I am about to start planning my 2022 season and would like to set my goals a bit higher. I realized that the high intensity training (20% of total training) in the training plans for the Olympic triathlon distance (Level 0, 1, and 2) is primarily in zone 3. After comparing training plans from other triathletes and coaches, they all recommended training at a higher intensity when doing high-intensity workouts (zone 4 or rather 5) in order to increase VO2max and anaerobic capacity better.

    Now, I would like to continue training with 80/20 but I am not sure why the 80/20 training plans contain so much high intensity training in zone 3 instead of zone 4&5 and what will be better for increasing fitness for the Olympic distance.

    Thanks for answering in advance!



    What are the other plan zone distributions?

    The 80/20 is a bit different with 1 2 x 3 y 4 5 … so technically training in zone 3 within the 80/20 plan is like training in zone 4 when compared to others. Did these other plans have 7 zones? or just 5 and 6? That might answer your question. The point of avoiding zone x makes alot of sence – it gives you very little bang for your buck – per 80/20 understanding your zones…

    “Zone X: Zone X is the trap that most triathletes fall into, and avoiding it is one of the key objectives of the 80/20 training approach. Just easy enough to not be uncomfortable, yet just hard enough to make you think you’re getting a good workout, this lukewarm intensity offers minimal value in increasing fitness while generating fatigue that interferes with recovery and with performance in subsequent intense workouts. Avoiding Zone X allows you to go harder on the hard days and gain more fitness. For half and full Ironman athletes, Zone X is used sparingly in the Specific phase of training to prepare you for your event, as Zone X does overlap with race intensity for these longer distances.”

    Typical heart rate plans look like this:
    Zone Intensity Percentage of HRmax
    Zone 1 Very light 50–60%
    Zone 2 Light 60–70%
    Zone 3 Moderate 70–80%
    Zone 4 Hard 80–90%
    Zone 5 Maximum 90–100%

    Compared to 80/20 zones where there are 7 of them – granted, I could have found the same measurement criteria, but I was lazy

    Zone % LTHR Range (BPM)
    1 72-81 119-134
    2 81-90 134-149
    X 90-95 149-157
    3 95-100 157-LTHR 165
    Y 100-102 165-168
    4 102-105 168-173
    5 >105 173+

    Hope this helps.


    Hey, thanks for the fast reply. Actually, the other plans do not really split into different zones. They only split between low intensity and high intensity. While low intensity is the same as zone 1&w in 80/20, for the HIT Part, the other plans suggest workouts, such as 6x800m at 90% VO2max, which would be more like Zone 4 or 5 in 80/20. Or they would suggest 4x 2.000m above threshold pace, which, again, would be zone 4 in 80/20.

    But I don’t see zone 4/5 in 80/20 plans, or at least very rarely.

    Do you know why?

    David Warden

    divitocwpsbc, thanks for pointing out the fact that “Zone 3” is not the same in all systems, it’s an important point. It’s like saying “why are the instructions for maintaining room temperature just 23 degrees? That’s too cold!” Well, that depends on if you are talking about 23 degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit. It’s all a matter of scale. Zone 3 is Zone 2 in System B and Zone 5 in System C.

    Regardless, ftbroker, it’s a good question. I’ll answer it in two ways:

    1. The distribution between Zone 3 and Zone 4/5 is about 75/25 in the Oly plans (ranging lower in the Level 0 plan and higher in the Level 3 plan). Yes, it is heavier Zone 3 because Zone 3 is the intensity you will race at. It’s a matter of specificity. In the early part of the Oly plans, the distribution id closer to 60/40, but for the second half of the Oly plans we replace Zone 4/5 with Zone 3 to maintain specificity. You can’t race an Oly in Zone 4, so we have you do a lot of race-specific Zone 3 as you get closer to your event.

    2. 90% of VO2 max is LT, it’s just another way of saying LT. Like the C and F temperature example above, some systems use LT as the polestar for all intensity, some use VO2, some use VT, some use AET…etc. 90% VO2max = 100 % LT = 110% VT = 115% AET = 9 RPE = 14 Borg RPE… all those are the exact same intensity just using a different scale.

    I’m not saying our plans have just as much very high intensity as other, I’m just saying that we have more than you think, and that I’m confident it is a good balance.

    3. I get just as many inquires as to why the Oly plans have so much Zone 4+ as to why they have so little. The plans are made for a “typical” athlete. If I were to create a custom plan for an athlete, I would consider age, gender, experience level, recovery level, and plan adherence and would often have a plan that was 50/50 Zone 3 to Zone 4+. As a commercial decision, we have to try and split the baby in our mass-produced plans.

    At the same time, there is no reason you can’t modify it. We’ve already done the work of distributing the easy/hard for you, and you can then slice and dice the remaining 20% hard into more Zone 4 and 5. Take any given Zone 3 workout, cut the interval down to no more than a 3-minute Zone 4 interval with a recovery interval 2x the work interval and, voila! You have still have an 80/2 plan but with more Zone 4.


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