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  • Writer's pictureNate Johnson

Zone 2 Cardio- Explained

I've had recurring health issues since 2019 due to some pretty nasty mold exposure in an apartment I was living in.

One of the more frustrating symptoms I've dealt with has been a decrease in aerobic capacity.

In other words, I get tired faster than I would have in the past. I've had to cut my strength training sessions short and really manage my overall workload each day.

This has been super frustrating. Especially as a Trainer! You know, someone that's supposed to be healthy, strong, and fit all the time.

This has been a lesson in humility for me. Because of this, I've learned to not put my identity in how healthy and fit I am.

That being said, you better believe I'm still pursuing those things!

Now, back to my aerobic capacity.

Historically, strength training provided enough work to keep my aerobic capacity pretty high. This has been true for me and the vast majority of my clients.

But after the mold exposure, I couldn't even strength train long enough to produce much of an aerobic effect. Relatively light and short workouts would leave me exhausted.

I couldn't believe it, but now I can really relate to new clients coming in who have never worked out before.

I had to start over.

And before I could touch any serious weights again, I needed to improve my aerobic capacity.

Enter my experiment.

My Zone 2 Cardio Experiment!

A strength training coach I've been following on social media for 5+ years now, has recently started doing a couple hours of Zone 2 Cardio per week.

'What the heck is that', I wondered?

As he explained what Zone 2 Cardio was, I started to remember all those pesky lectures about cardio I sat in during my Kinesiology classes at UAB.

You see, when you are doing cardio you can measure what your heart rate does. The same way we measure how much weight we do when strength training.

Just like different loads produce different results when strength training, keeping your heart rate in different "zones" produces different training effects.

I'll get into the nuts and bolts later, but essentially Zone 2 Cardio is a fairly light level of exercise. It's hard enough to get your heart pumping and a little sweat rolling.

But it's light enough that you can carry on a conversation the entire time you're doing it. It's also light enough that it produces very little fatigue. Meaning you could do it at any point during the day, then move on to literally any other task and you'll be fine.

That's not always the case after heavy squats. Sometimes you need to just sit and do nothing for a while after a heavy leg workout 😂

As I listened to the strength coach talk about what Zone 2 had done for him, I was became more and more interested.

Interested in trying cardio again!?!?

Good grief- the world really has gone mad.

For years I've said people just need to strength training and walk and that's all the exercise they need. This may be true, BUT I've seen nothing but pros (and no cons) since starting my experiment.

Here's what I've been doing and the benefits I've seen:

For the last 4 weeks, I've set a weekly goal of how many total minutes of Zone 2 cardio I want to do. The last 3 weeks I did a total of 60 minutes for the week. This week I'm doing 75 minutes.

I hop on the stationary bike, get my heart rate into Zone 2, and ride for 10-20 minutes several days per week,. Usually I do this between client sessions. I'm considering getting a bike for the house so I can do it at home too. You know, for convenience sake.

Since starting just 4 weeks ago:

  • I have more energy throughout the day

  • I'm much less tired at the end of the day

  • I'm recovering faster between my strength training workouts

  • I'm recovering faster between each set during my strength training workouts

  • I'm more clear-headed

  • I'm more relaxed

  • My blood sugar levels are more stable

This experiment will continue indefinitely. I'm not sure how much weekly cardio I'll ramp up to. I don't envision doing more than 120 minutes per week, but I'll certainly keep you updated!

If you're ready to hop on the Zone 2 Cardio train, here's how YOU can do it:

Like I said earlier, when doing cardio we track our heart rate for the same reason we track our weights in the gym.

Different loads produce different strength training results, and different heart rates produce different aerobic results.

You can track your heart rate with your smart watch, your cardio machine if you're using a machine that has a monitor, OR you can do what I do and check your pulse on your neck or your wrist for 10 seconds, them multiply that by 6.

Regardless of how you measure, we want to know how many Beats Per Minute your heart is doing.

Now we need to talk about what "Zone 2" means.

Zone 2 is referring to a specific range of Beats Per Minute (BPM.)

Zone 2 is anywhere from 60% to 75% of your Max Heart Rate.

So now let's talk about how to calculate YOUR Max Heart Rate.

Your Max Heart Rate is simply (220 - Your Age).

For example, I'm 28. So my Max Heart Rate is 220 - 28 = 192.

192 is my Max Heart Rate!

THEN to figure out where my heart rate needs to be I just multiply 192 x 0.6 (60%) and 192 x 0.75 (75%).

This leaves me with a range of 115 to 144. As long as my heart rate stays within that range during my cardio workouts, I'm in Zone 2!

Let's do one more math example. If you're 55 years old, your Max Heart Rate is 220 - 55 = 165.

So your Zone 2 range is from 165 x 0.6 (60%) to 165 x 0.75 (75%)

This leaves you with a range of 99 to 123. As long as your heart rate stays within that range during your cardio workouts, you're in Zone 2!

It's really that simple. Just determine your max heart rate, multiply it by 0.6 and 0.75. Hop on a bike, treadmill, elliptical, etc. then keep your heart rate in the 60% to 75% range during your cardio workout.

Now there are actually other Zones. BUT Zone 2 is the one I wanted to focus on today and it's the only one I'm focusing on in my own training right now.

The beautiful thing about Zone 2 training is it is very little stress on the body, unlike the higher Zones. The higher zones provide lots of benefits BUT they also require much more recovery time.

You can add Zone 2 cardio to your training schedule and expect to see nothing but benefits. No downsides!

If you want more energy, you want to recover faster between workouts, AND you want to recover faster between each set of your workout, you've got to give this a try!!

Start with a weekly goal. You can start as low as 30 minutes per week. Then build up from there.

Want to work 1 on 1 with me so I can help you optimize your entire fitness plan (training, nutrition, cardio, etc.)?

CLICK HERE and fill out the form. I'll reach out to schedule a zero pressure call to see if we're a good fit to work together!

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