How to Figure Out Amount of Time in Zone 2?

I have done so much reading about this over the past few days that I now feel quite confused. I have had a Zwift account since 2018, but only started riding more regularly at the end of August 2020. I have done the FTP Builder twice and now am in week 5 of Build Me Up. I am 54 and my goal is to get fit enough to ride outside with my husband someday (not any time soon - we live in Houston and I am afraid to ride out on the roads here). I imagine going on a Trek Travel type vacation someday, but he is an “avid” rider, so I am hoping to close the gap a bit anyway. In the meantime Zwift is what I do for fun. So it should be a certain amount of hard work, but not so much that I dread the workouts or hate them while I’m doing them.

So with all of that, I think I have determined that the Build Me Up plan is not really what I need. There is too much of it that is too hard for me due to the length of some of the workouts. I seem to be able to do long and easy or short and hard(ish), but long and hard is a bridge too far for now. I found both the Yellow Unicorn and Escalation to be horrible.

It has been suggested and makes a lot of sense to me that I need more zone 2. I like zone 2. I am happy to try zone 2. But I can’t figure out where a smart place to start would be. Lots of what I have read says that it’s a waste of time under 3 to 5 hours… Sheesh. I hope not. I wonder whether I should keep doing the Build Me Up, but then substitute a ride of the same duration but zone 2 for the long, hard rides at the end of the week?

Does anyone have any experience adding mileage in zone 2 so that it is beneficial? Maybe there is a magic formula like a certain percentage of weekly km should be zone 2? Now that I am writing this, I guess the interim goal would be adding these zone 2 rides with the intention of getting fit enough to nail the harder, longer Build Me Up workouts. And any ideas how to make zone 2 fun? I have tried to do some of the Tour de Zwift rides in zone 2, but can’t manage to put out remotely even wattage when not in ERG mode, so I assume that means that I need to pick workouts or create ones that do what I want - i.e. I need to be in workout mode to access ERG mode?

Thanks for any thoughts and advice you all might have!

The short answer is probably something like: it’s different for everyone. So much depends on your goals, the time to get there, and the amount of time you have in your days. In general, though, my opinion is that you might progress faster by doing some good interval workouts (as long as they are not so hard that they become discouraging) mixed with some recovery rides (zone 1 or low zone 2), and probably some days off the bike completely. (Weights won’t hurt, either, especially as we get older, since cycling doesn’t do much good for our bones.)

As far as the workouts you’re trying in Zwift, remember these three things:

  1. They are supposed to be hard
  2. You can always use the arrows in the workouts to make them a little easier, if needed (you can even change this in the middle of the workout)
  3. Be sure your FTP is set correctly, as the workouts are based on a percent of that number.

Keep at it, you’ll be great!


Beth, I assume you mean Endurance zone. Training in the Endurance zone can be very helpful for extensive aerobic training, preparation for long rides, and for weight loss. However, one has to ride in this zone for several hours every time for this type of training to be useful. Short ride in the endurance zone are generally waste of time, generation of “junk miles” and do not lead to improvement. Long rides do help to improve but they are boring. Nothing can be done about it.

There is a built-in workout editor in Zwift. You can create an Endurance workout yourself. You might be able to find an endurance workout in Zwift as well.

Your second option is to reduce your FTP in Zwift. You can edit it manually. Set it lower and do any workout you want. Keep on reducing it until you feel you can do those workouts.

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@Beth_Klawun : If you’re interested, here are a couple of pointers for further reading about training at lower efforts:

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Thank you @Nigel_Tufnel , @Andrei_Istratov and @Steve_1506 for your great responses! Lots for me to think about here…

Do you guys do Zone 2 stuff as some percentage of your weekly distance? I am shooting for about 150 km per week right now. Is that enough to do a portion of Zone 2 work? It seems like a huge amount to me, but my husband does about 300km per week I think, so I guess it’s all relative…

I think I’m just going to go hop on the trainer and find a zone 2 workout in the list and give it a whack today. Hopefully an hour and a half or so will be enough. I guess I’ll see if it feels too easy. My butt probably won’t think so. Thanks again! I do appreciate it!

Measuring it by the distance makes no sense. Endurance is a relatively low power. If you ride on a flat, you will be moving relatively fast, but if you get on a hill, you might be riding at 6-7 km/h… So you may do a long workout but might move only 15 or 20 km.

Endurance rides are usually long and most of us may not have time for them mid-week. When I do endurance rides, I try to do them on weekends. It is better to set a goal of doing several such rides per week. For mid-week, I leave shorter but more intense workouts.

Multiweek programs for Century or Grand Fondo should have endurance rides. If you won’t find one, feel free to send me a PM, I can e-mail you the endurance workout which I created. It scales for one’s FTP, so it will be mid of endurance zone for you, too. But it is really a super simple workout - the same fixed power for hours :slight_smile: Sometimes endurance workouts change the power level by 10-15 watts up and down every 4-10 minutes, to make it less boring. Not sure if that helps, though.

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This is a good read.


Hi Andrei,

Thanks for that explanation! I will have a look for Century or Grand Fondo - that’s a great idea. Thanks also for offering to share your workout. If I can’t get any farther with this, I will send you a message :smiley:. I think I might have to get to the point where I can sit on the saddle for more than about an hour and a half before that becomes relevant though :face_with_hand_over_mouth:.

What specifically did you find difficult on the Yellow Unicorn? Was it the series (18 in all, I think) of one minute intervals just over FTP(with a 2 minute recovery between each) ? Or was the twenty minutes at the end in the blue zone with no recovery? Or was it some other part of the workout?

The answer to that question might give folks some ideas as to what a good strategy for you to follow would be.

The Build Me Up program IS more challenging than the shorter FTP builder program (I’m in week three myself.) So you shouldn’t feel bad if you are finding it tougher than some of the earlier efforts.

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Hi Andrew,

I think for me it is the cumulative stress of the workouts that keeps getting me. I start off ok, but then by about half way through I’m lagging and by the end - especially if there’s high cadence work, I can’t hit the watts or the cadence. With the Yellow Unicorn I had trouble keeping my cadence up as I went through the first three interval sets. I can’t remember how I did with the blue zone exactly, just that I was so tired and thought it would never end.

I was convinced from several other ideas people have had that I needed to up my endurance, which would be zone 2, but then got the feedback that I need several hours of that at a time for it to be effective.

So I ended up on the website of the coach who wrote the training plan to see whether he had some more endurance based workouts, and his question back to me was how I had determined my FTP… (…which @Nigel_Tufnel did try to point out to me :woman_facepalming:t3:…) I am embarrassed now that I didn’t take a fresh FTP test before starting the program. Zwift events said I had improved and automatically set me to 134w and then 142w (which is kind of puzzling in hindsight), so I went in and manually reset it to 136, figuring that that was reasonable. I had taken the Ramp Test Lite before my previous FTP Builder (started at the beginning of November) and had scored 132, so I figured that an increase of a few watts was ok.

Yesterday I did (ugh) the “20 minute Shorter” FTP test, which runs a total of about 45 minutes with warm up and cool down and managed 124w. I’m not sure I had the best strategy for the test and had never done a non-ERG mode test, which I thought was pretty hard from a holding-the-wattage-steady point of view, but I am going to assume at this point that my FTP was simply set too high. That is the implication I get from my correspondence with the gentleman who wrote the workouts anyway. As I munch away on my slice of humble pie…

So my two take-away lessons for participating in training programs are:

  1. Don’t pay any attention to Zwift when it says I’ve increased my FTP. Either set it back to where it was or take a fresh FTP test.
  2. Do the 20 minute, non-ERG test for a more accurate result instead of the Ramp Test Lite, which I seem able to score higher on than what I really am capable of over a longer time period.

I’m going to go do today’s VO2max workout in a bit here and see how it goes.
Editing: Just finished the workout :joy: :sweat_smile: Did I think that was going to be easier? Well, at least it bordered on doable. 2 and a half minutes at 115% of FTP is a bit much for me. I felt oddly complimented though when I was sharing my workout with my husband just now (he is an avid KOM hunter out in the real world), and he said it sounded like I was training to go out hunting QOMs.

Thank you so much for your encouraging words :slightly_smiling_face: . This has been somewhat demoralizing and it is so nice to have all of you kind folks who take the time to offer to help. I appreciate it more than I can say.

This may very well be considered heresy in the Zwift community, but taking your objectives into consideration, if I were you - I’d forget about FTP as a measure of your progress, at least for a while.

My recollection of the Houston area is that it’s pretty flat. So in the real world you really aren’t going to need to put out big wattage to power up five kilometre climbs. Let’s also assume your husband isn’t a heartless jerk who is going to drop you in pulling away from a traffic light, so you aren’t going to need a lot of sprinting power.

If that’s the case, then really you need to focus your training on being able to maintain a decent, steady pace on fairly flat terrain, for a reasonable distance: Ten, twenty, maybe thirty miles.

I’d concentrate your efforts on the flattest routes Zwift offers. Do the Tempus Fugit and Tick Tock routes. Ride them at your own pace, whatever feels comfortable to you, but with the goal of improving your time over the winter and spring months. Set a goal of taking X minutes out of a Tempus Fugit loop over the next eight weeks, and see how you progress. If you use Strava, you can use some of the tools there to find areas where you can improve. I’d also set a goal of making one day per week being a “distance” day. Make this a day when you put in an effort where the number of kilometres you cover is roughly comparable to what your longest “real world” rides are going to be. Again - don’t worry too much about pace at first. Once you’ve built fitness and endurance in your Zones 1 and 2 as a “foundation”, then it becomes much, much easier to get faster and stronger in the higher zones.

Good luck and best wishes. And let us know how things work out!

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FTP is only an estimate, at the end of the day. In his book, Coggan says that not everyone can necessarily hold their FTP for a full hour.

The ramp tests aren’t very accurate because they will put your FTP artificially high if you’re good on those short, high-power anerobic efforts, and similarly artificially low if you’re really not good at them.

Best to manually adjust your FTP, as has been said, if you’re finding workouts too hard.

Don’t put too much emphasis on your FTP figure. It’s only an estimate. It’s much better to adjust it up or down to get your workout in the right spot.

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Hi Andrew,

Thanks so much for your thoughts on this! I am slowly coming to the conclusion that you are very right. FTP is being really problematic for me at the moment. I’m not sure whether we’ll ever ride here in Houston as my husband gets honked at, sworn at, or something almost every time he is out. He says that even where there are two lanes in both directions and no traffic people gun their engines and honk and act like he doesn’t belong on the road. I am far too skittish to handle that. But someday we will be able to travel again… My parents live in California, Christoph’s parents and family are in southern Germany, and the kids are not in major cities, so there should be lots of options if I can be patient.

Christoph gave me the full Strava subscription for Christmas, so I’ll have a look there and see what I can find to track my progress on routes. I’ve also made a photo record of all of my ride results, so if I don’t see what I need in Strava, I can see whether putting the data in a spreadsheet will help.

I love the idea of seeing how I do over a determined route. I think that would really help motivate me in ways that FTP is not. With my FTP right now, I feel like a little kid with a bottle of bubble fluid. Some rides I do the equivalent of blowing a big bubble and it floats around a bit and I’m all excited - like, look at my giant bubble! But then it bursts and I try again and only have a smallish bubble… Clearly I am thinking about this way too much :sweat_smile:.

Thanks again for the encouragement!

Thanks for putting this in so many words, Steve! My FTP scores are all over the place.

  • Zwift assessment - 118
  • Ramp Test Lite - 112
  • Beginner FTP Builder course
  • Ramp Test Lite - 132
  • 2nd Beginner FTP Builder course
  • Started Build Me Up but forgot Ramp Test (Christmas)
  • In game increase - 134
  • TdZ Women’s Ride in game increase - 142
  • Reset manually to 136 because workouts were too hard
  • Reset manually to 120 because workouts were too hard
  • Did the 20-minute non-ERG mode FTP test and ended up with 124

And if I’m honest, I didn’t really fail, but also didn’t nail the BMU 15.9 workout yesterday.

So in summary: The FTP number is not helping me out here :worried:

Thank you all so much for helping me figure this all out!

Hope to see you all out there :partying_face:

Ride On!

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