All about Zone 2 cardio

Reviewed by Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD

“Cargo pants are again.”

This was the information that Brian St. Pierre, PN’s director of diet, broke after we met.

(St. Pierre, a father, discovered this out through his 12-year-old daughter.)

Why does this matter? Apparently, a sure kind of train is operating a parallel cycle: An previous development resurfacing as a brand new “it” factor.

Cardio’s again, child.

Particularly, zone 2 cardio—also called regular state cardio, low depth regular state cardio (LISS), or what your treadmill might name the “fats burning zone” (extra on this time period later).

Once I bought into the health trade over a decade in the past, cardio was at its peak of being disrespected.

“Are you attempting to lose all of your muscle??” the naysayers mentioned.

St. Pierre—who’s coached high athletes within the NBA, NFL, MLB, and the NHL—remembered:

“You both did intervals, otherwise you lifted. Possibly each. Regular state cardio was for endurance athletes solely.”

Now, as regular state cardio makes its triumphant return, interval coaching appears to be getting tagged as overrated. (Lifting, after all, is as badass as ever.)

So, what’s the deal? Is there a “finest” type of cardio? Is zone 2 train worthy of the hype?

On this article, you’ll discover out. You’ll additionally study:

  • What zone 2 cardio is (and easy methods to know whenever you’re “in it”)
  • How a lot zone 2 cardio you must do per week to reap the well being and health advantages
  • How zone 2 cardio compares to different types of train
  • What the potential downsides of zone 2 cardio are—and easy methods to mitigate them

Let’s get to it.

What’s “zone 2 cardio,” anyway?

St. Pierre struggled to present a easy reply to this query. Not as a result of he didn’t know, however as a result of it’s a trickier query than you may suppose.

In a nutshell although:

Zone 2 cardio is sub-maximal cardio coaching—that means, cardio train that’s carried out beneath your most effort.

However St. Pierre provides some caveats:

“Zone 2 coaching may imply various things in several contexts,” he says.

“How elite athletes measure and practice zone 2 goes to be completely different from what my mom can be doing.”

Elite endurance athletes use exact (usually costly) instruments to make sure they’re in zone 2 (corresponding to lactate meters and energy meters). They attempt to enhance zone 2 health to maximise efficiency.

Common individuals, although, have a tendency to coach in zone 2 with out utilizing devices—just a few easy physique consciousness cues—with the doubtless objective of enhancing total well being.

Zone 2 cardio examples

Any intentional bodily exercise that feels stimulating, however nonetheless comparatively straightforward—like you possibly can go for an hour, and even hours—counts as zone 2 cardio work.

For instance:

  • Informal biking
  • Utilizing the elliptical machine
  • Mountaineering or strolling uphill
  • Rucking (strolling with a weighted backpack or vest)
  • Sluggish jogging on flat terrain
  • Rowing (utilizing a machine, or when you’re fortunate, a canoe on a peaceful lake)

Zone 2 cardio in comparison with different cardiovascular “zones”

Completely different ranges of exertion—as measured by coronary heart price—are categorized into 5 completely different “zones.”

(This can be a widespread mannequin, however listed here are different zone fashions which have seven zones. And fashions which can be primarily based on energy reasonably than coronary heart price. See how shortly this will get sophisticated?)

Every zone will use completely different vitality sources at completely different charges, and could have distinctive advantages, because the desk beneath exhibits.

Zone% of Max Coronary heart PriceForemost Vitality supply*Looks like…ExamplesAdvantages
1<60%FatsComfy; can nasal breath simply and maintain a dialogStrolling or gentle family actionsWill increase total exercise, improves blood stream
260-70%FatsCan keep nasal respiratory, however not comfortablyMild jogging, climbing, biking, ellipticalImproves cardio base with out impeding restoration
370-80%Fats and carbsPowerful to keep up a dialog; might want to begin respiratory heavierJogging or biking at quicker tempo (however not sprinting)Improves cardio and anaerobic health, and lactate threshold
480-90%CarbsHuffing and puffing; may have the ability to get out just a few phrasesOperating, biking or utilizing a machine for for 1-4 minute sprintsImproves energy output, VO2 max, lactate threshold, and total athletic efficiency
5>90%CarbsClose to or at maximal effort; coronary heart pounding and speaking is unattainableMaximal sprintingImproves VO2 max, coronary heart price max, and health at maximal ranges
*Train depth is a very powerful determinant of which vitality supply is used throughout train. Nevertheless, the proportion of vitality sources used is affected by a number of elements, together with train period, age, intercourse, physique composition, coaching standing, and weight loss program.

Why zone 2 cardio is typically referred to as “the fats burning zone”

Zone 2 cardio is a type of cardio train.

Cardio means “with oxygen,” which suggests the physique wants oxygen to be able to produce ATP—our major supply of vitality—to energy this sort of exercise.

Ancardio train—like sprinting, intense biking, or heavy weightlifting—doesn’t require oxygen to supply the vitality (ATP) wanted to gasoline it.

As a substitute, anaerobic actions use readily-available sources of vitality—primarily carbohydrates saved within the muscle tissues and liver. These vitality sources could be accessed quickly, however run out shortly. And, it takes time—and presumably a giant sandwich—to replenish them.

In the meantime, cardio train faucets into vitality reserves steadily, primarily burning physique fats for gasoline. This course of is slower, however the vitality reserve is far bigger (even amongst lean people) and thus can maintain exercise for longer.

For this reason the treadmill at your fitness center might name zone 2 cardio “the fats burning zone”.

When engaged in regular, reasonably paced cardio work, your physique makes use of fats as its major vitality supply.

If the time period “fats burning” perked your ears, simply preserve the next in thoughts:

  • Different types of cardio—corresponding to excessive depth interval coaching (HIIT)—are equally efficient by way of fats loss, on common.1 2
  • Train alone doesn’t are inclined to yield vital adjustments in physique fats. That means: There’s nothing “magical” about zone 2 cardio’s capability to burn fats because it pertains to shedding fats and physique weight.

Really, the simplest train—by way of fats loss and total well being advantages—would be the type(s) you get pleasure from, and are in a position to do most persistently.

Three massive advantages of zone 2 cardio

So, why may you incorporate zone 2 cardio work into your routine (or recommend your purchasers do the identical)?

Let’s focus on three robust arguments for leaping on this development.

Profit #1: It builds your cardio base.

St. Pierre provides this analogy:

“Think about your total cardio health is a pyramid: The bottom is your cardio health, and the highest is your peak anaerobic health,” he says.

“If you happen to solely practice the height, the construction is high heavy; it’s not constructed to final.”

This is likely one of the largest property of zone 2. Coaching on the peaks could also be enjoyable (in a masochistic manner), nevertheless it’s not the easiest way to construct your base.

To see how this works, let’s use an instance with St. Pierre’s sport of alternative: Hockey

On the ice, you’ll be largely fueled by the anaerobic system.

With a powerful cardio base, you’ll get well shortly between “sprints” on the ice whereas resting on the bench.

And not using a good cardio base, your physique may very well keep in an anaerobic state whilst you’re bench-warming. This not solely inhibits restoration; it additionally drains treasured vitality reserves.

(And when you burn by your reserves within the first interval, these second and third durations are going to suck.)

This capability to adapt to adjustments in bodily calls for is known as metabolic flexibility4—and zone 2 cardio is especially good at enhancing it.

With good metabolic flexibility, your physique can toggle between vitality sources as wanted (as a substitute of utilizing largely glucose or largely fats on a regular basis) to energy exercise, main to higher endurance, energy, and efficiency.

Profit #2: It’s train that provides greater than it takes.

Intense exercises are each mentally and bodily draining. Additionally they “value” a good bit, from a restoration perspective.

Not zone 2 train.

“Zone 2 cardio might even assist your restoration in between periods,” says St. Pierre. “At worst, it’s going to be restoration impartial.”

Biking on a motorcycle at a comparatively low depth for 45 minutes won’t be probably the most enjoyable, nevertheless it’ll enhance your total health with out including a lot stress or demanding restoration in the identical manner intervals would.

You probably have time to coach 5 hours per week, however solely have the vitality to coach all out for 2 to a few hours, that also leaves you with time to coach—simply at a decrease depth.

Many people have an “all or nothing” mindset and get mad at themselves for not with the ability to practice like a beast for all 5 hours. However you don’t must. Three hours of intense coaching and two hours of low depth coaching is wonderful.

Profit #3: It boosts mitochondrial well being—which could make it easier to dwell higher, longer.

One of many guarantees of zone 2 is that it may enhance mitochondrial well being.

Higher mitochondrial well being means a lowered danger of many illnesses, corresponding to kind 2 diabetes, heart problems, metabolic syndrome, and most cancers.5

Zone 2 cardio could be the simplest type of train to maximise mitochondrial well being6 (although the analysis supporting this has members doing many hours of zone 2 work per week).

Thankfully, all bodily exercise—together with interval and resistance coaching—helps and improves mitochondrial well being.7 8 9

Plus, effectiveness is a spectrum. Obsessing over having “the perfect mitochondrial well being doable” is pointless when you can’t persistently carry out the quantity of train it takes to get there.

“How do I do know if I’m in zone 2?”

Understandably, many individuals (together with your purchasers) will ask. There are a number of methods to evaluate when you’re in zone 2, starting from “fancy and high-tech” to “luddite-approved.”

Monitoring methodology #1: Devices

If you happen to’re a excessive degree endurance athlete fixated on monitoring exhausting information, a lactate meter might be your most correct measurement device.

If you happen to’re simply seeking to obtain higher total well being and cardio health, you should utilize a coronary heart monitor. (Attempt a chest strap or a wearable wrist watch that tracks coronary heart price.10)

Monitoring methodology #2: Math

If you wish to use your coronary heart price to calculate when you’re in zone 2—which is about 60 to 70 % of your coronary heart price max—you first have to determine your max coronary heart price.

The best technique to estimate your coronary heart price max is to take 220 and subtract your age. Calculate 60 to 70 % of that quantity, and also you’ll get your goal zone 2 coronary heart price vary.

For instance, when you’re 42 years previous:

220 – 42 = 178 beats per minute is your most coronary heart price

0.6 (or 60%) x 178 = 106.8

0.7 (or 70%) x 178 = 124.6

So, in case your coronary heart price is between 107 and 125 beats per minute, that places you in zone 2.

(One other widespread method: Take 180, subtract your age, and that’ll provide the high of your zone 2 vary.)

After all, when you’re in that vary and may’t speak, nasal breath, or give attention to something aside from simply… preserve… going, you’ll know you’re not in zone 2.

Typically, the physique is aware of finest. Which brings us to…

Monitoring methodology #3: Physique consciousness

With out devices or formulation, can inform when you’re in zone 2 if:

  • You’re doing a type of cardio that requires effort—but additionally really feel like you possibly can carry out it for an prolonged time frame
  • You possibly can breathe by your nostril
  • You possibly can speak (however maybe not sing very nicely)
  • You can take note of a podcast, film, or have a considerate dialog

As St. Pierre eloquently put it:

“Once you’re executed together with your session, you must have the ability to say you possibly can do it once more if not for time and tedium.”

TL;DR: Zone 2 work shouldn’t crush you.

How a lot zone 2 cardio must you do per week?

The shortest (and most sensible) reply: No matter you possibly can slot in.

You probably have extra time and need some specificity, the WHO and the CDC recommend between 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise per week.11 12

Weekly, that might appear to be three 30 minute-sessions, two 45 minute-sessions, or one longer 90-minute session.

However don’t get slowed down by specifics. Any cardio is nice when you haven’t been doing any.

How lengthy ought to zone 2 cardio periods be?

You’ll generally hear periods must be no less than 45 minutes.

Your cardio system doesn’t fatigue simply throughout zone 2 work, so period is considerably vital when you’re aiming to maximise variations.

If you happen to go together with the WHO and CDC’s pointers, two to a few 45 to 75 minute periods of zone 2 cardio per week is fairly superb. (Word: If you happen to’re a aggressive athlete, you’ll most likely want extra.)

However when you can solely slot in 25 or half-hour per week whole, it’s not pointless.

“Any quantity of exercise improves well being, so whereas sure, extra is best, something you will get in will make a distinction in your wellbeing,” says St. Pierre.

You could not get the utmost advantages by doing much less, however you’ll expertise many wonderful well being enhancements by getting in some cardio.

Consider your targets.

Don’t get so fixated on zone 2 that you just dedicate all of your exercise time to it and lose the advantages you will get from other forms of coaching.

And, take into account your health priorities.

If you wish to construct muscle and energy, resistance coaching needs to be the main target of your coaching. (In different phrases: Don’t minimize your energy exercises in half simply to squeeze in superb zone 2 coaching targets.)

“I hate cardio” and different boundaries to zone 2 work

Have you ever ever seen the present Fits? It’s not the Sopranos, nevertheless it’s entertaining and stuffed with tea.

St. Pierre hadn’t seen it—that’s till he began watching it whereas doing zone 2 work on his bike at dwelling.

Zone 2 coaching isn’t his favourite technique to practice. With this, he discovered a technique to make it pleasurable.

If you happen to hate cardio, discover methods to show down the suck.

Listed below are just a few methods to do this.

Eat that candy, candy content material.

Whether or not it’s watching a enjoyable TV present or listening to an audiobook or podcast, you possibly can offset the tedium of zone 2 cardio with one thing you get pleasure from.


You may as well get zone 2 work with sports activities or numerous leisure actions.

Personally, I wish to shoot across the basketball with my coronary heart price monitor on. (Sure, there might be occasions I’m at the next coronary heart price zone than what is really zone 2, however that’s okay. I’m not an elite endurance athlete, so precision isn’t essential.)

Seize your frisbee, pickleball racket, or ball-of-choice, and have enjoyable.

Make it work together with your schedule—and life.

“I simply don’t have the time.”

If that is your major impediment, incorporate zone 2 cardio in a manner that helps your life.

Some examples:

  • If you happen to can, bike to commute to work. Particularly in busier cities with numerous visitors, this will truly be extra time environment friendly than driving or taking transit.
  • Run your errands with a goal. Stroll briskly to the shop (or across the mall), and carry your groceries when you can.
  • Do home chores such as you imply it. Extra laborious home work corresponding to reducing the grass, shoveling the snow, or vacuuming—something that takes some time and takes some effort—counts.
  • Run round with different animals. Your children and your pets are exhausting to maintain up with, proper? Make their week and chase after them on the park or native rec middle. Alternatively, pull them in a wagon or take a brisk stroll pushing the stroller.

If these actions don’t preserve you in zone 2 your complete time, that’s okay. These are simply concepts for individuals who merely don’t have the time for extra structured cardio.

Begin with much less.

If 45 minutes of something nonetheless appears like an excessive amount of, simply begin with 10 minutes. You possibly can at all times construct up from there.

Ignore what’s optimum, and combine what’s sensible.

One thing is really higher than nothing. (If you happen to’re strapped for time, keep in mind that line.)

One other device within the package

Tendencies within the health trade are cyclical. (Form of like traits in pants-with-pockets.)

Coaching kinds will come and go. When one comes again in, keep in mind this and mood your response. Nothing—no meals, train, or complement—is a magic bullet.

The zone 2 cardio development has been superior for re-inspiring people (together with myself and St. Pierre) to do extra cardio.

It’s additionally been complicated to some, leaving them much more pressured about easy methods to practice “the optimum manner.”

At PN, we’re much less fussed about what’s theoretically optimum than what’s virtually optimum. Do the perfect you possibly can. Discover actions you get pleasure from. And do these persistently.


Click on right here to view the knowledge sources referenced on this article.

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