Ask the Expert: Is Zone 3 a “No-Man’s Land”?

In a recent post of an aerobic-intensity profile called Ebb and Flow, I received a question from ICA member Tracey about the Zone 3 level of intensity of the profile.

Hi Jennifer, I have heard and read that you typically want to avoid Zone 3. That most people spend too much time in that grey zone and that the easy should be easy and the hard hard. So typically I have read and understood that 80% of our training should be in Zone 1/2, 10% at threshold (Zone 4), and 10% doing HIIT or anaerobic training (Zone 5, 6, and 7, assuming a Zone 7 system). Just wondering if this has changed? Thanks for your time.

This question tells me that Tracey has done some research on cycling training techniques! Good for you, Tracey.

It’s true that Zone 3, known as “tempo” training in most cycling zone methodologies, used to be called the “dead zone” or “no-man’s land” by some cycling coaches. But it’s important to look at the context of that description and who it applies to.

Other ICA tempo rides and information can be found below:
Progressive High-Cadence Tempo Intervals
Tempo Tantrum
The Delicious Ride


  1. Good reminders. thank you!

  2. Thank you so much for the clarification Jennifer and Bill! Very helpful and a good reminder to remember who our demographics are. I have a combination in my classes. Some very serious riders and then some riders who are coming simply here for fitness, and of course beginners here and there.
    Thank you again!Tracy

  3. Good article. Zone 3 or ‘Tempo’ runs have been part of distance running training for as long as I’ve been running, which is a really long time. They gained prominence in noted running coach Jack Daniels’ book “Daniel’s Running Formula”. Daniels prescribes both longer tempo runs and shorter cruise intervals. They are indispensable for marathon training, since they train the body to run at race pace. Some coaches advise two types of tempo runs – long, which is Zone 3, and short, which is really Zone 4, threshold not tempo.

    I also use Zone 3 training on the bike when training for Ride The Rockies. Many of the long climbs are Zone 3, occasionally pushing to threshold for periods, but never going anaerobic.

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