Zone Training: What gear do you drive your clients in?


How hard are they really working?


If your client’s aren’t in a lab hooked up to a respirator measuring their ventilatory capacity and their O2 to CO2 ratios whilst also measuring heart rate and working them all the way to their accurate VO2 max, then the answer is… we just don’t know.


Most of the equipment in the example above is just not suitable for everyday training or ridiculously expensive. What, you don’t have a spare quarter of a million dollars?


In this blog I’ll share with you how you can use a much less expensive piece of kit – a heart rate monitor – to improve the specificity of your client’s training sessions. Getting more specific will help them get where they want to go.


We use training zones to figure out how hard our clients are working in a session. To maximize zone training, we need to understand the benefit of working at different intensities – think of it as using different gears in a car. You wouldn’t drive around everywhere in first gear, or fifth gear, would you?


In an effort to make this simple, let’s look at the training system developed by master industry educators PTA Global.


The Gears


Think of your client’s body like a car with a 5-speed gearbox.  Some gears are there to get them started, and then they shift into other gears to coast along before they need to hit top gear and really burn some rubber.


1st gear for is a place we can stay all day.  Our heart is ticking along nicely and we can keep going for literally days. Cruising speed.


Now imagine you’ve put your client on the cross trainer to warm up.  This is where they kick into 2nd gear, nudge that heart rate up a bit to help raise their body temperature and activate muscles after a long day sitting in meetings. This gear prepares them for some harder work.


Now we are ready to get them into the goal based part of our workout.  This is where they shift between 3rd, 4th and maybe even 5th gear.  We might use a cable chest press to get them pumping and into 3rd gear.  We then superset that exercise with some crawling to get them into 4th gear.  I think they have earned a little rest after that first set so take we give them 30 seconds to compose themselves because we are then going give them a minute of box jumps to crack into 5th gear for a few seconds.


When our clients spend some time in 5th gear they’ll quickly understand that they can’t exercise in 5th gear intensity for very long.  This is why we use the gear system.  We shift up and back and then up and up to get a different response out of our clients training programs.


Now: how can you use these gears to maximize results?


Gear 1 is the endurance gear between 50-60% of maximum heart rate (HRmax).  It is best suited for those long bouts of exercise like a long run or some time on the bike.


Gear 2 is a similar endurance gear but they are starting to get the motor running.  Their body has enough fuel to maintain this intensity exercise for about 90 minutes. They’d be sitting between 60-70% of HRmax.


Gear 3 is where we get our clients real bang for their buck.  The amount of energy used in this gear changes dramatically as we change the energy system they are using. Gear 3 uses a mix of aerobic and anaerobic energy systems and we push our clients to a slightly uncomfortable zone.  This can be sustained for about 40 minutes with HRmax being between 70-80%.


Gear 4 is where our clients are clearly pushing hard and are challenged.  At 80-90% of HRmax they’ll get uncomfortable pretty quickly, you’ll probably have them doing an exercise that smashes them.  At this rate they might get 15-20 minutes of work done before their legs turn to jelly and their body tells them that’s enough.


Gear 5 is not for the faint hearted.  This is where we work them at over 90% of their HRmax and I guarantee they won’t be able to keep the intensity there for long.


I can hear the question now: but….how do I know what gear to use??


That answer very much depends on your client’s goals.  If they want to improve their marathon time then gear 1 and 2 is where it’s at!  They may be surprised at how slow they need to go to maintain their HR in those gears it but it will bring their PB time down considerably.


Gear 3 and 4 are great for fitness, sports performance, general health and wellness.  If they play a sport they will spend a lot of time in these zones when they jog around a field then sprint for the ball then jump and change direction.  In the gym environment, this is where a group exercises class or an interval session will get them.   Great for burning calories and fat but also time efficient.


Gear 5 is somewhere that they don’t need to go all that frequently – unless they are a power athlete or sprinter.


For those clients who don’t have a firm performance goal but just want to be able to keep up with their kids, get up the flight of stairs without losing their breath and avoid getting run over when they cross the road – I suggest you spend a bit of time training them in all the gears.  It’s the best way to prepare them for the challenges life will inevitably throw their way!


When you’re with your next client, ask yourself: what gear are they in?  If you want to get specific and boost their results, encourage them to get a heart rate monitor (or you could be a nice trainer and get one for them) to get feedback on where they are at any time during the session.  Finally – if you want to see a change in results, try using a different gear!