How to Set Up Your Intensity Zones

Dream Run Club uses a three-zone intensity scale that is based on the system exercise physiologists use to rate intensity. Whether you prefer to training by pace, heart rate, power, or even rate of perceived exertion (RPE), you can use this scale to ensure correct execution of all Dream Run Club run types.

Zone 1 is low intensity. The bottom end of this zone represents the lowest intensity that, according to research, is sufficient to increase aerobic fitness in trained individuals. The upper limit of Zone 1, which is also the lower limit of Zone 2, aligns with the first ventilatory threshold (VT1), where a spike occurs in breathing rate, fast-twitch muscle fiver activation, and autonomic nervous system stress.

Zone 2 is moderate intensity. It is bordered on the low end by the VT1 and on the upper end by the second ventilatory threshold (VT2), which marks the highest intensity at which a runner’s body is able to maintain a relatively stable metabolic state.

Zone 3 is high intensity. It is bordered on the low end by the VT1 and on the upper end by maximum speed, power, heart rate, and RPE.

The table below shows the zone ranges for each of these four intensity metrics. For pace, the ranges are given as percentages of lactate threshold pace (LTP, which is the fastest pace a runner can sustain for one hour in race conditions. For power, the ranges are given as percentages of functional threshold power (FTP), which is the highest power output a runner can sustain for one hour. For heart rate, the ranges are given as percentages of lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR), which is the heart rate associated with LTP and FTP. For rate of perceived exertion, a standard 10-point RPE scale is used, where “1” represents walking intensity and “10” represents maximal effort.

Zone Number Zone Name Pace Power Heart Rate RPE
1 Low Intensity 60-75% LTP 50-78% FTP 70-91% LTHR 2-4
2 Moderate Intensity 76-102% LTP 79-105% FTP 92-102% LTHR 5-7
3 High Intensity 103-120% LTP 106-130% FTP 103-115% LTHR 8-10

In order to determine your Dream Run Club intensity zones, you must first determine your lactate threshold pace, your functional threshold power, and your lactate threshold heart rate. (Note that you don’t have to determine intensity zones for metrics you don’t use. For example, if you train exclusively by pace, you don’t have to determine your FTP and LTHR). We recommend using a 5-kilometer race, time trial, or performance estimate for this purpose. This is the most practical way to get an accurate assessment of your current fitness.

Step 1
Begin the process of determining your intensity zones by choosing one of these three options for assessing your current fitness.

5K Race
If you use a 5K race time as the basis for determining your intensity zones, the performance must be representative of your current fitness, which means the race must be relatively recent and have taken place in favorable conditions on a relatively flat course.

5K Time Trial
If you’re game to get out and suffer a bit, run a 5K time trial. Find a flat course and time the time trial for favorable whether conditions. Warm up as you normally would for a race and then run 5 kilometers (3.11 miles) as fast as you can. Note that a valid result requires accurate measurement and good (i.e., consistent) pacing.

5K Performance Estimate
Some runners are really good at knowing how fast they could run a race of a given distance at any given time. If you’re one of these runners, you can skip the suffering and base your intensity zone calculations on an estimate of how fast you would run a 5K on a flat course and in good conditions at your current level of fitness. Be honest! You’re only cheating yourself if you choose an unrealistic time.

Step 2
The next step is to use your 5K time to estimate your lactate threshold pace. Unless your 5K is above 1 hour, your LTP will be somewhat slower than your 5K pace. Go to the 80/20 Endurance Zone Calculator page, find the Run Pace section, and select either “English” or “Metric” in the first dropdown menu and “Recent 5K” in the second. Enter your time in the designated areas, then hit Return. Go through the same process for heart rate and run power if you use these metrics in your training. Note the time that appears in the “Threshold Pace” window.

Step 3
Log into Today’s Plan and go to Account, then select the Threshold/Zones tab. In the popup window, select “Run” in the dropdown menu at the top and enter your threshold pace and (if relevant) your threshold heart rate and power. Finally, click “Save.” Your Dream Run Club intensity zones are now set up!

We recommend that you recalculate your zones whenever you feel (or have proof that) your fitness has gone up a level.