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Training zones and exercise test

You can determine your training zones with an exercise test. Training in the right training zones helps you improve your performance and to make progress. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just starting to bike or run, the better you know your body, the better you’ll be able to train. In this article we compare zones calculated by algorithms of sports watches to zones determined in an exercise test. You can read how an exercise test with lactate measurement contributes to optimizing your training through insight into your training zones and metabolism.

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What is an exercise test?

An exercise test shows how your body responds to different levels of exercise. A typical exercise test starts at a low intensity. The intensity is gradually increased, until exhaustion. During the test, your vital parameters such as heart rate, breathing and oxygen uptake are monitored. These provide insight into the central processes that make effort possible.

By taking lactate you gain insight into the processes occurring at the cellular level. This way you can evaluate the relationship between your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems in the supply of energy. An exercise test can be performed on both a treadmill and a smart trainer.

From exercise test to training zones

More and more triathletes, runners and cyclists where a sports watches, which has an algorithm to determine training zones. This is usually a percentage of your maximum heart rate. Unfortunately, the zones that result from this are usually not the zones in which you train most effectively.

The table below shows the zones determined by the Polar algorithm, the Garmin algorithm and the lactate-based exercise test by 3in1Sports. The differences are huge. The Polar algorithm calculates training zones based on a percentage of maximum heart rate. Garmin uses a percentage of the anaerobic threshold heart rate to calculate zones. (Between brackets: this presupposes you know your threshold heart rate;)

Polar algorithm HR zones Garmin algoritm HR zones Exercise test HR zones
Z1 50-60% m-HR 82-98 60-70% thr-HR 95-111 Recovery <130
Z2 60-70% m-HR 98-115 70-80% thr-HR 111-127 Aerobic foundation 130-140
Z3 70-80% m-HR 115-131 80-90% thr-HR 127-143 Prolonged tempo 140-150
Z4 80-90% m-HR 131-148 90-100% thr-HR 143-159 Lactate balance 151-159
Z5 90-100% m-HR 148-164 100-110% thr-HR 159-174 VO2Max 160-164

The differences are huge. Just look at zone 4 (lactate balance). That is the zone where you train your body to raise your anaerobic threshold – the point where your body begins to produce more lactic acid (lactate) than it can clear. This is a crucial indicator of endurance performance.

An exercise test can accurately determine at what level of exertion this threshold occurs. That helps you to do specific workouts that raise this threshold. The exercise test also provides input for the other zones. This gives you the bandwidths in which to keep your heart rate to train a specific energy system.

Lactate measurement and performance improvement

Lactate, also known as lactic acid, is a by-product of the conversion of glucose into energy. As such, it is produced in the anaerobic supply of energy. Lactate is then transported via the blood and cell walls to the mitochondria, where it contributes to aerobic energy production together with fats and oxygen.

The lactate you measure in your blood is therefore the net result between lactate production (anaerobic energy production) and lactate combustion (aerobic energy production). Therefore, measuring lactate levels during an exercise test provides valuable information about your energy systems at different exercise intensities.

By integrating lactate measurements into your exercise test, you can accurately determine at what intensity your body primarily uses your aerobic energy system, when you reach the anaerobic threshold, and when you start relying primarily on anaerobic energy. This allows you to plan your workouts based on your individual lactate profile. Through targeted training, you can train your body to become more efficient, allowing you to perform at higher intensity levels for longer before fatigue sets in.

Training and performance optimisation

The usefulness of an exercise test extends beyond just determining training zones and lactate thresholds. It allows you to individualize and optimize your training program based on your unique physiology and goals. With accurate data about your thresholds and your metabolic profile, you can:

  1. Do more targeted training: By training in specific training zones you increase your stamina (endurance time) and your speed. 
  2. Apply progressieve overload: Increasing your workouts gradually can stretch your physical limits and increase your adaptability. 
  3. Optimize recovery: You can strategically plan recovery periods to avoid overtraining and reduce the risk of injury.
  4. Set goals and motivate yourself: Measuring your progress over time can motivate you and help you set realistic goals.

In short, an exercise test offers a scientifically based approach to training and performance improvement. It goes beyond general rules of thumb and uses your individual exercise data to create a tailored training plan that brings you closer to your goals.


Exercise testing is no longer reserved for elite athletes. For the price of a pair of shoes, you can determine your personal training zones with an exercise test. This allows you to optimize your training and work purposefully on even better performance. Whether you’re training for a marathon, want to break your personal best or just get fitter, an exercise test provides the scientific basis you need for success.

Here you can make an appointment for an exercise test at 3in1Sports.

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