In the previous two sections we have presented the five and three zone training model. In this section we will compare and contrast the two models, so you can choose the one that suits you best.
Number of Zones: The most obvious difference between the two models is the number of zones. The five-zone model provides a more detailed and nuanced approach to training by breaking down the intensity levels into smaller increments.
Training Goals: Both models have different training goals for each zone. However, the five-zone model is more specific in its goal for each zone. For example, zone 3 in the five-zone model is focused on improving lactate threshold, while zone 2 in the three-zone model is focused on building the aerobic base.
Training Intensity: The three-zone model has broader ranges of training intensity levels for each zone compared to the five-zone model. This may make it easier for beginners to understand and follow, but it may not be as effective in optimizing training adaptations for more experienced athletes. So even when working with a three-zone model coaches and athletes need to differentiate between training intensities within the Zone. E.g. upper zone II work in the three zone model vs. middle and lower zone work.
Complexity: The five-zone model is more complex and may require more knowledge and understanding of exercise physiology to effectively implement. The three-zone model is simpler and more accessible for beginners, but may not provide as much nuance and detail for experienced athletes.
In summary, the three-zone endurance model and the five-zone endurance model differ in the number of zones, training goals, training intensity, and complexity. The five-zone model provides a more nuanced and specific approach to training, while the three-zone model is simpler. This simplicity comes at a cost for coaches as detailed intensity monitoring is more difficult. It can not be differentiated between lower, middle and upper zone work which can have different physiological effects.
Nevertheless, the simplicity of the three zone model is also its strength, as many coaches and athletes tend to overcomplicate training. The choice between the two models depends on the athlete’s and coach level of experience, knowledge, and training goals.