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Fitness trends come and go. As the world searches for faster results, flashier workouts, and social media likes, it’s easy to see why these fitness trends change so quickly. While most fitness trends aren’t always the most effective approaches people can take, one trend that has recently risen to prominence may just shed the “trend” label. Today, we explore Zone 2 Cardio and see if it’s worth all the hype.

What Is Zone 2 Cardio?

Zone 2 Cardio, formerly known as Low Intensity Steady State (L.I.S.S.) Cardio, has a long history in the fitness world.

Think of a light jog, for example—sustainable, conversational, and not leaving you drenched. This is what most people imagine when they think of doing cardio.

Unlike High-Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.), Zone 2 focuses on low-intensity, longer-duration steady-state cardio, maintaining a pace for an extended period. For most, Zone 2 involves maintaining a heart rate around 100–130 beats per minute, approximately 65-75% of your max heart rate (220 – your age = ~Max Heart Rate).

 Individual variations apply, and fitness watches or heart rate monitors can provide accurate testing (I use the Morpheus system).

How to Do Zone 2 Cardio?

There’s no exact way you need to do Zone 2 Cardio; you just want to pick an exercise (or group of exercises) you can do for a long duration of time (roughly 30-90 minutes). I’ll explain why in a bit, but the short explanation for now is that you cannot get the same adaptations from doing 10–15-minute intervals as you can with longer bouts of cardio work.

With that being said, long-duration cardio can be admittedly a bit boring, especially extended sessions on the treadmill. A great way to counter this issue would be to do a cardio circuit like this:

  • 10 minutes on a treadmill
  • 10 minutes on a stair climber
  • 10 minutes on a rower
  • 5 minutes of sled work.

You can also do low-intensity biking, skipping, ball throws, elliptical, light kettlebell work, or any other activity that you can maintain the appropriate heart rate. You can choose to do just a 60-minute run if you want, but if you find it boring or tedious, you have the ability to switch things up.

When to Do Zone 2 Cardio?

Using guidelines from Conditioning Guru Joel Jamieson, aiming for 2-3 sessions of Zone 2 is ideal for most people. Ideally, these would be used on recovery days, and away from resistance training sessions. However, if you find yourself in a time crunch it won’t kill you to do your Zone 2 Cardio immediately following your strength training. You’ll get better results if you separate your resistance training from your long duration cardiovascular training.

Who Would Benefit from Zone 2 Cardio?

Literally everyone. If you want to live a longer, higher quality of life, then Zone 2 Cardio is going to help. Everyone from elite athletes to your grandparents will benefit from this style of training.

If you’ve been doing nothing but short, high-intensity work for your conditioning and haven’t seen improvements, Zone 2 Training might be exactly what you need.

Why Do Zone 2 Cardio?

So now that we’ve hyped up Zone 2 even more, what does it even do?

There is a laundry list of adaptations it will help the body with, but here are the primary examples of what will happen when you include Zone 2 Cardio in your Fitness Diet:

  • Lowered Resting Heart Rate, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (among other diseases).
  • Improved Aerobic Function, for greater endurance and recovery.
  • Enhanced Anaerobic Endurance, aiding faster recovery for explosive movements.
  • Increased Quality and Quantity of Mitochondria, supporting muscle, immune function, and much more.
  • Promotes Recovery, allowing the body to recover from higher-intensity activities

The Cons

While there are a significant amount of pro’s to Zone 2 Cardio, there are unfortunately downsides to it as well.

Firstly, each session is a long time commitment. As mentioned, you should be doing roughly 30 – 90 minutes in each session to get the best results for it. This can lead to long, and somewhat boring bouts of exercise. Adding these sessions post workout might be manageable for some people, but those on a tight schedule might struggle to fit it in.

Doing long steady state cardio post resistance training may also affect how your body recovers from your workout, as cardio and resistance training stimulate different energy pathways in the body. Again, this isn’t massive – but it is a potential concern

Secondly, in a bubble, without added resistance training, these bouts can be catabolic – meaning it can burn our tissue. While that might SOUND good, in reality it affects the amount of muscle mass you have.

Don’t worry though, Zone 2 Cardio won’t kill your gains by any means, but it might not help either.

Difference between HIIT & Zone 2

Zone 2 Cardio targets Eccentric Cardiac Hypertrophy, stretching the left ventricle for increased blood pumped per beat. HIIT induces Concentric Hypertrophy, thickening cardiac walls for stronger contractions but without enhancing blood output. To put it simply – Zone 2 helps with the amount of blood your heart will pump out with each beat, where HIIT will increase the force blood is pumped out.

My Verdict

Zone 2 Cardio is worth the hype. While high-intensity workouts like CrossFit or HIIT gain attention, neglecting lower intensity, longer-duration activity limits certain physical adaptations. For optimal results, a balanced approach, incorporating both Zone 2 and HIIT, is optimal for athletic performance and longevity. If you’re looking for more reasons to implement this style of cardio work – check out my previous article on 9 Reasons To Walk For Your Waistline

If you need help incorporating conditioning effectively or have questions about Zone 2 Cardio, drop a comment below. If you’re looking to up your cardio game, improve your recovery, and feel awesome on a daily basis – sign up for my 8-Week Conditioning Program. Limited spots available, so save your spot in the next round through the link above.