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Coaches Blog

The Lost Zone Syndrome

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

If you Google "Lost Zone Syndrome," you won't find anything. Why?

That's because at the moment it is not a formal or recognized disease or condition in the areas of sports medicine, health & fitness, exercise physiology or coaching.

I'm proposing the name because it describes an important situation I've observed among some athletes - one in which the impact is often underestimated by coaches and athletes.

I've seen this condition in age group and professional athletes at different moments of their training macrocycle during my practice as an exercise physiologist and Coach doing VO2max tests.

Lost Zone Syndrome relates to the aerobic training zones.

Why do we call it a Syndrome? A syndrome is a set of signs and symptoms that correlate with each other. It is not necessarily a disease, but could be a physical condition that it is present in a moment of our life and could be secondary to our present physical and psychological status.

The main manifestation is the lack of the mild or medium aerobic zones such as Zone 2 or Zone 3 in some nomenclatures. It is the incapacity of the athlete to keep an effort equal to the 70-80% of his/her maximum Heart Rate.

The signs and symptoms of Lost Zone Syndrome would include:

  • Principally, a high heart rate at relatively low to medium efforts.

  • Sometimes a sensation of feel “tired”, “burned legs” or “cramps” easily at mediums efforts.

  • Incapacity to change to aerobic heart rate zones during competition or interval training.

  • A tendency to easily get in a “burn out” situation at mid-season and failing to end the competition season in endurance sports.

During the VO2max test I've performed, these athletes begin the test with a warm-up below 60% of their maxHR followed by an initial four-minute stage intended to reach the 60-70% of their maxHR. This step represents a jogging or mild running effort.

The next stage of the VO2max test looks to reach the 70-80% of the maxHR of the athlete, but there is a significant increase not only of the heart rate but the volume of oxygen breathed as well. No matter the tester´s effort to regulate the speed of the treadmill or bike´s resistance, the athlete cannot keep their HR at the 70-80% of his/her maxHR, so the athlete goes into the upper heart rate zone: the anaerobic zone, where it is known the lactate production is greater than its use/clearance and it begins to accumulate.

This is significant because the athletes in this situation would have an incapacity to train in these aerobic zones. And these are the zones that produce the physiological changes in the athlete´s body and that create the aerobic base during off season and maintain it during in-season. These are the same zones that athletes use as aerobic “active recovery” during competition and training (anaerobic intervals) after they have been in anaerobic zones and would have a slower lactate use/clearance than his/her exercise rivals or training partners.

When I have questioned athletes about their training background, I've found a lack of training at 70-80% of his/her maxHR. They often have a background of high to very intense workouts and less than 20% of volume at an aerobic level.

To remedy "Lost Zone Syndrome," I've prescribed long aerobic work outs at heart rates below 60-70% of maxHR during the off-season. Very often athletes find that they need to walk fast or jog in order to maintain low heart rates.

Fortunately, athletes that have followed the prescription have seen improvements of the condition and after 6 to 8 weeks they can perform activities at 70-80% of the HR and after 8 to 12 weeks they can increase the effort at the same 70-80% of the max HR.

Have your zones gone missing?

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