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Coaches Blog

Beating the "Lost Zone Syndrome"

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

A few blog posts ago, I wrote about a condition I call the "Lost Zone Syndrome." Over my years as an exercise physiologist who coaches using the VO2max test, it's a condition that I've seen in age group and professional athletes at different moments of their training macrocycles.

I would like to talk about this "Lost Zone Syndrome" again because it continues to be one of the most frequent questions I get and conversations I have with athletes: why do they have an elevated cardiac rate at an easy pace during training?

The primary manifestation of this situation is the lack of the mild or medium aerobic zones, zone 2 or zone 3, or the incapacity of the athlete to keep an effort equal to 70-80% of their maximum Heart Rate.

The signs and symptoms of the situation can be:

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

-Sometimes, a sensation of feeling "tired," "burned legs," or "cramps" at mediums efforts.

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

-A tendency to get "burnout" around mid-season and fail to end the competition season.

The importance of this situation is high because the athletes in this situation would have an inability to train in these aerobic zones.

These aerobic zones are the ones that produce the physiological changes in the athlete's body that could create the aerobic base during the off-season and maintain it during the racing season. It's also important because athletes use these zones as aerobic "active recovery" during competition and training (anaerobic intervals) after being in anaerobic zones. Inability to maintain a "Zone 2" or "zone 3" heart rate means they may have a slower lactate use/clearance than their exercise rivals or training partners.

But what causes this condition?

Mainly is a lack of training at 70-80% of their max HR. The most common situation is a background of relatively high to very intensity workouts and less than 20% of aerobic workouts of the weekly total training plan.

This is common when athletes skip these workouts because long aerobic training sessions are boring or when they're short on time. Some athletes simply don't believe that these essential workouts will significantly improve their fitness.

The consequence of this condition can be seen first in race results and then might be seen when the athlete begins to experience burnout or injuries.

To avoid or improve this situation, the first few months of the year are the best because this is where most training plans emphasize building base or preparation phase using long aerobic workouts at a heart rate below 60-70% of max HR.

After 6 to 8 weeks, athletes 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!!.

It is excellent when athletes realize that they can perform an exercise at a higher speed while maintaining a lower heart rate!


Coach Manuel Delgado Gaona is a USAT Level II and Youth & Junior Coach, FMTri Level II Certified Coach, an ACSM Exercise Physiologist, and a Physician specializing in Anatomic Pathology. His coaching philosophy is based on exercise efficiency. Coach Manuel can be reached at


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