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Zone 2 Exercise – Building Your Cardio Base and Burning Fat

Zone 2 Exercise – Building Your Cardio Base and Burning Fat

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 Zone 2 exercise is a cornerstone for building a strong cardiovascular foundation and enhancing fat burning. One of the key proponents of this method is Phil Maffetone, a renowned coach and author. Maffetone’s approach to Zone 2 training offers a structured way to maximize aerobic capacity and overall health. This article will explore what Zone 2 exercise is, the benefits it offers, and how to incorporate Phil Maffetone’s method into your fitness routine.

What is Zone 2 Exercise?

Exercise intensity is often categorized into different zones based on heart rate. Zone 2 exercise refers to a moderate-intensity level, typically 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. At this intensity, you should be able to maintain a conversation without too much difficulty but still feel like you’re getting a workout.Guy Running Down Dirt Road

Phil Maffetone and the Maffetone Method

Phil Maffetone is a respected figure in the world of endurance sports and fitness. With decades of experience as a coach, clinician, and author, Maffetone has helped athletes of all levels achieve peak performance through his holistic approach to health and fitness. His emphasis on aerobic training and fat-burning efficiency has made the Maffetone Method a cornerstone for many endurance athletes.

The Maffetone Method: Calculating Your Heart Rate Zones

The Maffetone Method focuses on training at a lower heart rate to maximize aerobic capacity and fat burning. Maffetone believes that most athletes train too hard, leading to burnout, injury, and diminished performance. By training primarily in Zone 2, athletes can build a solid aerobic base, improve overall health, and sustain high performance over the long term.

The 180 Formula

One of the key components of the Maffetone Method is the 180 Formula, a straightforward way to determine your maximum aerobic heart rate (MAHR). This is the heart rate at which you should perform most of your aerobic training to stay in Zone 2. Here’s how to calculate it:

1. Start with 180: Begin with the number 180.
2. Subtract Your Age: Subtract your age from 180. For example, if you’re 40 years old: 180 – 40 = 140

3. Adjust Based on Your Health and Fitness Level:
– If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.), subtract 10.
– If you have not exercised before, exercise infrequently, have been injured, or are regressing in your training, subtract 5.
– If you have been exercising regularly without any issues, no addition or subtraction is needed.
– If you have been training for more than two years without any issues and have made progress in competition, add 5.

For instance, if you’re 40 years old, have been exercising regularly, and are healthy, your MAHR would be 140 beats per minute (bpm).

Example Adjustments:

  • A 30-year-old with no health issues and consistent training:
    180 – 30 = 150
  • A 50-year-old recovering from surgery:
    180 – 50 – 10 = 120

Benefits of Zone 2 Exercise

1. Building a Cardio Base

Zone 2 exercise is excellent for building a strong cardiovascular foundation. This foundational level of fitness is crucial for more intense workouts and overall heart health. Regular Zone 2 workouts improve your body’s ability to transport and utilize oxygen efficiently, enhancing endurance and stamina.

2. Enhancing Fat Burning

One of the most touted benefits of Zone 2 exercise is its efficiency in burning fat. At this moderate intensity, your body primarily uses fat as its fuel source, rather than carbohydrates. This makes Zone 2 workouts particularly effective for those looking to lose weight or improve their body composition.

3. Improving Metabolic Health

Consistent Zone 2 training can positively impact your metabolic health. It helps regulate blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce the risk of metabolic diseases like diabetes. This low-stress, steady-state exercise promotes a healthy metabolism, contributing to long-term health and fitness.

4. Sustainable and Low-Impact

Zone 2 exercise is sustainable and gentle on the body, reducing the risk of injury compared to high-intensity workouts. This makes it suitable for people of all fitness levels, including beginners, older adults, and those recovering from injury.

How to Incorporate Zone 2 Exercise into Your Routine

Choose the Right Activities

Many activities can be performed in Zone 2, including brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and rowing. The key is to maintain the intensity within your Zone 2 heart rate range. And, you must be patient. This type of training is often referred to as low and slow. For many people, if you are running, this will mean lots of walking to help bring your heart rate back into zone. Be patient with this – it will not last forever. 

Here is an article about the greatest trail runner of our generation – as you can see, he uses mostly Zone 2 training to prepare him for race day – Kilian Jornet Wins Zegama.

Garmin GPS watch on a piece of driftwood near water.

Monitor Your Heart Rate

To ensure you’re working within Zone 2, use a heart rate monitor. Many fitness trackers and smartwatches come equipped with this feature, providing real-time feedback on your heart rate. Here is a great article on the best GPS watches (with heart rate monitors) of 2024.

Consistency is Key

For optimal benefits, aim for at least 150 minutes of Zone 2 exercise per week. This could be broken down into 30-minute sessions, five times a week, or any other combination that fits your schedule.

Listen to Your Body

While heart rate monitors are useful, it’s also important to listen to your body. You should feel like you’re working but not struggling. The “talk test” is a simple way to gauge your effort—if you can maintain a conversation but not sing, you’re likely in Zone 2.


Zone 2 exercise, as emphasized by Phil Maffetone’s method, offers a practical and effective way to enhance your fitness and health. By calculating your MAHR using the 180 Formula and focusing on aerobic training, you can build a strong cardio base, optimize fat burning, and enjoy sustainable, injury-free fitness. Embrace the Maffetone Method and experience the benefits of smarter, more efficient training.

If you want to be really inspired about the potential of low heart rate training, check out this video of a guy talking you through the benefits while running a sub 3 hour marathon.

For more on building a sustainable fitness routine, check out our related articles here and here.