Building Blood Vessels

By Marilyn Trout | 02/21/12
Building Blood Vessels

otisarchives2, “Reeve 043536” October 1, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

Voler E-Mail List member Charles Martley is our 85th winner of a $20 Voler gift certificate! His training question follows…

Building Blood Vessels


I have been told that it's good to put in a couple of months of level one heart rate, 1-2 hours per day, also known as the lose weight zone. I just heard that it "builds blood vessels" too. What does this mean and how does this happen?

Thank you,
Charles Martley


It usually takes about 8-12 weeks to develop an athlete's endurance, the ability to maintain a workload without fatigue. Training zones, as you referred to, are used to define aerobic training intensities, typically 5-7 zones. Training adaptation occurs when the rider alters volume, frequency and intensity throughout the year beginning with low intensity and increasing the training load as a base has been established. New riders should keep intensity low to moderate and simply vary volume and frequency in order to develop a base. "Lose weight zone?" All training zones can take credit for that : )

Zone 1, < 65% of maximum heart rate, is also known as "active recovery" which involves light pedaling at a moderate cadence. This activity promotes increased blood flow to help the fatigued muscles recover without a heavy workload. Zone 2, 66-72% of maximum heart rate, also has a low intensity with high volume (longer duration) which will allow the glycogen stores to decrease. At this intensity level, adaptation can be seen in the cardiovascular system both with the heart and capillaries. (A capillary is an extremely small blood vessel that transports blood from arteries to veins. They are most abundant in tissues and organs that are metabolically active, and thus, through training, capillarization will be augmented in the working muscles. This is the physiological term for "building blood vessels.")

One of the greatest changes that results from aerobic training can be seen with the adaptation of the heart. There is a significant increase in the amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute or cardiac output. This increase is attributed to a higher stroke volume, amount of blood pumped per heart beat. A fit heart will be able to pump more blood per beat than an untrained individual as seen in a lower resting heart rate.

Cardiac output = Stroke Volume x Heart rate

Changes in the cardiovascular system have been seen with a training program centered around Zones 1 and 2 with as little as 30 minutes per day, 4 times a week. As a rule if the athlete can talk, the riding is probably being done in the endurance zone. Depending upon the cyclist's goals, this minimal training load would have to be adjusted with its volume, frequency and intensity.


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