Zone 2 swimming per Dr Peter Attia

Has anyone started reading his book "Outlive"?  After surviving Stage 4 throat cancer I decided it was high time to change my life.  I lost 35 pounds, got back in the water, competed at Y Nationals in April and really enjoyed myself.  I have trained myself for the last 10 months or so with some Form goggles (they seem to brag they are for swimmers but in reality they adore triathletes) but I love the goggles nonetheless.

One cool feature is the ability to see my heart rate while swimming.  I swam for :55 today for a total of 3300yds at or near the lower zone 3 heart zone, about 15 minutes in zone 4 and back to high zone 2 in the heart rate zone.  

Zone 2 according to Attia is different.  Zone 2 is defined as the highest metabolic output/work that you can sustain while keeping your lactate level below two millimole per liter.  I haven't purchased a lactate meter yet but I am wondering if any other masters swimmers are incorporating this into their swimming and have figured it out for themselves without the meter.  I'm 51 so my max heartrate is 169 and 75% of that rate is 127 (rounded up).  I stayed near this lower rate all workout except for the accidental jump to 148 or so while doing 2 sets of 4x50s at a "strong" pace.  This was around 30-35 secs for the 50y.  

I'm so curious if there are others that are into this new discovery because after today's workout I felt freaking incredible.  I was not my usual tired and worn out self after training in the zone 4 -5 heartrate zone all damn workout 3-4 times a week.

I'm looking forward to increasing endurance and longevity for the rest of my life.  I'd love to trade notes with anyone trying to figure this out.


  • Man, what happened to the discussion boards.  Is there another site to discuss swimming, athleticism, health and longevity?

  • Hi Graham,

    "Outlive" is my favorite new health book! I will be incorporating zone 2 swimming into my fitness plans (I mostly strength train). I am new-ish to swimming and have orthopedic injuries that make it one of my best options for cardio work. I just joined this organization, looking for guidance on best swim workouts and perhaps some local coaching.

    Cheers! Jen

  • Hi Graham,

    A friend and I listened to one of Peter Attia's podcast a couple of weeks ago - the one about maximizing your enjoyment of your centenary decade (defined as the last 10 years of your life).  Since then, I have begun listening to his other podcasts.  I will be 70 in February 2024.

    Long story short, instead of trying to reach max heartrate as much as possible like I did in my 30s and 40s and 50s, I am trying to dial it back now to staying in Zone 2 for most of my practice (3-4,000 yards, 5x/week) coupled with some Zone 3 or 4 for short sets a couple of times per week.

    There are two approaches to max heartrate calculation.  One is the age old 220 minus your age and take 70-75% of that.  The other is 180 minus your age and that is your Zone 2 target.  The result is about the same - the latter is an easier calculation.

    For me, a 110-115 heartrate is hard to stay at.  I can get to 120 - 130 pretty easily during sets of 100s and maintain it for the entire practice.  When I was your age, my heart rate was usually in the 145-160 range the entire practice and enjoyed the "wiped out" feeling.  My lactate tolerance was much higher then, so it did not bother me.  Today, not so much.

    As you read more from Peter Attia, you may also want to read up on the occurrence of Atrial Fibrillation (AF, A Fib) in older endurance athletes.  It is being studied alot.  After 50 yrs of endurance training, I had three AF episodes 4 years ago and my cardiologist told I was at higher risk.  It was a "what the heck" moment.  Although I am not to the point of taking medication or considering an ablation, it is something I need to monitor more than I would like.  Everything I read about the athletes who develop AF are those who are often training in Zone 3 or 4.  So, I am trying to stay in  Zone 2 for this reason as well.

    Now, since my dad had AF, I could be genetically pre-disposed.  Who knows for sure.  I just know it is something I have to deal with.

    Congrats on beating Stage 4 cancer, finding your way back to swimming, and enjoying it.  Holler if you want to chat more.


  • Graham,

    Several additional aspects to consider with Zone training:

    1. Many of the heart rate studies and recommendations were developed for runners.  Swimmers, because we don't "fight" gravity, have, on average according to the literature, a maximum heart rate about 10 bpm lower.  Not quite sure how to manage that when my HR is already exceeding the various Zone guidelines for runners.
    2. Training too hard can suppress the immune system which leads to impaired performance and higher risk of respiratory issues.
    3. And, training too hard can result in a higher risk of injury.  This is definitely a problem for runners due to pounding.  For swimmers with technique issues, shoulders will be the first to be compromised.

    Yesterday, my HR was around 140-145 for about 1/3 of the practice.  Today, I feel some fatigue and a sore throat - which I hope is not a cold coming on.  Looking forward to a "leisurely" zone 2 swim today.  Slight smile


  • Hey Paul,

    Thanks for contributing.  My father, now 84, had ablation surgery in his mid 70s after a lifetime of playing basketball in high school, university and then pick up games with former Rockets players in Houston while he aged.  Said the ablation was the greatest surgery gift he'd ever given himself and said he should have done it earlier.  Don't know if that helps your confidence.  He's got Lewy body dementia now but I feel that was from low lipid maintenance and belief in the AHA boogeyman of cholesterol bad, low fat good (aka sugar replaces fat to live longer BS media campaign). 

    I picked up Attia's book for that reason alone (fear of dementia) since I don't have any genetic markers that show I'll develop Alzheimer's or any other related mental degradation.  THANK GOD for my Cajun wife I met 15 years ago.  At 36 I was avoiding dietary fat, saturated fats etc.  She changed all that by pointing out all her relatives who lived to near 100 and beyond and adhered to a butter rich (real dairy fat butter), low sugar intake diet.  Further investigation showed the proof I needed and thus I switched my diet, started taking supplements that my alleles in my genome weren't taking from food efficiently enough, and yet, I still drank a ton.  I never corelated the alcohol vs heart and mind damage.  There is a fantastic Andrew Huberman Lap Podcast about alcohol that every swimmer who likes to "drink like a fish" should listen to and learn from.  If you are addicted to booze when you die, you get a free trip back to Earth over and over until you beat the addiction.  Sad but absolute truth. 

    It was Huberman's podcast that featured Attia one day, and thus, I jumped down the rabbit hole and off I went.  I bought the hard cover copy so I could lug it around and feel the pages and learn with highlights and margin notes.  I love his notes about stretching and flexibility, hand grip strength etc.  All very important items for aging gracefully.  I saw a bunch of masters swimmers in April at Y Nationals and many had little no tendon flexibility, lots of bad backs where reliance on lap swimming gave them an "out" to doing more to age properly.  The ones who had muscle in their 70s were flexible and had a pep in their step that was very noticeable.  They also swam faster, which is understandable.

    I swim at a Y here near my house and notice the Western Medicine 2.0 patients who have been told to move for 30mins a day.  Ridiculous advice after reading Attia's book.  I so want to tell them don't be scared, get that heart rate up a little more than zone 1.  But I digress, to each his own.  The world would be so boring if we were all alike.


  • Thanks for the resources.

    I grew up on real whipped cream and butter.  Don't do much whipped cream now.  Butter on everything though!  Cholesterol numbers are 175 (90-100 HDL, 70-75 LDL), low BP, and resting HR around 48.  Friends tell me I am scrawny which is probably true cuz you can see my ribs.  I don't try to restrict calories though.

    No fear of ablation on my end.  Dad survived 2 of those (age 75-77), 6 stents (various years), double by-pass (age 60), and an aortic aneurysm (age 60).  

    I don't drink like a fish, but I like my pinot noir.  But, mounting evidence suggests that I will give this up as well in favor of better old-age health.

    I have always worked on flexibility and lifting and it pays off. Currently, lifting about 75% of what I did 30+ yrs ago.  Leg strength is coming back after knee replacement due to injury/arthritis.  The flexibility pays off in the pool as well as while off-road motorcycle riding which means the occasional tip-over and tuck and tumble.  I can hang for more than 60 seconds pretty easily

    What I like about Attia is his approach requires a variety of activities.  My daily activity includes walking, lifting, swimming, stretching, yoga - 2-3hr/day.

    Keep up the good work!


  • How do you mean “what happened”?

  • I’m my opinion, what happened is the upgrades made it harder to use, but the big problem was closing it to non-US MS members. It was said they wanted to make it a perk of USMS membership, but that greatly decreased the number of people using it, and in my opinion increases, it’s irrelevance

  • Not exactly a “new” discovery. And while you can use the max HR  formula to estimate training zones the more precise way is to complete a cardiopulmonary exercise test or CPET, sometimes referred to as VO2 max testing. This involves wearing a mask to measure gas exchange while exercising on a bike or treadmill. The anaerobic/ventilatory threshold is the point at which lactate production begins to exceed your body’s ability to clear it. Roughly  80% of your training should be at or below the HR corresponding to this. If your goal is to increase speed for competition race pace training is unavoidable. And yes resistance training needs to be incorporated into your routine (2-3 times per week).