Heart rate training is a great way to add structure to your training. However, getting started with a heart rate monitor and learning the best ways to use it when cycling can sometimes be confusing.
Tom Bell, an elite-level cyclist from the UK, gave us some pointers to help us get started with training more effectively using heart rate.
Find Your Maximum Heart Rate
First of all, it’s important that you ﬁnd your individual heart rate parameters because this will allow you to set your training zones correctly.
The easiest way to do this is by ﬁnding your maximum heart rate. Stay clear of the 220 minus your age rule since this is widely inaccurate. You should instead perform the following little test.
Whilst wearing your heart rate monitor, warm up for 10-15 minutes. After this you should then start an effort where you ramp up the intensity every minute.
When you feel like you are reaching your maximum effort, try to sprint as hard as you can until exhaustion. This should allow you to elicit a heart rate very close to, if not at your maximum.
Calculate Your Zones
So now that you have a reliable maximum heart rate, you can establish your heart rate training zones. These are as follows:
|Zone 1 = 60 – 65% of max|
|Zone 2 = 65 – 75% of max|
|Zone 3 = 75 – 82% of max|
|Zone 4 = 82 – 89% of max|
|Zone 5 = 89 – 94% of max|
|Zone 6 = 94 – 100% of max|
Each zone has a particular purpose and will help to build different aspects of your ﬁtness. Let’s look at what those are now and give some example workouts too.
Heart Rate Training
Once you know your zones, you can then begin to work on your ﬁtness by structuring your training. A good training plan will have a balance of all of the training zones. This will allow you to work on your ﬁtness in a more complete way.
Zone 2 and Zone 3
Heart rate training in these zones is typically used in longer rides, which are designed to improve your endurance and your body’s fuel efﬁciency. By riding for longer, you can stimulate important changes like improved oxygen uptake, a stronger heart muscle and better fat burning capabilities.
An example workout might be 2-3 hours in Zone 2.
This is your threshold zone, and is roughly where lactic acid begins to build up in the blood. By training to improve your lactic acid buffering and raising your threshold, you can gain greater endurance and be able to put out more power before you go “anaerobic”.
An example workout might be 2x 15mins in Zone 4.
Zone 5 and Zone 6
These training zones are very high in intensity, and will work on your VO2Max. This is critical for endurance athletes like cyclists to develop, since it determines how much oxygen you can take in and deliver to the working muscles. You should be careful not to train too much in this zone, since it’s very taxing on the body. As a result, it can leave you run down if performed excessively.
An example workout might be 4-6x 3mins in Zone 5.
About Tom Bell
Tom is an elite-level professional cyclist from the UK, specialising in cross-country mountain bike racing.
In addition to an international racing schedule, Tom also coaches athletes and creates content to help other cyclists and mountain bikers improve their training and race performances. This includes everything from podcasting, to YouTube videos and blog posts.
Tom’s athletic goals for the year include a podium finish at the UK National Championships, to represent Team GB at the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships, and to have a strong performance in the UCI Mountain Bike Cross-Country World Cup.
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