You have to put your heart and soul into achieving your goals... that's why we're talking about riding with a heart rate monitor! Whether your goal is to lose 10 pounds or to develop explosive sprinting power, using a heart rate monitor while training can help get you to your goals.
How? Well, if you continue to read the tips down the page, you'll learn about the 5 basic target heart rate zones. The neat thing is that you can watch your heart rate go from one zone to the next and know that by changing zones, you are actually changing what is going on within your muscles, blood, and cells. Pretty crazy, huh? Often times, the words "Health," "Fitness" and "Performance," are used to categorize these changes to our body.
This doesn't mean that "health" minded riders should never climb a hill while out exploring on their bike, nor does it mean that a "performance" minded racer never rides easy while smelling the wildflowers along a country road. Variety is the spice of life! It is as important to challenge yourself as it is to rest yourself (see Peak Performance- Over Reaching). For example, a performance rider may ride in a low zone for 1 day out of 5 on the bike during the week. Following that pattern, a health or fitness rider might ride in a high zone for 1 day per week, but since they aren't "going for gold", they would probably prefer not to inflict such pain from these types of intervals on themselves!
In general, the lower the zone, the safer it is to stay within that for longer periods of time. Most endurance athletes do quite a bit of training in middle zones. They start in the winter or early spring doing interval work, sustaining their heart rate in higher zones, and then by spring and summer, they challenge themselves to highest intensity intervals such as hill sprints or several sets of power jumps.
This prepares their body for racing, which is nothing but a long, top zone interval. But don't think that to be a racer you should do nothing but "red-line" it for 1-2 hours per day. You'll end up tired, overtrained, possibly sick, with lowered levels of performance. Remember variety, variety, variety. The higher your performance goals, the higher zones you'll have to hit. But if you just want to be healthy and lean, don't beat yourself up by trying to hit high heart rates in spin classes or out on the road and trail. By going too hard, you may be working body systems that are not ideal for your goals.
The general rules I've heard over the years are:
Here's an example: last off season, I was taking a resting heart rate before bed after reading for about an hour (for me this is usually the same reading I get in the morning). My resting heart rate averages about 56, but that Saturday evening it was 86! I was feeling fine otherwise. I carried on with my planned Sunday workout, a 2 hour cross country ski. Immediately upon my return home though, I felt drained of all energy and couldn't find the energy to get up off of the bed for dinner. That night, and the next 4 days, were spent coughing and dealing with a chest cold. That meant 4 days of no riding or exercising whatsoever... torture for any athlete! I know better than to ignore changes in my resting heart rate, and lextended illness and lost training was the price I paid for not listening to my body that was trying to tell me it needed a rest day.
As your fitness level grows throughout the year, you'll see your resting heart rate decrease as your heart becomes stronger and more efficient at pumping blood through your body. Men tend have a lower RHR than women of equal fitness, so be careful not to make comparrisons with those of another gender or age than you. Monitor it regularly for insight as to how your body is doing- remember, your heart rate will give you clues before you even feel the effects of a cold, illness or fatigue brought on by over training.
Something I've mentioned a few times is the use of a Heart Rate Monitor during your training. Some people aren't into gadgets and think they distract from the enjoyment of a relaxing bike ride, but if you really want to fine tune your riding and performance on the bike, I feel a heart rate monitor can be a great tool to help you do that. They work by placing a flexible strap around your upper rib cage while wearing what looks like a watch on your wrist. Handle bar mounts are also available if you want to be able to easily see the readout at all times. The features run the gammut with prices running from $50-450.
This is an example of what the wrist portion of a heart rate monitor looks like
Why not look at speed to judge your workout? Well, are your going slightly down or uphill? Are you riding with the wind or against it? Are you riding with a group or by yourself? All of these factors will influence the intensity of maintaining a certain speed. You may not be challenging your aerobic system enough, or, even worse, you may be riding above it too early and/or too often in your training which leads to poor performance.
Heart rates have been likened to a tachometer in a car... they show how hard the engine is working. And for maximum efficiency, there is a zone that is best to keep your car's engine as well as your body's engine in while out on the road or trail. Keep reading down the page for more information to help you better understand your "engine" and how you can use its feedback to create dramatic physiological changes within yourself.
There are generally five different heart rate zones you may find yourself in during your workouts. Each zone has a differnt effect on your body as well as different overall outcomes after several weeks, months, or years of training. There are three different ways to determine your zones:
The first two methods are extremely accurate and preferred by elite athletes and coaches. However, they require laboratory testing or a field test. Joe Friel and Chris Carmichael have both written about how to do your own field test to estimate your lactic threshold. But one way you can estimate your zones without doing any tests is by using the third method. The plus is it's easy, but the minus is, it's the least accurate. I use method two with the athletes I coach, but it requires a very healthy and motivated athlete and a strict adherence to a testing protocol. And even then, there is a margin of error.
But to get you started with at least something, here are some formulas to use to roughly predict your max heart rate:
For example, using method 1, a 40 year old male weighing 180: 210 - 20 - 8 (180 x 0.05) + 4 = 186. Using method 2: 217 - (0.85 * 40) = 183. So already, you can see the "roughness" of these estimations.
This is just a rough estimate for your maximum heart rate. Everyone is an individual, and highly trained athletes can tough it out to sometimes surpass these predictions, but if you are without sophisticated testing equipment, this is a good place to get started. Most heart rate and endurance training books describe at least 5 different zones for workouts:
|Zone Name||Heart Rates||Purpose|
|Recovery||50-60% Max||Active Rest|
|Active Aerobic||60-75% Max||Aerobic Development|
|Endurance||75-80% Max||Aerobic Capacity|
|Threshold||80-85% Max||Lactate Tolerance|
|Strength||85-100% Max||VO2 Development, Sprinting|
Use your calculator to determine your specific heart rate zones. For example, our 40 year old male with an estimated max of 186 would take 186 x 0.6 to get 112 bpm (beats per minute). That would be his upper limit on days when he needs active rest, or a recovery day. Pretty low number, huh? It is as important to go easy as it is to go hard. Without active rest, which may even be going for a walk, your body may become tired, sore, injured, sick, slow, and unmotivated, from higher exertion training all the time.
His active aerobic zone would be 60%-75%, or 112-140 (186 x 0.75 = 140). His top aerobic zone would be 140 - 149. Most of this cyclist's riding should be done in these two zones, with early season riding staying in active aerobic, then moving into the endurance zones after about 1 month of active aerobic training. This is the cake. The frosting is in zones 4 and 5 that will go on in smaller amounts once the cake has been baked. Yummy!
The most common mistake I see recreational and competitive cyclists make is riding with their heart rate too high, too early, and for too long. I compare this to putting the roof on a house before building the foundation and the walls- the roof will do no good. It is just sitting in the ground. Only your aerobic training can raise the roof to new heights of physical ability!
One thing to note is that max heart rate is not a predictor of how good of an thlete someone is. Max heart rate has an age and genetic fator that is unique in all people. It is not thought of as something that in trainable. However, your lactic threshold and VO2 max are trainable, and that's what elite athletes pay attention to. They can go up with training, so with regular testing, these athletes can fine tune their heart rate zones to adjust with their fitness throughout the year. If you are interested, I recommend reading the training and testing methods by Friel and Carmichael.
The great thing about training/riding while paying some attention to your heart rate is that you can produce a variety of benefits by training in a variety of zones. If you don't know your zones, scroll up the page (get your calculator ready!) and crunch some numbers. Here are some interesting facts regarding preferred fuel sources in various zones:
So, if your goals include, or are centered more around weight loss/fat burning, you don't have to hit the red-line too much! This way you will be using the fuel stored on your body as fat if you stay in zones 1 and 2. However, a calorie is a calorie, and you will burn more of them by incuding intervals in the higher zones. You don't have to be loading yourself up on high carbohydrate foods, especially sugary sports drinks and energy bars, before, during, and after rides in zones 1 and 2. This carbohydrate comes from muscle and liver stores of susgar (glycogen). On the other hand, if you're going out to do a long (60 min+) workout or something hard like hill intervals, make sure you have sports drink and energy gel in your system and along for the ride. Consider your fuel source as having the right tools for the job at hand. I've shared some of my knowledge of fuelling up as an athlete in the Nutrition section of the website.
*source: Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes by Monique Ryan 2002 (I LOVE this book!)