Heart Rate Training and Max Heart Rate testing

17 Dec

Something I posted on the Beeston Cycling Club website. It came about from discussions within the club.

So a number of people are riding/training to heart rate zones. There’s nothing wrong with that really and I may have come over a little strong in previous posts. However my personal opinion is that unless you are training for something specific there is little point and you may as well just enjoy riding your bike.

Using perceived exertion is probably more reliable than HR training but needs a bit of experience. If you are going to train by heart rate I would still recommend going to a lab and getting a full test done so that you understand the whole picture. However if you can’t or are unable for some reason then then read on…

This is something I have cobbled together so is by no means exhaustive or complete and there are a number of ways of doing it. In addition I’m sure there will be comments and further clarifications that are worth reading through. I’ll edit this a bit as they are made and discussed. Please note that this is all my opinion and I am not trying to be descriptive or prescriptive about how people want to ride or train.

Heart Rate is a good indication of the stress the body is undergoing. Note that this is stress and not output. Hence heart can be unreliable for understanding the amount of work you are doing when riding. Like all scientific training you need to get a little scientific if you are going to use it.

Stress can be caused by a number of things including Work, relationship, tiredness, sleep, caffeine and adrenaline. That being said most of us can’t afford a power meter so if we want some way of measuring our performances and training then it’s the next best thing. It can also be useful to make sure you are working hard enough for your hard sessions and easy enough for your steady sessions. Heart rate varies greatly from day to day due to the factors outlined above so can be very inaccurate again. It also takes a while to raise to an effort level and stabilise, around 3-4 minutes is normal so it’s useless for short efforts and intervals.

If you’re going to use Heart Rate to train by or as a reference tool then it makes sense to establish a baseline to work from. Getting into a lab would be the best thing but this can be difficult and costly. The old way of 220 – your age is grossly inaccurate and can lead to you working much too hard or much too easy hence removing the point of HR training in the first place. I have seen people who are over 20 beats different from their 220-age predicted to their actual. However you can find your own Heart Rate yourself using a couple of simple tests.

In all cases I would make sure that you have someone with you both as motivation and to make sure that you are okay. In addition I would advise talking to your doctor as going to heart rate max is intense and could risk your health. This is done at your own risk! Your helper may also be needed to take your HR if your monitor does not have a max function. In addition make sure you are rested for a day beforehand. Your helper may well need to shout at you to keep it going. This will hurt! If you are not prepared to do this then rethink your use of a heart rate monitor due to the accuracy issues outlined above. You can do a sub-maximal threshold test which is a little more complicated which I may go into another time. It doesn’t really matter which test you do and as long as you go really really ahrd you can do your own thing.


Test 1: Indoor on a turbo, warm up well for at least 15 minutes gradually raising your effort level. Then do a 10-15 minute (your choice) max Time trial effort, for the last minute go as hard as you can and then sprint the last 10 seconds. You should get pretty close doing this. Make sure you keep pedal ling and warm down down another 10-15 minutes. You may need to repeat this several times to get an accurate result and get your pacing right but leave several days in between.


Test 2: Outdoors. Warm up again for at leat 15 minutes, find a hill that you can ride up for at least 500m and has a ramp at the end. In addition in would be useful to have a good long approach so you can get your speed up. Ride up to the hill at solid tempo and then attack the hill as hard as you can, Stand when you reach the ramp and go for it. You may need to repeat this a few times to really find out where you can get to. You may have to vary your approach speed to fatigue yourself properly. Be careful of traffic and other road users!

So what do I do with the data! There are many ways of setting zones/levels and each is only appropriate for you. But you have to choose one. I use the British Cycling Training Intensities. The zones are given in %age of max heart rate and then there is an RPE (perceived exertion) and a suggestion of a training duration with each one. This is just a suggestion and alternatives are out their that are less complicated.

Recovery – less than 60% – 1. very light – less than 1hr

Easy – 60%- 65% – 2. Light – 1.5 – 6 hrs

Steady – 65% – 75% – 3. Moderate – 1-4 hrs

Tempo – 75% – 82% – 5. Heavy – 45 mins – 2 hrs

Threshold – 82% – 89% – 6. Heavy – 30 mins – 1 hr

Maximal – 89% – 94% – 7. Very Heavy – 14 -40 mins

V02 – 94% + – 10. Extreme – 4-10 mins / intervals

Sprint – n/a – n/a – 30s + intervals

Now what you do with all that information is entirely up to you! Everyone is different and seeking different goals so it’s virtually impossible to make any general recomendations.


One Response to “Heart Rate Training and Max Heart Rate testing”

  1. Chris March 27, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

    I agree with what you are saying. When I started heart rate based training I used the 220 – age, and at first it seemed to work OK. But I soon noticed that that max heart rate was not really that accurate. About a month ago I had a clinical stress test done to determine my maximum heart rate, and it was well worth doing. I have since adjusted by heart zones and am seeing much better progress.

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