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Heart Rate Training Zones- How do I train to Improve

by Anshuman Sen
Heart rate Zones

Which Heart Rate Zone Do I Train to Be A Better Cyclist or Runner?

This article is for you if your answer to any of the below questions is yes.

  • Are you a newbie fitness enthusiast?
  • Are you looking to lose weight and fat?
  • You are an average runner or cyclists and want to make improvements
  • You are a serious runner or cyclist and want to increase your speed/pace or simply increase your endurance.

If your answer is yes to any of the above then you must understand about heart rate zones and how to structure your training around these zones. Firstly I would like to help you understand what heart rate zones are available and how to calculate these zones for yourself. Then I would like to help you create and plan your training around these heart rate zones to achieve your goals.

What is Heart Rate and How to calculate your Heart Rate

Your Heart rate is basically also called your pulse rate, this speaks about how many times your heart beats in a minute to supply blood to your body.

We are worried about two basic figures, your resting heart rate, and your maximum heart rate.

Resting Heart Rate

Resting heart rate could be best measured right after you wake up in the morning. Measure this over a period of a few days and take the average. This helps in negating any errors.

Maximum Heart Rate

Maximum heart rate depends on a lot of things, and should ideally be done using a stress test setup. However, this test is not easily available hence a very simple calculation could be used.

Simply subtract your current age from 220 to arrive at your maximum heart rate. For example, my age is 32, so I will do 220-32 to arrive at a maximum heart rate of 188 bpm.

Please note your maximum heart rate depends on your current fitness levels, your genetics and a lot of other figures. However, for basic training needs the above calculation works best.

Heart Rate Zones

Heart rate can be divided into 5 zones.

HR Zone % of Max HR Age Calculated number for a 32-year-old (bpm)
Relaxed 50-60% 94-113
Light (Recovery Zone) 60-70% 113-132
Moderate (Aerobic Zone) 70-80% 132-150
Hard (Anaerobic Zone) 80-90% 150-169
Maximum (V02 Max Zone) 90-100% 169-188

Heart Rate Zone 1- 50-60% of Max HR

This is also called as very light Intensity Zone or relaxed intensity zone. One must start their training in this zone. One is very relaxed in this zone and you would be able to carry out cycling or running in this zone while carrying out an easy conversation.

To train in this zone one should choose sports like cycling on flats or walking where they can control their heart rate.

Heart Rate Zone 2- 60-70% of Max HR

This is called as Light intensity zone or fat burning zone. Exercising in this zone feels light and you can go on for long durations at this intensity. Working out in this zone will help you increase your general endurance and your body gets better at burning fat and your muscular endurance would increase.

Heart Rate Zone 3- 70-80% of Max HR

This is your aerobic zone. If you are into long distance endurance rides and runs then your body would mostly be working in this aerobic zone.

Working out in this zone would increase your cardiovascular endurance and your overall general fitness. Your body will get better at carrying oxygen to your muscles and remove carbon dioxide. Working out in this zone would mean that you are out of breath.

This is the zone in which lactic acid starts building in muscles.

Usually, a decent high cadence steady cycling or a steady run would put you in this zone.

Heart Rate Zone 4- 80-90% of Max HR

The Anaerobic zone. Working out in this zone should put you out of breath and you would be able to barely breathe. This is a zone in which your body is burning glycogen and producing the bye product of lactic acid which your blood is not able to clear out. You can only work in this zone in short bursts.

Training in this zone would help you improve your lactate threshold and help improve your sprint speeds.

Heart Rate Zone 5- 90-100% of Max HR

This zone is called as your v02 max zone. This is a very intense zone and you can only maintain this zone for a few seconds. Like intense all-out sprints. In this zone, your muscles are in an oxygen debt and you will really feel the burn.

Short training sessions in this zone would help you improve your speeds and sprints.

How do you track your Heart rate during training?

One should ideally invest in a chest strap heart rate monitor as it is more accurate. However, some wrist-based smart watch heart rate monitors have also been found to be around the mark.

If you cannot invest in an expensive bike computer with a heart rate monitor, you could get a more cost-effective smartwatch or simply work with understanding your nasal breathing rate.

Refer to the chart above for understanding nasal breathing heart rate zone approximation.

Which Heart rate Zone should I be training in?

If you are looking to improve your running or are looking to target long distance endurance rides like BRM, then you must focus your training in Zone 3, i.e. Aerobic zone. Spend most of your time on the saddle looking at long distance cadence focused rides.

This will help you increase your general fitness and help you stay on the saddle for longs hours and duration.

In case you are looking to target to increase your spirits and speed then you should train around zone 4 and zone 5 with hill repeats or HIIT sessions. However one must not try to train in zone 4 and zone 5 until later in their training calendar, not until they have a good foundation base training in zone 2 and 3 for improved fitness and endurance. Also, zone 4-5 training should ideally be added for 1-2 times a week with adequate rest and recovery in between.

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[…] To simply put it, cycling is a cardio workout. The more one pushes, the higher one’s heart rate goes. There is a lot of science behind heart rate, aerobic and anaerobic workout and how blood clears the lactate build up. One needs to focus on building endurance as well as building the ability to climb hills better or being able to maintain a sprint effort a little longer. One needs to train with heart rate zones to see better results. You can read more about my article on heart rate zone based training here. […]

Anish January 29, 2019 - 2:01 pm

Nice info.Very helpful


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