Heart rate training zones

There are a number of ways to monitor how hard you are working in a training session, the most popular (and certainly most useful outside of track cycling) are feel (or rating of perceived exertion, RPE), heart rate or power. The simplest way to guide your effort is using the feedback from your body to decide how hard you are working - cyclists were performing at a very high level long before the advent of modern technology! However at PBscience we would highly recommend investing in a heart rate monitor to aid your training, as a minimum requirement. At the very least, a basic heart rate monitor will give you real time feedback on the amount of ‘strain’ your body is under during your training session and these can be picked up fairly cheaply. For a little more money you can get a downloadable monitor to keep a record of all your sessions which will help you track your sessions over time. By far the most popular are the devices by Garmin (all the PBscience staff use their products) but you can also get cheaper alternatives from Mio and Bryton for example. For some people, it’s all about the numbers – if you fall into this camp, the downloadable option could add to your enjoyment and motivation.

Once you have your heart rate monitor, you need an individual frame of reference against which to judge your data. The way we describe your training intensity is through the exercise training zone system. These are derived from laboratory measures of your physiological response to exercise across a range of intensities, from rest, right up to flat out sprinting at the limit of your capabilities. Cycling in a particular zone has a distinct effect on your body and the resultant adaptation to the training session so it is important to get your zones set accurately. More information on this topic can be found in our factsheet The physiological basis of the training zones. The best way to do this is to undertake a full physiological assessment by way of a lab test. If this is something that interests you please contact for more details on what’s involved.

Alternatively, your training zones can be estimated (with good accuracy it has to be said) from some basic information and a little work in the way of testing ‘in the field’. The following describes how you can set your heart rate zones using a simple (not necessarily easy!) test on your bike

Test Protocol

  1. Warm up for at least 15 minutes, including a gradual build in intensity to prepare yourself for the efforts to come
  2. Ride hard for 5 minutes, not quite flat out but roughly 90% effort
  3. Take 10 minutes easy pedalling to recover
  4. Now for the main test. Try to perform this on a relatively flat, low traffic circuit where you can ride for 20 minutes without interruption. Ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes taking care to pace the effort so you don’t start too hard and fade dramatically
  5. Take 10-15 minutes easy riding to recover and cool down.

Take the average heart rate for your 20 minute test and use this value to derive your zones in the table below.