Any workout using heart rate or cadence monitors will be built around the seven ‘zones’ of training. These zones are based around a percentage of your Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (THR).
How to find your THR is explained at the end of this article. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, don’t worry. These zones fit well with the rate of perceived exertion scale. Simply put, this is how you feel on the bike in each zone.
Video: heart rate training zones explained
This video is part of wider series created in association with CycleOps turbo trainers to give you a comprehensive fitness plan for maintaining and improving your cycling performance all year round. Stay tuned for further episodes in the coming weeks – or subscribe to BikeRadar’s YouTube channel.
The seven zones of training
Zone 1 – active recovery
Should feel very easy with little pressure going through the pedals. Breathing will be light and conversation easy. It’s usually used after a race or sportive / gran fondo event to aid recovery.
Zone 1 is less than 65 percent of your THR.
Zone 2 – endurance zone
More intense than zone 1. Conversation while riding should still be easy but breathing will be a little heavier. Well-trained riders can perform for three hours or more at this intensity.
Zone 2 is 70 to 83 percent of THR.
Zone 3 – tempo / sweetspot
Breathing is getting sharper now with more concentration required to maintain the effort. The result is that it’s harder to talk and will be starting to feel uncomfortable. Fuelling is important in this zone, especially if you are doing back to back days.
Zone 3 blocks usually last from 20 minutes to one hour depending on the instensity, and is 84 to 95 percent of THR.
Zone 4 – lactate threshold
Conversation while riding will be almost impossible and your breathing will be heavy, but not strained. You will be feeling the lactate burn and it will require concentration and determination to stay in this zone.
These efforts usually last for two sets of up to 20 minutes and can be hard to do back to back days.
Zone 4 is 95 to 105 percent of THR but it may take a few minutes for your heart rate to rise to this level.
Zone 5 – Vo2 max zone
This is a hard and painful zone so you should be suffering. Breathing will be heavy and the effort will be difficult to maintain. If you have all the above sensations you’re in the right place.
These efforts usually last for three to eight minutes and they’re difficult to do on back to back days.
Zone 5 is 106 percent or more of THR, it’s hard to get your average heart rate right during these efforts, so concentrate on how your body is feeling.
Zone 6 – aerobic capacity zone
These efforts are very painful and not far off a maximum sprint effort. They should only be sustainable for 30 seconds to three minutes. Any longer and you’re probably not trying hard enough! They’re very hard to do on back to back days.
Heart rate is too difficult to go by in these efforts, because of the lag in response from the effort being undertaken. Basically it should hurt a lot.
Zone 7 – neuromuscular zone
There are no parameters here – just go as hard as you can possibly go.
Zone 7 efforts are usually around 10 seconds long.
How to find your Lactate Threshold Heart Rate
To find your Lactate Threshold Heart Rate, or THR, perform a 30-minute all-out time trial by yourself. You should do it as if it were a race for the entire 30 minutes, so expect it to hurt.
Ten minutes into the test, press the lap button on your heart rate monitor. Stay focussed and push hard throughout the remaining 20 minutes.
Once you have finished press the lap button on your heart rate monitor again and look to see what your average heart rate was for the last 20 minutes.
That number is an approximation of your THR and you can use it to work out the different heart rates for your training zones. You should go hard for the entire 30 minutes, however most people doing this test go way too hard in the first few minutes and then gradually slow down. This technique will give you inaccurate results.
The more often you do this test the more accurate your THR is likely to be as you will learn to pace yourself better from the start.