Heart Rate Training – Zones & Benefits

Heart Rate Training Zones
Heart Rate Training Zones

I’ve covered elsewhere on this site how to work out heart rate zones...there’s probably 50 ways of doing it with 50 different sets of zones. Your heart doesn’t work in ‘zones’ but these zones approximate the changes/responses happening in your body because of exercise/stimuli.

Well I wondered exactly what these zones do to your body. I found the answer to that on the WATTBIKE website. They use the methodology used by British Cycling…so, er, it’s probably right. Evidence: UK dominance of cycling at 2012 Olympics.

Use this spreadsheet Calculator.

They determine training zones by percentage of maximum heart rate, percentage of maximum minute power and duration. Each training zone has a different purpose as defined in the following table:

Training Zone Purpose % MHR %MMP RPE (1-10)/How you feel Duration
Recovery Regeneration and Recovery < 60 < 35 1 Very relaxed. Able to carry on a conversation. < 60’
1. Basic Establish base endurance 60-65 35-45 2 Relaxed. Able to carry on a conversation. 90’-360’
2.Basic Improve efficiency 65-75 45-55 3 Working. Feel warmer. Heart rate and respiration up. May sweat. 60’-240’
3.Intensive Improve sustainable power 75-82 55-65 5 Hard work. Heart rate and respiration up. Carbon dioxide build-up. Sweating. Breathing hard. 45’-120’
4.Intensive Push threshold up 82-89 65-75 6 Stressed. Panting. Sweating freely. 30’-60’
5.Maximal Sustain a high percentage of maximal aerobic power 89-94 75-85 7 Very stressed. Gasping. Sweating heavily. 14’-40’
6.Maximal Increase maximum power output > 94 85-100 10 heavily stressed. Gasping. Sweating heavily. 4’-10’ intervals
Supra-maximal Increase sprint power output N/A > 100 10 extremely stressful. Gasping. Sweating heavily. Short intervals

Your HRmax for cycling could be 5-10 bpm lower than your running HRmax so you need to either do a proper test or accept the consequences of not so doing!

Calculate your zones <here>. I based mine on 189 (5 lower than my run HRmax) and 390w. I’ve never hit 189 on  bike but the zones that come out seem sensible.

Training Zone HR (bmp) Power (w)
Recovery < 113 < 137
Zone 1 Basic 114 – 123 138 – 176
Zone 2 Basic 124 – 142 177 – 215
Zone 3 Intensive 143 – 155 216 – 254
Zone 4 Intensive 156 – 168 255 – 293
Zone 5 Maximal 169 – 178 294 – 332
Zone 6 Maximal > 178 333 – 390
Supra-maximal N/A > 390

The following table summarises the purpose and physiological adaptation of each of the training zones.

Training Zone Purpose Physiological Adaptations Race fitness
Zone 0 Regeneration and recovery Increase blood flow to muscles to flush out waste products and provide nutrients Promotes recovery and therefore training response
Zone 1 Establish base endurance Improves fat metabolism, gets muscles/tendons/ligaments/nerves used to cycling. Increases economy More efficient use of energy. Prepares body for harder training, works on technique/skill
Zone 2 Improve efficiency Improves the ability to use oxygen, produce power and increases efficiency Able to produce more power with the same level of effort, works on technique/skill
Zone 3 Improve sustainable power Improves carbohydrate metabolism, changes some fast twitch muscle to slow-twitch Improved sustainable power, good for all cycling events
Zone 4 Push threshold up Improves carbohydrate metabolism, develops lactate threshold, changes some fast twitch muscle to slow-twitch Improved sustainable race pace, useful during tapering or pre-competition periods: too much time in this zone can cause staleness
Zone 5 Sustain a high percentage of maximal aerobic power Develops cardiovascular system and VO2max, improves anaerobic energy production and speeds turnover of waste products Improved time trialling ability and resistance to short-term fatigue
Zone 6 Increase maximum power output
Supra-maximal Increase sprint power output Increases maximum muscle power, develops neural control of pedalling at specific cadence Develop race-specific skills at race pace, starting power, sprint speed, and the ability to jump away from the bunch

Use this spreadsheet Calculator.

Estimating Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) and Maximum Minute

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1 thought on “Heart Rate Training – Zones & Benefits

  1. Hi,
    I’ve been looking for a broader breakdown of heart rate zones and I really like the way you have outlined the 8 different zones and their purpose.
    Would you recommend choosing one pace for a training session or vary the pace over a broad range of zones?



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