Power meters are on the rise but don’t neglect the humble heart rate monitor on the bike, as training at different heart rate zones can pay dividends, whatever your level. Mark Kleanthous explains the best heart rate training zones for cycling, and the physiological adaptations of each…
Intensity: <60% max heart rate (maxHR)
Workout: This should follow a hard day. Cycle on a flat route or a turbo trainer. Essential to keep heart below 60% of your max bike HR.
Physiological adaptations: Increasing bloodflow to muscles removes waste products to accelerate recovery.
Intensity: 60-65% maxHR
Workout: Don’t go above 65% of your maxHR. You’ll recover quickly after this ride, allowing you to really put the hammer down during your harder sessions.
Physiological adaptations: Improves fat metabolism, and strengthens muscles tendons and joints.
Intensity: 65-75% maxHR
Workout: During your ride, unclip one leg and focus on full pedal revolution for 1min. Repeat on other leg for 1min. Complete up to 20 times each leg during the ride. If it suits, you can complete single leg cycling on an indoor trainer.
Physiological adaptations: You improve the ability to use oxygen; improved technique.
IMPROVE SUSTAINED POWER
Intensity: 75-82% maxHR
Workout: Improve your fitness by increasing by 5mins each week for 15 weeks, from 45mins to 120mins. Ideally choose a flat route to avoid downhill sections where you recover.
Physiological adaptations: Improve sustainable power and carbohydrate metabolism.
Intensity: 82-89% maxHR
Workout: Ride multiple loops and make sure you complete each loop in a similar time. The ideal is 3 x 20min loops.
Physiological adaptations: Raises anaerobic threshold.
IMPROVE AEROBIC POWER
Intensity: 89-94% maxHR
Workout: You need a 15min warm-up before riding at 89-94% of your maxHR for 14-40mins. It can take you one to three days to recover.
Physiological adaptations: Perfect training for coping with short-term fatigue on steep hills.