Heart Rate Training Basics For Cyclists

The biggest mistake that riders make is they don’t work hard enough on big effort days, and conversely, do not go slow or recover enough on off days. Using a heart rate monitor keeps you in the right zone.



Your heart rate is an objective indicator of how hard your workout is. While I am not going to provide a very in-depth analysis, let’s take the tempo ride as an example. A tempo ride is ridden at a pace that’s just below your lactate threshold. It’s a pace that would be difficult to maintain for hours, but it’s not so taxing that you tire in a few minutes.

Monitoring your heart rate during a tempo ride will help you determine and stay at the ideal pace. This zone is the pace at which your body is burning pure carbs for energy, and coincidentally, it’s also the pace where most riders either go too hard or too easy.

Going too hard will tax your body and increase recovery time, while going too easy doesn’t push your anaerobic system hard enough to see any gains.

Your heart rate tells you how hard you’re working. It is applicable to every training zone from all out sprints to recovery rides.



First and foremost, an LT test should only be performed if you’re reasonably fit. If you’re coming straight off of the sofa with the intent to race in a few months, be sure that you put in some solid base miles before you attempt to determine your zones.


You’ll need to find a relatively flat course that you can ride on for at least 30 minutes without being slowed or stopped.


Next, you’ll need a heart rate monitor. For best results, I suggest using a watch or GPS device that interfaces with a heart rate monitor, while having a lap button readily available.


First do a 15- to 20-minute warm-up. Start spinning lightly, gradually increasing gearing and cadence. The last five minutes should be near to 85-90% of your maximum effort.



For the test itself, you’ll be doing an all-out, 30-minute time trial. The goal of any time trial is to hold your maximum effort for the entire ride.

Ten minutes into your effort, press the lap button on either your watch or computer. The last 20 minutes (essentially one big “lap”) of the effort is what determines your LT heart rate, so be sure that you finish having given everything that you have.

The average heart rate (HR) of the last 20 minutes is your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR).


Using the LTHR, use the following formulas to calculate your zones.

  • Zone 1
    • Range: 0% <–> 81% of LTHR
  • Zone 2
    • Range: 81% <–> 89% of LTHR
  • Zone 3
    • Range: 90% <–> 93% of LTHR
  • Zone 4
    • Range: 94% <–> 99% of LTHR
  • Zone 5a
    • Range: 100% <–> 102% of LTHR
  • Zone 5b
    • Range: 103% <–> 106% of LTHR)
  • Zone 5c
    • Range: More than 106% of LTHR


Now that you have your Zones, you’re able to work more efficiently within the parameters of any training program, whether you hire a coach or strike out on your own.


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