A vital tool for cyclists, heart rate training can help you get faster, fitter, and stronger – all while reducing the chances of overtraining and burnout. But, that is only if you know how to find your cycling heart rate zones and how to track these zones while working out.
To take advantage of your heart rate when training, the first thing you will need is a high-quality heart rate monitor. The monitor will help you track your heart rate to know when you need to increase your pedaling effort to match your workout’s goal.
In addition to helping you figure out your heart rate zones, this guide will help you understand which zones will help you burn fat, improve your endurance, increase your speed, and boost your lactate threshold power.
How to Establish Your Cycling Heart Rate Zones
To find ideal parameters for your cycling workouts, you will need to first establish your resting heart rate and maximum heart rate. These can be established as follows:
Resting Heart Rate
To determine your resting heart rate, record your heart rate first thing in the morning, for seven consecutive days. Once you have your numbers – these may not be the same – workout the average. The average value will be your resting heart rate.
Before taking your heart rate in the morning, ensure that you are well-rested and not under any type of stress or illness. Put the heart rate strap on and then just lie on your bed (or couch) for a couple of minutes – try to relax as much as you can. Note the lowest number you see and then repeat the same procedure the following day.
At the end of the week, you will know what your average resting heart rate is. You can use this value confidently in your mountain bike workouts.
Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
A large number of people believe that it is possible to determine the maximum heart rate by subtracting a person’s age from 220. For some people, this might be accurate. However, for most people, the value you get will be wildly out.
The only accurate way to figure out the maximum heart rate is through a physiological test at a sports science center. It is, however, possible to get a reasonable estimate by performing a maximum heart rate test at home. The home-based test is only ideal for people who exercise regularly and have above-average fitness.
To complete the maximum heart rate test, warm up thoroughly for a minimum of 15 minutes. If you are using your mountain bike outdoors, find a steady hill, and then start fairly briskly. Increase the effort needed every minute.
Increase your bike speed while on your bike seat for a minimum of 5 minutes – remain seated until you cannot go any faster while seated on your MTB saddle. At this point, get out of your bike seat and put maximum effort on your mountain bike pedals to sprint for 15 seconds.
At the end of the 15 seconds, check your heart rate reading immediately. Alternatively, you can download the data and then look at the highest reading – this will be your maximum heart rate.
The 5 Heart Rate Training Cycling Zones
Once you have your resting heart rate and maximum heart rate numbers, you will be ready to work out your cycling heart rate zones. Most cyclists use 5 heart rate training cycling zones. Below, we will take a deeper look at the zones:
Zone 1 (50 to 60% MHR)
Also known as the active recovery zone, zone 1 is used for regenerative purposes more so than for inducing training stress. However, if you spend a long time in this zone, it can help promote peripheral adaptations around the slow-twitch muscle fibers. This improves the body’s aerobic metabolism capacity and the use of fat as the primary substrate.
If your goal is to lose weight through cycling, staying in zone 1 on long biking trips can help you burn fat. However, it is worth noting that the primary applications of zone 1 are during the active recovery rides of between 30 and 120 minutes. The zone is also used between work intervals in high-intensity interval workouts to help in the clearing of lactate.
Zone 2 (60 to 70% MHR)
When out with your hardtail mountain bike for a training session, this is the zone you should be aiming to accumulate most of your training in. This zone’s intensity is sustainable for hours at a time, and it is ideal for maximum stimulation of the peripheral adaptations mentioned earlier.
Zone 2 is ideal for training the muscles to get better at using fats instead of carbs for fuel. This is crucial because when the muscles use carbohydrates for energy, your body produces lactate and the associated acidic hydrogen ions as the byproducts – if these accumulate in the cyclist’s body, they lead to fatigue.
On the other hand, fat oxidation has no fatiguing by-products. For long rides, your body should use fat for fuel. Using carbs for fuel is only ideal if the bikepacking trip lasts for less than 1.5 hours.
Zone 3 (70 to 80% MHR)
Like zone 2, this Intensive aerobic zone does promote aerobic adaptations. However, unlike zone 2, the intensity is generally higher – this means that the zone should be used sparingly as it can lead to substantially more fatigue.
The main purpose of this zone should be to recruit extra muscle fibers that are generally not recruited while training in zone 2. The zone is extremely useful when it comes to building muscular endurance – that is, the ability to sustain your power just below the threshold without having a concurrent increase in oxygen demand or heart rate. Zone 3 can also be used by riders to increase the lactate threshold.
When using this zone, you should structure your workout into intervals. However, if your fitness is above average, you can use the zone for the duration of a full ride.
Zone 4 (80 to 90% MHR)
Zone 4 sits at the point where the rate of lactate acid production starts to exceed the rate of clearance. This means that lactate levels increase significantly when training in this zone.
The main purpose of training in zone 4 is to improve the ability of your muscles to shutter – that is, move – lactate away from your working muscles and to other parts of your body where it can be oxidized to generate energy. This helps cyclists improve their lactate threshold power. In zone 4, intervals last between six minutes and 40 minutes depending on the rider’s fitness.
Zone 5 (90 to 100% MHR)
This zone is at an intensity that elicits VO2max – that is, the maximum rate of oxygen uptake and use. Zone 5 helps cyclists increase their heart’s stroke volume. That is, the amount of blood – and thus oxygen – the rider’s heart can pump per beat.
When riding your commuter bike in this zone, you should limit the intervals to about 2 to 6 minutes. The intervals may, however, last longer if you use adjustable or oscillating power.
Note: Some cyclists find it helpful to tape their cycling heart rate zones on their road bike stem for easy reference. It is also possible to program most bike computers and running watches for the zones.
Examples of Training Sessions Using the Cycling Heart Rate Zones
Whether you are training for a 100-mile biking trip or you want to win an approaching 25-mile time trial, you can tailor your training to suit your needs. If your goal is to lose weight, cycling in the right heart rate training cycling zones will help you burn fat, shedding the excess weight in no time. Below, we have suggestions for sessions you can take advantage of:
Train in Zone 1 and 2 to Increase Your Efficiency
While long rides in Zone 1 and 2 can be slow and boring, they train the cyclist’s body to be more efficient. For these slow rides, discipline is extremely important. Hence, consider grabbing your budget road bike and riding them alone. If you have to join a group of bikers, confirm that they are on the same program beforehand.
On a regular session, spend three hours in zone 2. For this period, stick to the zone and do not feel tempted to push it when you are cruising uphill.
A Workout for Burning Fat While Saving Time
While Zone 2 can help you burn fat, it takes too much time. If you are busy, the zone may not work for you. By taking advantage of high-intensity interval training sessions, you will be able to burn more fat at a shorter time.
Start by warming up for up to 15 minutes. Next, do 4 to 6 sprints of about 30 seconds with 4 to 5 minutes of easy pedaling in between your sprints. During the all-out sessions, your heart rate should rise to between 85 and 90% MHR. If you do this consistently for 6 to 8 weeks and eat right, you should be impressed with your weight loss.
Improve Your Endurance
To improve your endurance, you will need to train in zone 2 and zone 3. Do 1 session of 2 to 4 hours in zone 2 and then another session of 2 hours in zone 3 every week. Once your base is more established, consider adding a couple of long intervals – this will help you develop both speed and endurance.
Q: What Is A Good Average Heart Rate While Cycling?
The ideal average heart rate for cycling depends on the age of the cyclist. For example, if a 30-year-old has a maximum heart rate of 190 beats per minute, the ideal average heart rate will fall between 95 and 133 beats per minute when he/she is cycling at a moderate pace. However, if the cyclist decides to cycle at a vigorous pace, the average heart rate may go up to between 133 and 162 beats per minute.
Q: What Are the 5 Different Heart Rate Zones?
The 5 heart rate zones are outlined below:
- Zone 1 – 50 to 60% Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
- Zone 2 – 60 to 70% MHR
- Zone 3 – 70 to 80% MHR
- Zone 4 – 80 to 90% MHR
- Zone 5 – 90 to 100% MHR
Q: How Long Should You Train in Each Heart Rate Zone?
While the duration you spend in each heart rate zone may vary for different cyclists, the durations outlined below should be ideal for the average cyclist:
- Zone 1 – 30 minutes to 2 hours
- Zone 2 – A maximum of 1.5 hours
- Zone 3 – 30 minutes to 1 hour
- Zone 4 – 6 to 40 minutes
- Zone 5 – 2 to 6 minutes
Q: Why is My Heart Rate So High When I Cycle?
Over-exertion is one of the reasons the cycling heart rate goes up. For example, if you try to sprint up a hill using your downhill mountain bike, you will end up with an incredibly high heart rate.
Q: Why Can't I Get My Heart Rate Up When Cycling?
If you can’t get your heart rate up while riding your mountain bike, chances are, the terrain is making your cycling extremely easy. The heart rate will start to rise once you encounter areas where you have to use additional effort.
Q: Does Cycling Lower Heart Rate?
Riding a bike won’t lower your heart rate. However, your heart rate may change depending on the amount of effort you are using. For example, when you change to biking downhill after spending some time on an uphill climb, your heart rate may decrease.
Globo Surf Overview
To become a better cyclist, you need to put a focus on planning your workout sessions better. Understanding your cycling heart rate zones puts you a step closer to getting maximum benefits from your training sessions.
In this guide, we have taken a deeper look at the heart rate training cycling. We have also described some exercises you can use to take advantage of different heart rate zones.