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How to Monitor Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones While Cycling

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Whenever you’re into an activity, your body responds to the intensity of your work via your heart rate. Heart rate refers to the number of heart beats per minute while it’s pumping blood. The intensity of your workout or cycling is directly proportional to your heart rate, which means, the faster and harder you ride, the higher your heart rate. Monitoring and knowing about your heart rate zones while cycling or working out helps you measure your overall health and physical fitness.

With improved body fitness, your resting heart rate will decrease and body efficiency will increase. When this happens, your heart will have to put in much less effort to pump blood, thus lowering the strain on it.

So how do you track your heart rate using heart rate monitors for cyclists and find the right training zones for cycling?

Read further to learn how, but first, let’s see what are the different parameters related to heart rate zones while cycling, as well as the different training zones.

Refer to the Cycling Diet Menu to Train Healthy to learn about the healthy diet for cyclists.

Parameters to Measure Heart Rate Zones While Cycling

Resting Heart Rate

This refers to the heart rate when you’re at rest and is best measured in the morning soon after waking up. Use a Heart Rate Monitor (HR Monitor) or check your pulse manually (count the number of beats per minute on the inside of your wrist), while you’re lying down and at complete rest. Then jot down the lowest figure on the monitor. Repeat this process for a week to find your average resting heart rate. You shouldn’t be under stress or any illness when checking for the resting heart rate.

How to Monitor Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones While Cycling
Check Your Pulse in the Morning

Maximum Heart Rate

Maximum heart rate (MHR) refers to your heart rate when you’re at the peak of any activity. In order to check your MHR, first, do a warm-up for about 15 minutes and then ride up a steady hill on your bicycle. Increase your speed for every one minute and ride seated for five minutes. The moment you can’t go any further (while seated), get down on your feet and sprint at your maximum speed for about 15 seconds. The heart rate you note immediately after this activity is your MHR. Make sure that you go for this test only if you’re fit and workout often. Alternatively, you can also download the ‘Wahoo RunFit App’ for easy MHR testing.

How to Monitor Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones While Cycling
Maximum Heart Rate After Exercising

Improve Your Fitness with the Use of a Heart Rate Monitor

Once you measure your resting heart rate, maximum heart rate, and average heart rate while cycling, test the zone in which you ride. Depending on whether you want to train for a big race or prepare for that tough hill climb or just lose weight, you can chalk out your own training zones for cycling. Follow your training plan in the right way, by spending time in every zone that’s required and not just rushing through it. This approach will help you improve your fitness level effectively.

What are Training Zones

Training zones basically refer to the different intensities at which we train. As a regular, enthusiastic cyclist, the knowledge of training zones will help you measure your training/riding intensity and determine a good training routine to improve your activity. You may find different information on the training zones on different sites, but you don’t have to be confused. Typically, no specific zone system can be ranked better than the other, so follow one particular training system and go with it every time. So, here’s one set of heart rate zones while cycling that you can follow for the Cycling-Inform’s Coaching program and for your own daily training.

How to Monitor Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones While Cycling
Cycling- Training Zones (Source)

Before you read further, you should know the two main terms:

Aerobic Threshold

It is the highest intensity level at which your body can cycle, without an increase in the blood lactate levels. At this threshold, anaerobic energy systems serve as the major producer of energy. Increased aerobic threshold allows you to run or ride faster, for a longer period of time before hitting the anaerobic metabolism (which is non-sustainable for long).

How to Monitor Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones While Cycling
Aerobic Threshold

Anaerobic Threshold (Lactate Threshold)

This is the workout intensity level at which the building up of lactic acid is faster than its removal from the body. It is a measure of the maximum heart rate that you’re able to maintain for an hour. It’s usually an individual’s functional threshold power (FTP). When you’re at the anaerobic threshold, your riding/running gets harder and you’ll notice a variation in your rhythm of breathing, from a slower to faster rate.

How to Monitor Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones While Cycling
Aerobic Threshold or Lactate Threshold

The following table explains the different heart rate zones while cycling :

How to Monitor Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones While Cycling
Different Heart Rate Zones While Cycling

If you do easily forget or want to stay motivated, you can write down your heart rate zones and schedule on your cycle. Frequent reminders to stick to the schedule can go a long way and this, in turn, will benefit your training. Syncing your device or cycle gadgets can also serve as a great way to keep track of your training and heart rate zones while cycling.

Remember to always pay attention to your heart rate zone, there are high chances that your heart rate will fluctuate during the ride, which is normal. Try to focus on staying in your zone and later checking the data afterward.

Cycling Australia: Official Heart Rate Zones While Cycling

After you calculate the factors like resting and maximum heart rate, you are ready to figure out your designated zones. The heart rate zones while cycling that you can optimize and incorporate into your training are categorized into six zones. These are described below.

  • <50% MHR with Rest – In this zone, you’ll be on rest and light training such as light cross-training exercises or walking. This zone is also called as ‘Active Recovery’ and generally taken up when you’re into maintenance-related workouts like Yoga and Pilates, or during a transition period.
  • 50-64% MHR, Recovery – This zone is mostly dedicated to recovery between those intense training sessions. You almost don’t work out in this zone and allow your muscles to rest before heading out for your next hard core training session.
  • Aerobic Endurance, 65-74% MHR, Zone E1 – Your aerobic base or cycling base (in this case) will be developed in this zone and you’ll be spending much time in this zone. It sets a foundation for your year-long journey by building the required amount of strength. This zone helps in building and improving your aerobic power, strength, and speed for cycling long distances. Zone E1 is particularly related to riding at a relaxed pace while conversing with friends or fellow cyclists, which facilitates warming up and cooling down on the inside.
  • General Aerobic Endurance, 75-84% MHR, Zone E2 – This is an important training zone wherein you’ll work on enhancing your muscle’s glycogen storage. You need to be careful in this zone because you’ll be working hard to build aerobic strength; while the lactate and VO2MAX threshold are still in slow development (being a part of medium-paced group rides comes under this category). This results in exhaustion, without actually having improved your body’s fitness. However, if you ride in this zone at a controlled pace, it will help you with interval training and also prepare you for a race. Doing this can help you become stable in your fitness much faster.
  • Anaerobic Threshold Endurance, 85-91% MHR, Zone E3 – Zone E3 is where you’ll actually get to see some improvement in your fitness. Also known as ‘strength endurance training’, this is a very important zone that helps improve your riding capability at anaerobic threshold. This is a crucial zone for those participating in cycle racing and endurance events. In this zone, you will be taking up interval training, involving short duration rides at high intensity, with no chances for conversation. It’s a hard training zone, which aids in building the tolerance to the muscle burn resulting from high-intensity riding.
  • VO2MAX Boosting, 92-100% MHR, Zone VO2 – The toughest training zone is the VO2MAX, wherein you’ll work hard to enhance your heart’s capability, in turn helping in the cardio output increase. This zone lasts for short intervals with extremely high-intensity training/riding, not allowing any conversation.

Myths Revolving Around Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) – Busted

Over the years, several beliefs have been built around the maximum heart rate and its effects on the body. While some of them were true, some others are just myths that have been busted. Check out some of the common myths associated with maximum heart rate and why they aren’t true:

MHR is the Same for People of the Same Age

MHR varies from one person to another and depends on the genes and the type of heart you have. While some of us may have extraordinary hearts tuned to intense training, some others may have a slowly progressing one. Does this mean that a person with high MHR is more fit than someone with a lower MHR? Absolutely not! The key lies in the fact that if you’re able to sustain your MHR for a longer time, your fitness level will be higher. It’s also normal to see reduced MHR as you age, which again, isn’t a measure of your fitness. Regular training and a healthy diet is what affects your performance and gives a measure of your fitness, rather than your MHR.

How to Monitor Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones While Cycling
MHR is Different For Everyone

Your Heart Will Burst if MHR is Crossed

Now that’s a terrifying myth!

It just won’t happen, because when your heart reaches a state of exhaustion (when it can’t pump blood effectively), your body will automatically slow down. Normally, you’ll have a minute or two at your MHR, after which your performance will come down.

How to Monitor Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones While Cycling
Keep Monitoring the Heart rate

There’s No Risk of Cardiac Arrest if You’re Below Your MHR

This isn’t true.

Heart attacks can happen at any stage, under any kind of load. However, as per cardiologist James Beckerman, the risk increases with high-intensity workouts, provided there’s a combination of higher blood pressure, high heart rate, and higher catecholamine (adrenaline gland-released hormone) levels. So, if you don’t have a history of heart disease, you need not worry.

Livingit Tip:
If you do have a heart disease, it’s best to consult your doctor before going for high-intensity workouts.

How to Monitor Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones While Cycling
Risk of Cardiac Arrest

MHR Stays the Same for Every Sport/Activity

Your heart rate varies with different activities and therefore, your MHR also differs.

Since high-intensity workouts like running involve much effort, your MHR will be higher during these activities. On the other hand, when cycling (because it involves some mechanical assistance) your MHR will be much lower.

There’s No MHR Means there’s Not Enough Effort

Some of us believe that if we’re not working out at our MHR, we’re not doing enough.

Wrong!

It should be understood that MHR activities must be done in moderation; else it can lead to extreme exhaustion and injuries. Moreover, when you vary your workout intensities, it’s much more productive than when you push your body through one high-intensity exercise every day.

How to Monitor Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones While Cycling
Do MHR Activities in Moderation

Heart Rate Gives a Measure of Your Effort

For instance, while cycling, in the first minute your heart rate may be 170 bpm; 180 bpm in the second minute and 190 bpm in the third minute. Though your heart rate has increased, the activity you’re doing is the same. Therefore, your heart rate cannot indicate whether you’re working hard or not.

How to Monitor Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones While Cycling
MHR Does Not Indicate Hard Work or Not

This article will help you learn the right approach to monitoring your heart rate as well as heart rate zones while cycling and thus, maintain a fit and healthy body. Now you can simply wear a heart rate monitor before you get out there and cycle your way to fitness. Several HR monitors and mountain bike heart rate monitors like the TICKR X, Wahoo TICKR, Polar, etc. are available today.

So why not make use of the benefits of a heart rate monitor, customize your training zones, and get effective results? Do tell us how your new experience was and share interesting tips and tricks that can help other cycling enthusiasts.

For more cycling information, read about the Benefits of Cycling to Work.

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