Heart Rate Zones Explained

 Heart Rate Zones for Mapdec Cycle Studio 

Within three minutes of a question on heart rate being asked on the Mapdec weekly check in we had neatly demonstrated the complexities of the subject. We had 3, 5 and 6 zone models, all developed by different people such as Friel and Steiler, and all in use. Not to mention those models which have 4a, 4b or 5a, b and c….I could go on. So we have taken a bit of a mish mash and come up with a working  Heart Rate Zone model.  This model uses the Sufferfest model used at Mapdec with one or two tweaks – no 4a and b zones, that’s just splitting hairs and I know no garmin which uploads 4a and b religiously onto Strava.

The takeaways are –

-Don’t get too hung up on the fine detail or you will tie yourself in knots. I use Steiler’s 3 zone model, and have adapted my garmin zones to accommodate this – very simple. But most people use a five zone model, which is almost the same as Sufferfest, just think of zone six as the top of zone 5, it’s doing the same thing physiologically for our purposes ie it hurts a lot and you can’t do it for long.

-If you wish to use heart rate zones in training wait until you can do either a Ramp test, which tests you to your maximum heart rate over a period of about eleven minutes, or a Lactate Threshold Heart Rate which tests you over twenty minutes and is fractionally less extreme. Both are unpleasant but it is worth doing one….once. Don’t be tempted to use 220 minus your age to find your maximum heart rate, this generally produces an inaccurate result.

-If you are going to use heart rate zones buy a chest strap monitor, wrist ones are notoriously inaccurate and very hard to read when you are riding your bike.

-Up to 80% max heart rate or 90% LTHR will develop the aerobic base necessary for endurance riding. It will increase efficient oxygen use, capillary development, mitochondrial density, neurological endurance, and our slow twitch muscles.

– Working at between 80 and 90% of max heart rate, 90-100% LTHR, tempo or sweetspot training, will do many of the above and develop muscle strength, it is very effective used in fairly small amounts. Overdo it and you plateau and collect too much fatigue.

-Between 90 and 100% of max heart rate, 100-120% LTHR is where you are building lactate quickly, developing your anaerobic capacity and stimulating fast twitch muscles. It’s not essential to do much of this for recreational riding, great if you are intending to race, or just push it for fun now and again if you enjoy it.  As we age we tend to lose our fast twitch muscles so stimulating them enables us to keep them for longer.

-Spend at least 80% of your training time at or below a maximum of 80% of your max heart rate. This will develop a strong and essential aerobic base.

-Make the easy easy and the hard hard. What we tend to do is ride most of our time in middle land, 80-90% max, too hard to develop our aerobic base well or recover properly so we cannot then ride the 20% hard as we are too tired. Therefore our fitness remains at the same level, we get stuck. It is very common for club riders to be in this space – that Saturday morning ride which leave you feeling like you’ve worked hard and had a great time is the classic too hard to be easy, too easy to be hard.

RPE Description/Feeling Training impact Heart Rate Zones – if you work to a five or six zone system % of maximum heart rate % of Lactate threshold heart rate


1 Sitting on a sofa doing nothing.  Rest 1  Up to 60% real recovery land here, no training effect.
2 Getting up to make a cup of tea. Recovery/Aerobic base building 1 Up to 60% real recovery land here. 60-70% of LTHR
3 Easy paced recreational riding, slight feeling of exertion. Aerobic base building, easy club ride 1/2 Up to 70% – the golden land of aerobic base development. Most training time should be spent here, especially in the winter. 60-80% of LTHR
4 All-day paced riding, not easy but definitely sustainable. Able to maintain a full uninterrupted conversation. Aerobic base building, easy club ride 2 Up to 70% – the golden land of aerobic base development. Most training time should be spent here, especially in the winter. 70-80% of LTHR
5 Riding consciously quicker but still able to talk easily. Aerobic base building, easy club ride 2/3 Up to 80% the golden land of aerobic base development. Most training time should be spent here, especially in the winter. 80% of max heart rate is where the aerobic threshold is, this is the first point where you start to produce more lactate than you can clear, but you can still ride for several hours. 70-90% of LTHR
6 Upping the effort, only able to talk in short sentences. Tempo session Mapdec 3/4 75 – 90% 80-100% of LTHR
7 Building on Level 6, you could probably just about respond “I’m fine!” if someone asked you how you felt. Anaerobic –

Tempo session Mapdec

4 80 – 90% sweetspot, lactate threshold, can hold for an hour …with practice. FTP (functional threshold power) point. 90-100% of LTHR
8 Riding hard, you can only sustain this for a couple of minutes and only communicate with single word answers. Anaerobic session

Tempo session Mapdec

4/5 80-95% and upwards, hard, can hold for a maximum of 20 minutes. 90-110% of LTHR
9 Almost as hard as you can possibly push your pedals Anaerobic session

Threshold session Mapdec

5 90% and upwards, hard, can hold for a maximum of less than 20 minutes. 100-110% of LTHR
10 100% sprint for the line. Anaerobic

Threshold session Mapdec

5/6 95%  and upwards, hard!  At this level can only hold for seconds. 100 – 120% LTHR





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