Heart rate zones - Struggling to stay in a low zone!

by madindehead   August 10, 2014  

Hello there,

I recently bought a heart rate monitor to complement by Edge 800. I have found that whilst our on my rides, I struggle to stay in a low heart rate zone. Now, I'm a bit overweight still (79 kg aiming for around 65-70 kg) and a bit unfit too, cycling regularly is my first proper exercise for a long time!

I find that my heart rate is always around the 149-186 mark for the majority of the ride, around 80% or so.

Is this something I should be overly concerned with? This link http://www.bikeradar.com/us/gear/article/heart-rate-monitor-training-for... suggests for endurance and weight loss to usually be in zone 1-2, perhaps 3 (so for me between 115-157 bpm).

I find I get bored if I go slower, but will going slower really drop me into those zones? I don't go extremely fast (again, because I'm unfit). Should I just keep doing what I'm doing? Or look to go easier?

Sorry if this isn't the correct place to ask. Hope someone has some advice Smile Thanks

25 user comments

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Don't worry about heart rate, just vary your rides , some short and fast others hilly if you can find them and the odd long one. If you cycle faster you burn more calories. Eventually it's get easier but not not alot, that's because you just get faster.

Once you have been cycling for a few months then you can adapt your cycling to what you like.

My personal likes are 30-40 milers quickly, but can ride 100 miles, just Smile

posted by CXR94Di2 [134 posts]
11th August 2014 - 6:04

2 Likes

Unless you've properly tested to get your mac hr the zones are irrelevant things.

glynr36's picture

posted by glynr36 [386 posts]
11th August 2014 - 6:35

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what glynr said .... set your garmin up with your actual resting/max rates and
go from there. zone 2 can be dull, dull, dull but it's also a great way to
a) shed the weight as this is the fat burn zone not calorie burn and b) see the
countryside Smile

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [709 posts]
11th August 2014 - 7:37

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Sorry, should have stated, that I used the formula on the original article (the weight based one) and looked at my max HR here (http://www.machinehead-software.co.uk/bike/heart_rate/heart_rate_zone_ca...) the formula says 192, and the website guesses 194 for my age. So I used 192.

I just feel that if I sit in zone 2 all day, I'll never actually get anywhere because I'm not doing anything.

posted by madindehead [28 posts]
11th August 2014 - 8:33

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Being a complete novice and trying to follow the British Cycling training plans last year, I really struggled with this. My HR was always at the top end of zone 3 or low zone 4. Eventually I just bit the bullet, turned off my speedo, stuck it in a really low gear and spun. If my hr got into Z3 I just eased off. Going so slowly was really frsutrating at first but it seems to have paid off. I am probably 10% lighter and 20% faster for the same perceived effort than I was this time last year and am able to cycle much further.

posted by the_jm [12 posts]
11th August 2014 - 8:38

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I don't normally look at my speedo a lot, I tend to focus more on my cadence overall. But I might give this a go the_jm.

So basically, low gear and go. And ease at zone 3. Which will be about 1 minute in Sad Still, people say it works, so worth it I guess.

Did you focus on cadence at all? Or was it purely on your heart rate zone?

posted by madindehead [28 posts]
11th August 2014 - 8:50

1 Like

Both, I struggled with cadence at first too! The BC training plans pretty much recommend cadence in the 90-100 rpm range. I simply couldn't do this at first, my legs simply wouldn't go that quick, I was always 10-15rpm down on this. So the focus was very much low gears, high cadence. It is definitely worth persisting with, my natural cadence is now always in the that 90-100 range and I no longer dawdle in zone 2.

posted by the_jm [12 posts]
11th August 2014 - 8:54

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Ok thanks. I usually try and keep my cadence around 80 rpm, but I will try and push it more to 90 and keep in the lower gears for a better heart rate zone.

I hope it works!

posted by madindehead [28 posts]
11th August 2014 - 9:06

1 Like

madindehead wrote:
Sorry, should have stated, that I used the formula on the original article (the weight based one) and looked at my max HR here (http://www.machinehead-software.co.uk/bike/heart_rate/heart_rate_zone_ca...) the formula says 192, and the website guesses 194 for my age. So I used 192.

I just feel that if I sit in zone 2 all day, I'll never actually get anywhere because I'm not doing anything.

That equation really isn't worth using, if you read about the history if it you'll find it has very little scientific grounding.
You need to do the proper test to get your Max HR, it's not fun but if you're serious about using HR as a tool then you need to do this.
Zone 2 is what you'd sit in on those endurance building rides in the winter, stick at it and you'll find the benefit of it.

If like you say cycling is the first proper bit of exercise you do, and have done for a long while then you'll be needing to build up endurance first before you can do anything else. What the_jm is saying is what you need to do, endurance isn't built over a few rides, it's over hours and hours in the saddle at a lower tempo, stick at it and you'll feel the benefit come next year.

glynr36's picture

posted by glynr36 [386 posts]
11th August 2014 - 9:07

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madindehead wrote:
Ok thanks. I usually try and keep my cadence around 80 rpm, but I will try and push it more to 90 and keep in the lower gears for a better heart rate zone.

I hope it works!

Cadence is a very individual thing, some people get better power output with a higher cadence, others a lower.
Me and my usual riding mate have a difference of about 20rpm or so, he spins an average of around 105, I spin at around 85. Still put out the same average speeds on rides (even individual efforts on the same routes).

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posted by glynr36 [386 posts]
11th August 2014 - 9:10

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If you're serious, try working with a good training plan. These mix things up a bit, giving you the chance to stick in some efforts and stretch your legs during long runs helping to relieve some of that boredom. They also have some more intense sessions built in too to keep things varied. I used the BC plans because as a member they were available freely, but I'm sure there are others out there.

posted by the_jm [12 posts]
11th August 2014 - 9:19

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I should use the BC plans yes.

For over the winter I plan to buy myself a fluid turbo, as I'll only be able to get outside on the bike at weekends.

I guess the heart rate plan of stick in zone 2 with low gears works really well on a turbo too.

posted by madindehead [28 posts]
11th August 2014 - 9:46

1 Like

As your fitness increases, you'll be able to maintain a higher cadence. Your cardo vascular system will increase and the higher cadence will soft the effort 'from your legs to your lungs'.

Disregard all formulas in favour of a test. They're inexpensive and quick. My HR zones actually correlate quite closely to the equation, but I don't know anyone else who can say that in my cycling circles. You may naturally have a higher maximum heart rate and a highish resting heart rate so you may be sitting in your target hr zone unknowingly.

posted by dannycarr2k [20 posts]
11th August 2014 - 10:01

1 Like

madindehead wrote:
I guess the heart rate plan of stick in zone 2 with low gears works really well on a turbo too.
It does, but that is really, really boring. The BC plans typically have a turbo/watt bike midweek session included and they try to mix things up to keep you interested. As part of the plan you will do a FTR test two or three times which may mean you adjust your zones as you train (I had to)

posted by the_jm [12 posts]
11th August 2014 - 10:08

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It's actually quite hard to ride without going out of trad Z2 / over 70% of 'max'. Hills will have you at 70% or more quite easily and being able to climb at ~65% takes some amount of conditioning I think.

This comment -
" a bit unfit too, cycling regularly is my first proper exercise for a long time! "

Means I'd not suggest doing this -
"You need to do the proper test to get your Max HR, it's not fun but if you're serious about using HR as a tool then you need to do this."

It's risky and you don't need to do it. A real Max HR test may not be a great idea if you're new to high intensity exercise. ---prob over-egging any risk there tbh but still, go easy unless supervised : )
Max HR isn't as useful as many suggest anyway. What's more useful is threshold HR, ie the max you can average over 20-30 mins of riding where you're bumping off the red line, the acid ebb and flow in your legs just sustainable. ie 10 mile TT pace. (edit to add, it's also 'easier' to self-test on a turbo and do it more regularly to keep tabs on fitness. It's a good training session for endurance work too.)

Look up Joe Friel's blog and read a bit about zones there, very useful and well-regarded stuff. He says max HR doesn't change much as you age but may change with conditioning or ability to hit that level, may also drop as you get fitter, so the old 220-age formula is pretty hopeless.

fwiw I no longer know my max HR. DIY tested in late 20s, 10 yrs later I'm not sure if I could hit that level anyway, perhaps my generally better fitness now means my heart works better and other things limit my max output, but my threshold level is fairly consistent at the moment. Any Z2 or interval work I do is based on that. Joe Friel's blog has a formula for working out zones based on threshold levels and that works well for training, at least in my limited experience.

posted by james-o [196 posts]
11th August 2014 - 10:09

1 Like

Thanks for all the info/advice so far.

I used to swim a lot when I was younger (for around 10 years) so I had pretty good base cardio fitness (i.e. my heart was used to doing cardio when I was doing most of my growing). I think I should be capable of attaining that again.

I will work at sitting in zone 2 in low gears for now. I have a nice flat loop which I quite often do, has good roads, and a small descent on it, it's around 10km long. So I can do multiple loops of that very happily. It's also close to my flat, so easy to get back to if I have problems.

I probably won't be doing the max HR test until I drop at least 5-6 kg of weight. For now I will work off 192. And sit in zone 2 for my workouts.

Any other advice is still greatly appreciated by all Smile

posted by madindehead [28 posts]
11th August 2014 - 10:19

1 Like

james-o wrote:
It's actually quite hard to ride without going out of trad Z2 / over 70% of 'max'. Hills will have you at 70% or more quite easily and being able to climb at ~65% takes some amount of conditioning I think.

This comment -
" a bit unfit too, cycling regularly is my first proper exercise for a long time! "

Means I'd not suggest doing this -
"You need to do the proper test to get your Max HR, it's not fun but if you're serious about using HR as a tool then you need to do this."

It's risky and you don't need to do it. A real Max HR test may not be a great idea if you're new to high intensity exercise. ---prob over-egging any risk there tbh but still, go easy unless supervised : )


Oh yeah totally, I should have put that too really.
I did mine on the turbo with a mate watching me, it was horrible.

Quote:
Look up Joe Friel's blog and read a bit about zones there, very useful and well-regarded stuff. He says max HR doesn't change much as you age but may change with conditioning or ability to hit that level, may also drop as you get fitter, so the old 220-age formula is pretty hopeless.

Friel's book is a very good read, and brilliant tool to use for training too, if you take the time to work with it and read it and understand it.
Worth the £15 or whatever it cost me, if you look around online you can find the 3rd edition up as a pdf somewhere...

glynr36's picture

posted by glynr36 [386 posts]
11th August 2014 - 10:25

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You say you ride regularly, I'm going to take that to mean two, thee or more times a week.
If you can get in one proper training ride with structured intervals (sst, thresholds, whatever works for you) then one at your tempo hr that leaves the rest for messing about. As you start seeing results the messing about may become boring and pointless and you'll get into riding tempo or efforts on most rides. Do make sure you give yourself enough recovery time between rides.

If you're just starting out it's so important to build a base via long tempo rides, don't worry about speed, that will come.

Give it a few years (training all year round) then start looking at power meters!

posted by realdeal [21 posts]
11th August 2014 - 10:28

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Yeah, that is 2-3 times a week. But I'd like to do more. Just my fitness lets me down really. But I realise that will improve as I go.

I'll take a look at the book you guys mentioned, as well as the guys blog. Will see what info that contains.

I realise I should probably use the good weather now to improve my fitness, but I'm just enjoying being out on the bike. The winter months are my main focus for improving my fitness a lot, with turbo during the week, and outdoor rides at the weekend.

I'll aim to get out and sit in zone 2, and see what that does over the next few weeks at least (obviously it's going to take a lot longer to see real progress).

I find that once I start to lose weight, I can do it quite easily, but I also put it back on easily too. I guess that's both a benefit and a curse. It took me around 10 weeks one summer to lose 10kg without a huge amount of effort, so the weight loss should come, and the base fitness will build during that time, and for months afterwards.

My final goal is to climb some of the Tour de France climbs in the alps and pyerenees, but that's probably a 2016 and beyond goal!

posted by madindehead [28 posts]
11th August 2014 - 10:39

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OK, first up, well done for getting out there and getting some great riding done.

Secondly, and more of a personal thing, congratulations for being a pusher of the pedals. I generally see two types of riders; one type like nothing more than to pootle around, taking it easy and taking in the scenery... the second, will like the scenery and getting out there, but will naturally want to push and go hard. If you want to get fit, being in the second camp makes your life a whole lot easier.

Moving on to heart rates, before telling you to simply go easier, I want to ask how often you ride your bike each week, and for how long?

If you are going out three time for 1 - 2 hours a time, then honestly, keep doing what you are doing, its probably the better intensity for you.

The reality of cycling is that to be as good as you can is pretty straight forward; you ride as hard as you can, for as long as you can, as often as you can.

Now what makes it interesting, and has carved a career for many coaches is the second part of each of the those elements; 'as you can'.

If you went out today and rode yourself into a box, chances are tomorrows ride is going to be rubbish... and imagine what the next days ride would be if you did the same again tomorrow?

So, going as hard as you can, for as long and as often as possible, is actually about balancing efforts and intensity based on duration and frequency.

Riding steady in Z2 low level 3, is about maximising time in the saddle and the benefits those hours bring... unless you are putting in those hours, there is little point limiting yourself to those steadier zones.

In simple terms, when riding steady-moderate efforts you are looking to develop the following;
- your pedaling efficiency (nothing makes you better at pedaling than pedaling lots and lots, especially when you are running low on energy or have tired legs.
- ability to process and store energy for cycling
- ability to utilise fat as an energy source at higher intensities

It is a commonly held myth that riding steady is better for weight loss. There seems to be a misconception that because you burn a higher percentage of fat as a fuel at lower intensities, this is better for weight loss.

What does makes it better for weight loss is that you can simply do more low intensity riding than you can ragging yourself silly... so chances are you might burn more calories from a 4 hour steady ride than you would a 2 hour hard ride. Plus you can do it again the next day.

The point I wanted to stress however is that if you are looking to maximise the utilisation of fat as a fuel, burn a lot of calories, and maintain a high volume of mileage, you are better off focusing around mid zone 3 efforts... This would equate to say 150 - 165bpm based on what I understand as being your zones.

posted by Jimmy Ray Will [278 posts]
11th August 2014 - 11:16

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Thanks Smile

I guess that makes a lot of sense. Low intensity riding isn't worth it if you're only doing 30 mins. But 2 hours worth is a lot more meaningful.

At the moment I am trying to do 30-mins to 1 hour, so the higher intensity makes a lot of sense I guess. I have a 10km loop near my flat which I flat on focussing on a bit, as I know what to expect on it, and I know I don't have to go flat out on it. That way I could do 1-2 hours on it, not get too bored with it, and aim to keep a steady pace.

posted by madindehead [28 posts]
11th August 2014 - 14:18

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OP - I have the same problem, out on the road, it doesn't take much of a hill to tip me over the upper limit of even zone 3. I've only been doing it for 5 weeks, and the last two was all about Ridelondon so I cut back on the hard workouts. I think I am noticing improvements but will get back on programme and keep trying a bit longer.

I'm alternating hard rides with easy ones, and trying to extend the easy ones out beyond 2 hours. It means doing a lot of miles, but that's easy at this time of year!

posted by Daveyraveygravey [54 posts]
12th August 2014 - 6:36

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That's a good rule... shorter and harder, longer and easier.

Another is to avoid sticking too many intense days together. alternating between intense and steady is a good way to do this.

The majority of us will see the greatest, most immediate improvements from training 3-4 days a week.

Leave the 5-7 days a week to those looking to be competitive or just super keen.

posted by Jimmy Ray Will [278 posts]
12th August 2014 - 9:34

1 Like

Thanks again for all the amazing advice Smile

I think I will stick to the shorter and harder, longer and easier approach Smile Hopefully I will see some good improvements from that!

posted by madindehead [28 posts]
12th August 2014 - 10:03

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I really struggle to put two intense days together; if I'm honest the day after an intense ride I might have a day off and then the third day would be easy, 4th go for it again. I've always taken longer to get over a hard effort than others and it makes something that is difficult to do unpleasant as well.

One question I have is to do with commuting. I would assume if I commute two days in a row, three of the four rides should be easy shouldn't they? On the assumption a night's sleep is the best aid to recovery?

posted by Daveyraveygravey [54 posts]
12th August 2014 - 19:04

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