cycling utah April 2000


Get to the heart of your training with a monitor

By J.R. Smith

As a member of the cycling fitness community, you may have noticed that one of the most popular methods of training involves the use of a heart rate monitor. However, if you don't understand what your heart rate means, how to determine heart rate zones and train accordingly to them, it becomes a rather expensive and useless piece of equipment.

One of the most effective methods of training is the use of a heart rate monitor. Establishing your anaerobic threshold (A.T.) and maximum heart rate (M.H.R.) is central to effective training.

The generally accepted method of determining M.H.R. is for men to subtract their age from 220 and for women to subtract their age from 226. Your A.T. would generally be about 85% of your max heart rate. For example, a 27-year old female would have an M.H.R. of 199 and an A.T. of 169.

Like most general principles, this is only a guideline and every athlete is different. Consider a case of two Category 2 (elite-level) female athletes, both 27 years of age. Using the proper testing procedure (to be described below), one had an M.H.R. of 202 and an A.T. of 184 ( 91.1% of M.H.R.), while the other had an M.H.R. of 191 and an A.T. of 175 ( 91.6% of M.H.R.).

It becomes obvious that if they both used the general method of determining A.T., they would not train as effectively as they would using the A.T. and M.H.R. numbers derived from the proper testing procedure.

So, how do you determine your A.T. and M.H.R. using the proper testing procedure?

First let's determine the proper training H.R. zones and what they mean.

Zone 1 - Recovery after hard workout. Extended periods in upper range helps increase use of fats in producing energy. Percent of M.H.R. is less than 65 percent.

Zone 2 - Develops aerobic energy system. Extended periods in zone increases endurance and stamina. Percent of M.H.R. is 65-72 percent.

Zone 3 - Increases workload ability while still using aerobic metabolism. Percent of M.H.R. is 73-80 percent.

Zone 4 - L.T. (Lactate Threshold) Zone. Increases ability to work at higher percentage of M.H.R. while remaining aerobic. Allows athlete to perform at greater levels of work without increasing blood lactate levels dramatically. Percent of M.H.R. is 85-90 percent*.

Zone 5 - VO2 training. Usually short 100% efforts lasting up to approximately 30 seconds. Percent of M.H.R. is over 91 percent*.

*This number is your actual A.T. and may be slightly lower or higher, depending on individual efficiency (i.e.-in the above example, both athletes were over 91% of M.H.R.)

You may be wondering what happened to 80-85% of M.H.R.

This zone is sometimes called "the alactic zone", which you should not operate within for extended periods of time. Working consistently within this range tends to prematurely increase the buildup of lactic acid. This was extensively determined by lactic acid tests by the East Europeans on Olympic athletes, with the most thorough tests being done on their swimmers and track athletes.

Now that we have all this information, lets determine your individual M.H.R. and A.T. as best we can without going to an expensive sports lab. This will require taking a test, either outside or on a trainer, which should be done on a day when you are fully recovered. For each of these tests, you must warm up for 15-30 minutes and spend at least 15 minutes cooling down.

Testing outdoors

After proper warmup, find a hill and do several sprints at 100% effort until your heart rate does not go up to its previous high. The highest pulse you reach should be your M.H.R.

For determining A.T., do a 20K (12-mile) time trial at the maximum H.R. you can maintain for the full distance or by time (approximately 30 minutes). This is your A.T.

On a trainer

Start in a gear where you will not spin out at maximum effort (approx. 53 x 13). Start at a speed where your H.R. is approximately 65% of M.H.R. and increase the speed by one mph every minute.

When you reach a point when your breathing starts to become forced, you can no longer speak in complete sentences and your legs start to burn, you have probably reached your A.T.

Continue the test by shifting to a slightly easier gear and go 100%, then spin for a short time and repeat the effort until your H.R. does not go up. This should be your M.H.R.

Note: If you are not in the physical condition to do the above, are above 35 years of age, have not had a recent thorough physical exam or have been sedentary, it is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine that the above tests be performed with physician supervision.

Once you have established your A.T. and M.H.R., you can calculate your 5 training zones and schedule workouts for each zone, depending on your competition or endurance riding goals.

Remember to make training and racing fun-it's a lot more enjoyable if you do!

J.R. Smith is a licensed U.S.A. Cycling Elite Coach, Category 2 Official and masters racer. He has been involved in cycling for approximately 20 years and has worked with previous U.S. National Team members and National Champions as well as managing a professional women's cycling team. He also has instructed at Bicycling magazine and Olympic Training Center cycling camps. He presently operates a consulting business and performs services for coaching, bike fit, body composition analysis, and performance testing. He can be contacted at (801) 944-2456 or via e-mail at [email protected]

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