#GetCycleFit – Heart Rate Zones

As I (very) recently decided to dedicate a month to cycling with a purpose, I’ve had to do some fast learning when it comes to the techier side of working out. In the past, the way I would try to get faster or stronger was very simple – I’d just ride my bike more and ride it harder and faster.

Now I have James helping me out, I’m looking to finely tune my rides to see whether this approach is better, well, I know it’s better, but I’m planning to find out by how much, and whether this approach could be something I’d stick with.

In the past I’ve been very anti-training as I prefer cycling to be fun, and completing grueling sessions sometimes isn’t. But what if I just haven’t stuck with it for long enough to see results, or to really ‘get into it?’ What if that’s why I’ve never liked it?

So for this month, I’ll be doing exactly as instructed, or at least trying as hard as I can to do so. And in order to really understand how hard I’m trying and the efficacy of the workouts, James has figured out my heart rate zones so he can tell me at what level of effort I should complete each part of the session.

So what exactly are heart rate zones?


There are six different heart rate zones that sportspeople generally work with, from Zone 1 which is very mellow indeed, to Zone 6 which I’ve never even managed to get to, because Zone 5 requires your heart to work like the clappers and normally means you’re in a world of pain! Working out in each of the zones has a specific purpose and if you know what you’re doing, heart rate zone training can be a very effective way of increasing fitness and achieving your targets, whether it’s to race or complete a long sportive.


Juliet elliott racing at Torbay Velopark


Which zone does what?


Zone1 – Active recovery. Training in this zone can help flush out waste products in the muscles. Also for used for some longish rides.

Zone 2 – Endurance. This is your base training zone. Riding in this zone can improve your efficiency.

Zone 3 – Tempo. Training in Zone 3 helps develop aerobic power and endurance.

Zone 4 – Threshold. Zone 4 training can improve your race pace.

Zone 5 – VO2 Max – Zone 5 training improves resistance to short term fatigue and lactate tolerance. Lactate is a waste product that builds up in your muscles when you exercise and makes your legs hurt, so resistance to this is a good thing.

Zone 6 – VO2 max and lactate threshold. Training in this zone ‘aids tolerance to the repeated high end efforts you will find in a crit. ’

PS I am not a personal trainer or qualified in any way, so if I’ve made a mistake here, feel free to (politely!) tell me.

Comments (5)
  1. Spatch June 9, 2015 at 10:03 am

    I’ve always enjoyed cycling more when there’s no screen on my bar. While friends climb at a steady X watts or BPM, I refuse, and convince myself that’s the only reason they reach the top before me.

    Having said that, this year for the first time I have embarked on a proper training regime (Sufferfest), and the results have been amazing. Still no screen on the handlebars, but plenty of turbo-pain that has consequently made my proper riding much more enjoyable.

    • Juliet_Elliott June 9, 2015 at 10:43 am

      I’ve always liked recording my rides but never analysed the data – i just wanted to see where i’d been and how long/far I’d ridden. Now I’m riding with a purpose it’s really hard not to just focus right in on the screen and miss what’s going on around you. For that reason, I’ll be going for a ride in the sun without my Garmin today.

      And Sufferfest, argh, you sadist! Those videos are super tough! My problem with them is that I can’t stand cycling inside – I have to be desperate to do it. But clearly you’re made of stronger stuff than me!

      • Spatch June 9, 2015 at 12:17 pm

        Yup, I Strava all my rides via my phone. No data during the ride, just an hour spent afterwards checking my stats and segments!

        I would never had stuck with Sufferfest had I not bought the training plan to go with the iPad app. Was determined to tackle the Etape next month in some kind of form (not getting any younger), but as a result am fitter now than I’ve ever been!

  2. the5krunner July 7, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    yes agreed re the HR zones. more intelligent training can reap better rewards. the zones do have physiological and biomech benefits however it’s important to understand which zones to be in at which stage/period of your training cycle and also which zones are most appropriate for your target race distance. gets quite complex quite soon. Throw in running and swimming and it soon becomes a real mess. nice blog keep up the good work, love the images.

  3. Ashlyn Trider August 18, 2015 at 12:43 am

    I think HR training is fantastic. I also agree that too many “tech” things on the bar makes riding more of a science experiment instead of just a ride. With that said, I’ll sometimes ride with my Garmin powered on and flipped under my stem or leave it powered on and place it in my jersey pocket so I can at least get the data captured and look at it later, while I am drinking a cold beer and licking my wounds. 🙂

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *