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  1. #1
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    Heart Rate Zones and Improving Heart Rate

    Hey all,

    I've seen a lot of information and discussion about what heart rate zones to train in for weight loss, but I am curious (or confused) as to what is best for improving my overall cardiovascular health, resting heart rate, etc. I'm 32 and not in the greatest shape (but not the worst either) and most of my riding time seems to be spent in zone 4 (90% +). For example, I just did a short 29min ride where my heart rate was in zone 4 for 73% of the time, zone 3 24% (however, my last ride before that was 18% z4 73% z3 over 39 min, and before that 86% z4 10% z3 over 59 min).

    I don't feel overly out of breath or anything in zone 4 really, though sometimes I feel I'm becoming overly fatigued or fatigued too quickly (the Arizona summer doesn't help much, especially when my rides are usually mid day). I also realize the heart rate zone calculations used by bike computers (in my case, the Sigma ROX 10) can be subjective.

    Should I try to ease up (something I find very hard to do) to see better improvements in my cardio health or is a lot of time spent in higher zones fine as long as I can handle it?
    1989(?) Scwinn 754
    2013 Cannondale CAAD 8 5

  2. #2
    Hardening the F up
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    So what's your personal, tested or at least reasonably estimated LT? If you can't answer that question, then your computer is just makin' stuff up.

  3. #3
    Senior Member linnefaulk's Avatar
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    How long have you been riding?
    My first two months were just riding where I was comfortable at. I noticed little improvement aside being able to ride longer.
    Once I got a HRM, I started riding more in zone 2. By the end of the month, I found I had to ride harder to get and stay in zone 2. I saw my average speed increase.
    sharon

  4. #4
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    I've been riding basically a year now, though with some months of reduced riding (last semester leading up to my doctoral dissertation defense in April and long lasting cold last March). I noticed my best gains in speed and feeling of fitness (including HR while riding) after getting into January. I experienced big improvements basically riding more or less the same as I am now (though the cooler temps were much easier )

    My longest ride was (still is) 52.5 miles last December (began riding regularly mid-September) on surface streets around Tempe/Chandler/Gilbert. No stops or breaks other than stop lights. Average of 15.7mph, 2hr 43min between 149-168bpm (my bike computer's z3), no zone 4 time.

    Just about an hour ago I completed what is probably my first zone 2 dedicated ride (based on my bike computer). 73% zone 2 over 61min (basically 48min in zone 2). I was around 145bpm most of the ride. Aside from the ride feeling painfully slow, in terms of both speed and cadence, I felt fine once I finished and felt like I could have continued riding for much, much longer. I basically drank no water (though the temp today has dipped into the mid-high 90s after last night's storm instead of mid-high 100s). With how I usually ride, I typically drink a lot of water (finishing 1-2 bottles depending on the ride length and effort) and feel pretty exhausted afterward.

    As for my lactate threshold, I will admit I have no idea what it is and do not have much knowledge when it comes to this topic. Looking into it a bit, I can see the value in finding it. I can ride for over an hour in the 160s and 170s, so I'm guessing my LTHR must be higher than that. I have a mile loop nearby where I can do some uninterrupted laps, maybe I'll go there to try to get a better estimate of soon.
    Last edited by ckFoxTrot; 09-05-14 at 03:19 PM.
    1989(?) Scwinn 754
    2013 Cannondale CAAD 8 5

  5. #5
    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    I don't think there is any specific HR that could be said to be "best for improving [your] overall cardiovascular health...". The question is too broad.

    There is mounting evidence that short (very short, maybe as short as 30 seconds) periods of maximum effort have a markedly beneficial effect, increasing VO2 max, reducing insulin resistance and other good stuff. So there seems to be a good health, as well as fitness, reason to include some all-out intervals in one's weekly routine. Warm up, then full power for a minute, spin easily for a minute, repeat a few times for maybe a 12-minute session, then warm down. Almost certainly useful.

    Obviously, however, one should not train at this intensity all the time. My own experience is pretty much in tune with what one reads in a lot of the literature, namely that building a big base of aerobic fitness by spending a lot of time in Z2 is very helpful. It may feel "painfully slow" compared with what you are doing at the moment, but what typically happens is that one fairly quickly sees an increase in speed for a given HR. So, say one averages 16 mph at 130 bpm at the outset, after a couple of months of fairly high volume one might see an 18 mph average at 130 bpm. (I'm picking these figures out of the air for the sake of example, they aren't targets to aim at or whatever). Plus, the base of aerobic fitness one develops makes it much easier to tolerate and recover from the more intense interval sessions that one builds in as time goes by.

    It is probably also worth noting that there is some research that suggests extreme endurance athletes (multiple marathon runners, ironman triathletes, pro cyclists) appear to be more likely than the general population to develop arrythmias in later life. It's important to put this in context - people who exercise intensely enjoy greater life expectancies than those who don't, and having a high VO2 max appears to correlate well with longevity - but it probably lends support to the idea that most of one's training should be at low-to-moderate intensity, with short periods at very high intensities, and that simply banging along all the time at or just below one's threshold isn't the best thing, either for one's health or in terms of efficient training.

    On the subject of efficient training, coaches frequently say that the commonest fault among cyclists who train seriously is that they make the easy sessions too hard, and the hard sessions too easy. Going too hard (spending a couple of hours in Z3, for example) when one is supposed to be out for a Z2 ride usually means that one has not recovered sufficiently to do the intense interval sessions the following day, so one ends up not quite being able to hit the intended numbers. As a result one's training ends up being too much in the middle ground, and one is always tired but not making the hoped-for progress. One gets fit not just by riding, but, crucially, by recovering between rides so the muscles have time to overcompensate for the stress one is putting them under.

    Hope this helps. It's a big and complicated subject and I think even the most expert would say that it is imperfectly understood.
    There have been many days when I haven't felt like riding, but there has never been a day when I was sorry I rode.

  6. #6
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    I appreciate your post and explanation, chasm. What you said makes a lot of sense and I think I'm realizing I need to incorporate more low intensity training into my routine, not to mention the need develop more of a solid routine. Come to think of it, I've never really built a solid cardio routine. I'm sure it would have helped during the times in the past when I ran consistently (where my routine basically only consisted of how many times per week). I'm much more familiar with weight/strength training routines for various purposes, which doesn't help much here (aside being used to making and sticking to routines). I guess I'll start looking into developing a good routine to work in both lower and higher intensity riding .
    1989(?) Scwinn 754
    2013 Cannondale CAAD 8 5

  7. #7
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    Echoing chasm54 - more slow, less hard. Then intervals and very hard. Weight lifting may help - with a coach guiding you. My 16 year old spent 4 hours in Zone 1 today. He is not trying to build aerobic fitness, rather base miles for endurance.

    It would take some Internet searching to find it, but the current cycling thinking is ideally you want different percentages of time in the four zones. The least amount of time in Zone 4/5 and even long Zone 2 can wear on you. Depending on the distances you rode/race you may need more noodling. I've seen more elite cyclists overdue it than underdue it (I guess they may not be elite if the really underdue it). If you cut the time in Zone 4/5 and put it in Z1/Z2 with some short intense peak intervals you may get more from it. Everyone is different, but that seems to work.

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