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Maximum HR and Zones

Old 07-06-19, 11:09 AM
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Robert A
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Maximum HR and Zones

I'm trying to establish my maximum HR so I can determine the 5 heart rate zones. I'm 62, 141 pounds and in good shape. Standard methods such as 220-age don't seem to work for me. I hit 171 on a treadmill test at a local clinic with HR and blood pressure monitors attached .


When riding, I can sustain 148-158 bpm for long distances, reach into the low 160s for brief periods on strenuous climbs, and occasionally max out just above 170 at the very top of a steep climb.


On a 5-zone chart, 148-158 feels like the middle zone. If I set 171 as my maximum HR in the Wahoo Elemnt app, then 151 and higher would put me in zone 5. This doesn't seem to make sense.


What is the proper way to determine maximum HR in order to establish the 5 zones?
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Old 07-06-19, 11:23 AM
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What I did was, I just found a long climb, got fully warmed-up, loose, and pain-free. Dropped it into the big ring on the climb and just rode absolutely as hard as hard as I could for 30 seconds or so, and could not go any longer, slowed down a couple seconds, went for it again. And again and again, maybe five or six times, until complete muscle and breathing failure and could not go another inch, even to save my own life. I watched the HRM and few seconds after that is when I got my personal highest all-time reading. So I would guess that's gotta be something close to my max.
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Old 07-06-19, 11:44 AM
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Formulae for max HR are stupid.

Do above or better yet get on a trainer and do max effort until you start to get tunnel vision and/or puke. That will get you in the ballpark.
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Old 07-06-19, 12:31 PM
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What did you learn, and what is your age?
Originally Posted by Lemond1985 View Post
What I did was, I just found a long climb, got fully warmed-up, loose, and pain-free. Dropped it into the big ring on the climb and just rode absolutely as hard as hard as I could for 30 seconds or so, and could not go any longer, slowed down a couple seconds, went for it again. And again and again, maybe five or six times, until complete muscle and breathing failure and could not go another inch, even to save my own life. I watched the HRM and few seconds after that is when I got my personal highest all-time reading. So I would guess that's gotta be something close to my max.
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Old 07-06-19, 12:38 PM
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This was 10 years ago when I was in my mid-40's and in good shape, the HRM said my max was 204. Could have been an anomaly, but I had been hitting 190's previously in training using that HRM. I don't really care how accurate it was, since I no longer own an HRM, my only purpose was to explain how I estimated my max.

These days, I just use Lon Haldeman's "one hour a week at 90%" method. I rarely hit that goal, but i try to include at least a few minutes of really high intensity stuff on nearly every ride.


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Old 07-06-19, 11:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
What is the proper way to determine maximum HR in order to establish the 5 zones?
The question really is: "What is the proper way to determine the LTHR to establish the 5 zones?" Short answer, do an FTP test with a HRM...and hopefully with a head unit (Garmin does this, not sure about Wahoo) that will calculate the value for you...it is not perfect, as in like doing it in a lab where blood is being drawn and tested, but it seems to be pretty close.

For years I used the %HR Max method, but it seems that I was always in Z3 or Z4, but my exertion was nowhere near that. Then I got a Power Meter, and I stopped paying attention to HR, other than as a secondary, e.g., was it climbing at a given power indicating that I was decoupling and becoming exhausted, but still my HR was higher than other persons I deemed to be similarly fit to me. Then I found out about the Coggan method of calculating HR...and, well, since I had a Power Meter and knew how to do an FTP test, and I had a HRM, and a Garmin that would estimate both the FTP and Lactic Threshold Values, I gave it a shot, and recalculated. Lo and behold, my zones expanded, and moved upward, significantly, and not my HR Zones seems to match my perceived exertion, and while I still only use the HR as a secondary metric, it is far more reliable, and actually tells me by Zone when I am entering into an exhausted state....and, when I need to rest, recover, etc.
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Old 07-06-19, 11:57 PM
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There is no agreed right way or best way.

My preferred method for what I personally like is ride for at least half an hour to one hour at a moderate pace in appropriate weather. After the warm-up start a climb of at least 15 minutes that you know by having ridden it before several times or more and one that ends with a decent grade--say 8-12 percent. You've worked hard but moderately paced yourself until you reach the last part where you will force yourself to push yourself to the max. The max HR shown on your device will be just that. YMMV as others too. Just my opinion and choice.
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Old 07-07-19, 04:42 AM
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No argument on "right way or best way," just some ways are more reliable gauges of effort....if there is such a thing when basing training on HR. I'll stand by my assertion that the %LTHR is superior. If %LTHR wasn't so effective, serious and professional athletes wouldn't use it, and their trainers and coaches wouldn't prefer it.

But, as I also stated, HR is a decent (albeit imperfect) secondary reference point. An actual gauge of work being performed, in real time with no lags, is power output. But, that is not what this thread is about.
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Old 07-07-19, 09:03 AM
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Originally Posted by Lemond1985 View Post
What I did was, I just found a long climb, got fully warmed-up, loose, and pain-free. Dropped it into the big ring on the climb and just rode absolutely as hard as hard as I could for 30 seconds or so, and could not go any longer, slowed down a couple seconds, went for it again. And again and again, maybe five or six times, until complete muscle and breathing failure and could not go another inch, even to save my own life. I watched the HRM and few seconds after that is when I got my personal highest all-time reading. So I would guess that's gotta be something close to my max.
I would go with this method.

I used the conventional wisdom of obtaining my MHR and I feel like I'm going to explode while in "my" Zone 4. Obviously I need to re-calibrate. Honestly, I use it mostly to keep track of my HR and not as an indicator of my fitness level or a metric that I track.
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Old 07-07-19, 12:43 PM
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Old 07-07-19, 01:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
I'm trying to establish my maximum HR so I can determine the 5 heart rate zones. I'm 62, 141 pounds and in good shape. Standard methods such as 220-age don't seem to work for me. I hit 171 on a treadmill test at a local clinic with HR and blood pressure monitors attached .
If you can get a graph of that, supposedly you can spot the inflection point where the lactate threshold starts. Probably Golden Cheetah can give you the same thing. I haven't analyzed that personally but it makes sense since that's practically the definition of the threshold.

I agree that it's more logical to base zones on the threshold than on maximum. Consider that if the two methods produce different zones, then there's something off in at least one of them. Since the threshold itself defines a zone boundary, that would be more accurate in at least a region than a (possibly wrong) maximum number that doesn't define any zone.
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Old 07-07-19, 04:57 PM
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I just checked my log, knowing that there were many rides where I went as hard as I could before I had to back down. Each ride has a max HR, and just eyeballed. On multiple rides it was 185 give or take a beat so that's what I use.
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Old 07-07-19, 06:02 PM
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Never base zones off what you think your MHR is. You'll be wrong. Instead, base them off your lactate threshold. That's determinable by testing. There's a sticky on that at the top of the Training and Nutrition forum. You can also use the CTS field test: https://trainright.com/cts-field-tes...-calculations/

A really simple way to get close, like tomorrow, is to warm up really well, maybe an hour, then start a good long climb. Keep ramping up the effort until you start to pant. Note HR, then gradually back it off until you return to deep breathing. Note HR. Ramp it back up and down a couple more times, noting the HR when you are deep breathing and before starting to pant. That's probably close enough to your lactate threshold to use, right there. That doesn't work for everyone because is assumes your efforts are not limited by asthma or lung volume, but few people have that problem.

I have also have a good method for trying to find my MHR. I have a 4000' climb nearby which ends at over 6000'. I ride that climb hard, then take it up to near lactate threshold for 45', then over LT, panting hard, for the final 10', then sprint into the parking lot at the top. That produces a HR I haven't seen all year. Might be my max. Maybe. I've ridden that climb so many times that I know exactly where those times are.
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Old 07-08-19, 10:49 AM
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If you were to split workout intervals and sets into two types "long" and "short", HR is pretty much useless for the "short" ones.

I'd say that's anything short of a pursuit (4min) interval. HR ramps in such a way to not be useful.

For longer ones, it could be useful to ensure you're not doing too much work near threshold/suprathreshold when you really want a lot of SS work instead. I, like many, bite off too much for my SS intervals and wind up doing too little time versus planned.

I'd go by RPE and "just do it" probably until I get to those 3x8's and 2x20 kind of things. Then again, since you don't want to stop for a sign or turn or coast for a bit for a roller............that's likely done on the trainer. And if so, you could track your progress by trainer speed and duration treating it like a power meter.


FWIW.........I got a used meter on Ebay for $150. That's a pair of nice tires to some folks.
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Old 07-09-19, 10:19 AM
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I do intervals using HR. It's more difficult than using power, but one can learn how. One has to learn to do intervals with power, also.

Say you want to do 3X3', probably the most difficult to get right using HR. You warm up really well while riding to your candidate repeat hill or straight stretch of road. You start out at what you think is probably the correct effort, watching your HR. If it stops going up short of your target, increase the effort. You're going to be panting, so use that as a guide, too. "Controlled panting" I call it. At the end of 3', there's a good chance that you'll have achieved your target HR for these intervals. Note your gear and cadence, gear down and do your recovery minutes, then return to your end-of-interval gear and cadence and watch your HR again. It should come up much faster this time. If you should go over your target this interval, cool it down a hair, but you probably won't. If it doesn't quite make your target again, keep increasing the effort until you're there. Repeat for the next interval, etc.

Not as precise as with power, but that's a quibble. Works fine for getting the appropriate training effect. Caveat: if you can't hold the HR for the full length of whatever interval, you're not ready for it yet. Get more base, more lower effort intervals.
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Old 07-09-19, 10:51 AM
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You do. It takes time to learn. I think HR is perfectly fine for stuff around 8min and up. I still tend to disagree for the 3min stuff though. Just my opinion.

If the HR for 3x3's reaches target on the first rep, you went too hard for the first rep. If you subsequently complete the rest at the same target HR, you likely decreased your output for each subsequent rep and set.

3x3's are 1:1 intervals, meaning it winds up still being fairly aerobic. If you're taking 5 to 10 minute breaks between each rep......that's not a 3x3. That's just 3min anaerobic hill sprints. Even less useful for HR as it's just all out.

With 3x3's, the ending HR should gradually increase over the reps and sets either until completion of the workout.......or failure.

In this case for me.........it was failure on the last rep:
https://www.strava.com/activities/2495353427
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Old 07-09-19, 12:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
I'm trying to establish my maximum HR so I can determine the 5 heart rate zones.
Aerobic and anaerobic threshold fractions of the maximum vary too much for it to be useful. Numbers from different sports also don't work because muscle recruitment and therefore your ability to use oxygen vary,

Ride as hard as you can for thirty minutes. Take your average heart rate over the last twenty. That's your anaerobic threshold (AnT, VT2, LTHR, LT4, lactate threshold).

Ride as hard as you can without breathing becoming rhythmic, feeling your legs, and conversation not flowing. That's about what you can manage for 5 hours with an even effort split between halves. That's your aerobic threshold (AeT, VT1).

Training above your anaerobic threshold does the most to increase VO2max and one hour power, noting heart rate is a lagging indicator. Just ride as hard as you can for 7-10 minutes and stop when you can't break get past it by the end of an interval. One day a week is plenty. Longer intervals don't stress you enough, shorter limit total time because fatigue is proportional to the square of effort.

Training below your aerobic threshold does the most to increase performance over longer durations. Mark Allen set his unmatched 2:40 Ironman marathon split record in 1989 after training below his aerobic threshold, initially dropping his pace to 8:15 miles with performance improving over a year to 5:20 at the same 155 bpm heart rate. Exceeding it produces a shift in muscle fiber recruitment and energy substrate utilization for the rest of your ride.

Far above your anaerobic threshold you have neuromuscular power using the creatine phosphate energy system which isn't good for a full minute.

Far below your aerobic threshold is fine for active recovery if you don't want unsatisfyingly short rides during rest periods.

Between the two you have fun rides and perhaps racing.

Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 07-09-19 at 06:39 PM.
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Old 07-11-19, 10:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post


What is the proper way to determine maximum HR in order to establish the 5 zones?
If I was a wise guy I'd say take a vo2 max stress test as I have, but the bad news is: once your exceed 125% of their max HR guidelines the Drs. stop the test. They cancelled me out at 175 but I had a bit more headroom to explore. So, I am an 'outlier".

I talked to the cardiologists about HR training and zones, but they wouldn't play; not much impressed with that training method I guess. I have stopped using my HR monitor, going back to "talk test", 5 and 10K race pace, and 80%-90% interval sprints. You don't need a computer, just a brain.
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Old 07-20-19, 09:11 AM
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Originally Posted by FrenchFit View Post
If I was a wise guy I'd say take a vo2 max stress test as I have, but the bad news is: once your exceed 125% of their max HR guidelines the Drs. stop the test. They cancelled me out at 175 but I had a bit more headroom to explore. So, I am an 'outlier".

I talked to the cardiologists about HR training and zones, but they wouldn't play; not much impressed with that training method I guess. I have stopped using my HR monitor, going back to "talk test", 5 and 10K race pace, and 80%-90% interval sprints. You don't need a computer, just a brain.
Re the cardiologists, I had the same experience. My GP explained, their purpose is to assess whether heart function is healthy and correct over the range of stress. They use the nasty old formula as a rule for "how far should I take this person, considering I have sworn not to do any harm (Hippocratic Oath)?" Setting your training goals so you can be as aggressive as you feel is necessary, is not their purpose. Their purpose is to make sure you can survive exercise.

Any case after I passed the stress test, she said, fine, go start your aerobic training. So my goal now is to improve my fitness, but not to max out my anaerobic side.

So, I don't think they're not impressed with training, I think it's just not their job.
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Old 07-20-19, 10:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
I do intervals using HR. It's more difficult than using power, but one can learn how. One has to learn to do intervals with power, also.

Say you want to do 3X3', probably the most difficult to get right using HR. You warm up really well while riding to your candidate repeat hill or straight stretch of road. You start out at what you think is probably the correct effort, watching your HR. If it stops going up short of your target, increase the effort. You're going to be panting, so use that as a guide, too. "Controlled panting" I call it. At the end of 3', there's a good chance that you'll have achieved your target HR for these intervals. Note your gear and cadence, gear down and do your recovery minutes, then return to your end-of-interval gear and cadence and watch your HR again. It should come up much faster this time. If you should go over your target this interval, cool it down a hair, but you probably won't. If it doesn't quite make your target again, keep increasing the effort until you're there. Repeat for the next interval, etc.

Not as precise as with power, but that's a quibble. Works fine for getting the appropriate training effect. Caveat: if you can't hold the HR for the full length of whatever interval, you're not ready for it yet. Get more base, more lower effort intervals.
We sometimes get carried away trying to be too precise with intervals assuming that any variation from a perfect isopower interval is sub-optimal. I think the reality is not so clear.

There was a study, Effects of high-intensity training by heart rate or power in well-trained cyclists, which compared trained cyclists doing 8 - 4min intervals at 80% of Wmax by controlling either power or HR. In the case of HR they would use the HR it took to achieve a power of 80% of Wmax (obtained in a ramp test) . The chart below illustrates the two techniques. The group using isoHR had bigger gains after 4 wks.

I'm not suggesting that using constant power is inferior but it's not the only way to pace intervals.

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