Heart rate zones

Cycling Tips

Setting your Heart rate zones

In the article ‘the basics’ we already described that we often work with heart rate or power zones. In order to better understand the training zones, we try to explain in this article exactly what the zones mean and how you can use them.

Training zones

Let’s start with the many reasons to use training zones. By using a heart rate and/or power meter you can make your training more specific. Specific training makes it easier to meet your training goals and to monitor your workload. With training zones you can be sure that you are training at the right intensity. Afterwards a training can be analyzed on the basis of the zones and you can monitor your progress. A good picture of what you have done in previous training sessions is important to plan future training sessions and training zones can help you with that.
There are different ways to classify the training zones, but almost all are based on your heart rate at your threshold power also known as the functional threshold power (FTP). This point is 100% and the other zones are certain percentages of this heart rate or FTP.

Why use zones?

What are the underlying physiological thoughts behind the different zones. The body basically has three different energy systems to create ATP which releases energy and can be used to create contractions in the muscles and thus to cycle. The systems are the creatine phosphate system, the anaerobic system and the aerobic system. The first is mainly used during a sprint and is exhausted after about 15 seconds of extreme exertion, after that the anaerobic and aerobic systems take over. The anaerobic system can generate a lot of energy in a short time but does not last very long, so you have to adjust the intensity. The aerobic system uses mainly oxygen and fat as energy vouchers and is therefore the most durable system. So for long efforts, such as cycling, this is the most important system used. On the other hand, all energy systems will work side by side to release energy. Depending on the intensity of an effort, one system will work harder or less hard. At low intensity, almost all energy can be released by the aerobic system, but as the intensity increases, the anaerobic system is used more and more.

How to test it?

During an incremental exercise test in which long blocks are used, it is clear to see how the different systems are used. During this test the lactate value will increase because the anaerobic system will work more and more. During an exercise test, two important thresholds can be distinguished and linked to the training zones. The first threshold is the aerobic threshold, at this threshold the aerobic system (and fat burning) is at its maximum. The second threshold is the anaerobic threshold also known as the FTP. This is the point where the production and decomposition of lactate is just stable, above this point lactate will continue to increase. With this knowledge, 3 basic zones can already be distinguished. Below the aerobic threshold, between the aerobic and anaerobic threshold and above the anaerobic threshold. This is how scientific articles look at training zones. To prescribe training, it is useful to have multiple zones, the 5 heart rate zones that are used are:

Heart rate zones on percentage of threshold heart rate:

recovery (60-75%)
D1 (75-85%)
D2 (85-95%)
D3 (95-100%)
Resistance (100-max)
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