Estimating Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) and
​Maximum Minute Power (MMP)

The only way to determine your cycling maximum heart rate and maximum minute power is by using a properly constructed cycling test.

However such a test requires considerable motivation, physical stress and discomfort and it is inadvisable without medical clearance and supervision, particularly for individuals predisposed to coronary heart disease. We therefore suggest that people consider themselves “average” and use age predicted maximum heart rates despite the inaccuracy of such methods (as much as +/- 20 bpm).

Remember that if you know your running maximum heart rate your cycling max could be 5-10 beats lower. A number of methods are available (subtract at least 5 beats for cycling):

MHR = 220 minus your age
210 minus (0.65 X age)
​217 minus (0.85 X age) As you progress in your training adjust your training zones if you achieve a higher maximum heart rate and, when fit enough arrange to undertake a structured Wattbike cycling test.

To estimate maximum minute power use the average power achieved in a Wattbike 3 minute aerobic test. Exercise caution when undertaking the test for the first time. You can also use the maximum heart rate achieved in this test as your starting point for heart rate calculations (even though this may be inaccurate).

​Always err on the side of caution, as you improve you can adjust the heart rate and power training zones.
Target Heart Rate (THR)Normally during exercise, the heart rate varies depending on the intensity.   These changes can easily be measured using a radiotelemetry and continuous electocardiogram (ECG) recording.The target heart rate (THR) is the desired range of heart beats per minute that usually elicits the most benefit from working out. It is also known as the training heart rate.  Recommendations for this range are dependent on age, gender, physical condition and one’s previous training.  THR, recording can be stored into the memory of a microcomputer with a transmitter and receiver, which is easily portable and can be worn on the wrist. 

Why it is important to know one’s target heart rate? Target heart rate is used as a tool for exercise prescription. Results from the recordings are important in planning optimal training. This is especially important in athletes and is applicable for anyone else interested in exercise.  Monitoring intensity is also done to avoid over-training and to accurately set max limits; for example, high speed cycling does not accurately indicate the intensity of exercise, hence the monitoring of THR by the prescribed methods.  Medical professional also use heart rate measurements to help diagnose and track medical conditions. 

What are the methods for measuring target heart rate?

Two methods are used to calculate the THR. The first method shows the percentage of the maximum heart rate calculated from zero to peak. Method number two represents the heart rate at a specified percentage of maximum MET (VO2max).

Which Method is Best to Find My Training Heart Rate?

It seems that there are many ways to determine your training zones from a wide variety of methods. I’m going to explain some of the more popular ways of determining your optimal training zones and give an example for each.

The aerobic training zone that I like to train in is around 70% - 80%. This would be my high-Zone 2 according to the zones that Joe Friel uses in the Triathlete’s Training Bible. In training I would even train at a little lower heart rate just to give myself some room for cardiac drift (when the heart rates rises at the end of a workout due to fatigue). In order to compare these formulas fairly, I will volunteer to be our guinea pig.

Vital Stats:

Age –34

Max Heart Rate – 182 run, 174 bike

Resting Heart Rate - 40

Lactate Threshold: 163 run, 156 bike

 Key Terms: HR = Heart Rate MHR = Maximum Heart Rate RHR = Resting Heart Rate HRR = Heart Rate Reserve or number of beats between your RHR (resting heart rate) and your MHR(maximum heart rate) BPM = (Beats Per Minute)

Various Heart Rate Zone Formulas

Zone 1 - Active Recovery - This is your active recovery zone.

It’s a very important zone to integrate within you training and not one to neglect. This is a zone that athletes tend to spend very little time in, which is not a good thing. Fitter athletes will benefit greater from doing recovery workouts compared to no workouts at all. This is considered an easy riding or running day, applying light pedal pressure or running on flat terrain at an easy pace. Example - Doing a recovery ride after consecutive hard days of training on the bike or competing in a race, will allow your body to flush out built up waste products, keep your body in a rhythm of riding and maintain a suppleness in your muscles and connective tissues. This keeps blood & oxygen pumping through the body to aid in recovery. It is very important to stay within this zone and not make an easy day too hard. At times, complete rest rather then a light workout would be a greater benefit physically as well as mentally. 

Zone 2 - Endurance - Also called the Aerobic zone.

This is an all day pace or the “classic long slow distance” (LSD) training. Long endurance workouts are what is needed to maximize the benefit potential of this intensity zone while keeping your RPE 2-3. It is vital that you do enough of your workouts whether riding, running, climbing, swimming, strength training, etc. in this zone to prepare your body for the higher demands of training & competing later on. Over time, training in this zone will lead to a stronger & more efficient cardiorespiratory (heart, blood vessels, lungs, passageways, etc.) and muscular system leading to an overall increase in your stamina & ability to endure. You want to practice being as efficient as possible in this zone, focusing on mechanics, cadence, breathing, hydration, training stress, etc. Practice is an integral part for all sports and cycling or running is no different.  

Zone 3 - Tempo - Some coaches call this zone the “gray zone” of training while others call it the “meat and potatoes” of every cyclist training program.

This is a level of intensity that most athletes will find themselves in and when balanced appropriately with the other training zones, it can cause some of the greatest adaptations to your fitness. However, by spending to much time in this zone will not make you a faster sprinter or better on the climbs, it will just mean that your good at tempo so remember that the right balance of your training time and focusing on improving your limiters will make you a more complete athlete. If your goal is a 100 mile ultra or an MTB century, then the longer the workout at this intensity the better. Tempo workouts need to be done at a sustainable pace that feels fast and takes some work to maintain. Do not underestimate the amount of work that is required when training in this zone and the amount of recovery time after.

Zone 4 - Threshold - Threshold workouts are focused on improving your FTP (functional threshold power) & strength at your LTHR (lactate threshold heart rate).

The working sets in this zone are done right at your threshold, slightly below (sub-threshold) or slightly above (super-threshold). These are very challenging & stressful sets and require a solid rest interval (Ri) between sets. Its a fine balancing act with being on the edge of your sustainable intensity for the given sets duration. These are vital workouts to integrate into your training. Increasing your FTP for the cyclist & pace for the runner, at threshold, is the primary objective. All other zones are determined by these threshold numbers.  Click here for how to go about Threshold Testing.

Zone 5 - VO2 Max - VO2 Max is the maximal volume of oxygen uptake.

Zone 5 focuses on improving your VO2 Max with 3 - 8 minute intervals, that are performed at max intensity for each given sets duration, with an equal or greater rest interval. The key to maximize training in zone 5 is making sure that your intensity level is high enough and held for the sets duration.

Zone 6 - Anaerobic Capacity - These efforts are done at an even higher intensity level then zone 5 and the duration of each interval is cut down to 30 sec to 2 minutes in length with 2-3 minute Ri.

There is a big difference between a 30 second & 2 minute effort, with both training the AC system. With intense variety in your efforts, this allows for some creative intervals built into your workout. These efforts are going to be painful and should be done when your fresh or slightly over reaching. Its not a workout to force in when your tired because you won’t be able to reach the desired intensity levels needed to challenge your anaerobic capacity. These are difficult efforts to get right without the use of a power-meter or experience with RPE. 

Zone 7 - Neuromuscular Power - These are very short highly intense intervals lasting under 30 seconds, usually falling within the 10 second range.

They place a huge demand on your kinetic chain (muscular, skeletal & nervous system) and energy systems. Don’t focus on what your power-meter or HR monitor is saying, just focus on giving it your all, controlling the bike, keeping good running form and being safe. These are highly explosive efforts and can be performed in a variety of ways.

Understanding Heart Rate Zones