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Training Tips

How to Create a Heart Zone Training Cycling Workout

Reading Time: 6 minutes 15 seconds


Date: 2020-11-16T00:00:00-05:00

More than 47 million Americans cycle on a regular basis. And there are many training options when working with clients who like to cycle for exercise. You can vary intensity by increasing speed or adding hills. An easy cycle workout is also good for recovery. Another option is to create a cycling workout focused on heart rate.

Why Heart Rate Matters When Working Out

When training clients, it's not uncommon to monitor their heart rate to ensure they're exercising at a safe level. Exceeding their maximum heart rate can be dangerous. Keeping them below this number is critical to a safe, yet effective workout. But there are additional reasons to monitor your client's heart rate.

Research indicates that high resting heart rate is associated with an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Regular exercise helps lower resting heart rate.

Resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats every minute when you're totally at rest. Taking your pulse or using a heart rate monitor first thing in the morning, right after you wake up, will give you your resting heart rate.

The American Heart Association reports that the average resting heart rate is somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute. However, if your client is extremely physically fit, their heart rate may be even lower. If it over 100 beats per minute, cardiovascular issues can occur.

This research further reveals that, when heart rate doesn't increase properly during training, this can lead to higher mortality as well. This is measured by calculating a person's heart rate reserve, or the difference between their resting heart rate and maximum heart rate.

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The Difference Between Heart Rate Zone and Power Zone

Some trainers use training in the heart rate zone to help their clients reach their fitness goals. Others prefer the power zone method.

Heart Rate Zone

If a client works out using their heart rate training zone, their heart rate dictates how much intensity or effort they should use. The goal is typically to keep their heart rate within a specific range so they are taxing their heart in a safe manner. Setting their target heart rate also helps them identify if they should increase their intensity or resistance.

Asking clients to wear a heart rate monitor enables you to easily assess that they are in a good heart rate training zone. This type of device keeps track of the client's heart rate during the training session. Some devices will even download the data to an app on their smartphone.

If the client doesn't have a heart rate monitor, you can monitor their heart rate manually. Do this by taking their pulse at various intervals throughout their workout. Have them place their first two fingers on their wrist over their radial artery. This artery is located between the bone and tendon. Count the beats for 10 seconds and multiply by six. This will give you their current heart rate.

Power Zone

Power zone training is based more on how you feel while exercising. Each level of the power zone represents a different exertion level. For example, when using a power zone model, zone one should feel very easy or like you're using roughly 50 percent of your functional threshold power.

Functional threshold power, or FTP, refers to the highest level of power a cyclist is able to exert during a 60-minute ride. As the level of exertion increases, so does the FTP. So, when the cyclist goes into zone three, their exertion should feel moderate, or roughly 80 percent of their FTP.

Level seven is the max, when you feel like you're exerting energy at an FTP rate of 150 percent or higher. This maximum level of exertion is also commonly referred to as the anaerobic threshold or lactate threshold. This is the highest level of training you can participate in without lactate beginning to accumulate in your blood.

FTP can be assessed by asking cyclists to continuously pay attention to how much they are exerting themselves. Another option used by some cyclists is a power meter.

A power meter is a device that can be strapped to their bike and measures how much power the rider is using. It works by analyzing both torque and angular velocity. The result indicates total power output. A power meter can be purchased from a cycling store. They can also be found online via some of the bigger e-commerce stores.

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Benefits of Cycling in Your Heart Rate Zone

Cycling is a great cardio workout. It also helps build the muscles in your legs as it requires your quads, hamstrings, and calf muscles to move the pedal in circular motions.

How can heart rate zone training help improve cycling results? It helps ensure that you're working out hard enough to improve fitness safely. If the effort is too light, your clients may not see the results they desire. If the cycling intensity is too high, they run the risk of hurting their heart.

As a trainer, you can help your clients understand the benefits of training within their heart rate zone. Explain how it helps ensure that their workouts are both safe and effective. The first step in this process is to figure out what that zone is.

How to Calculate Target Heart Rate

The proper heart rate zone is determined by calculating the client's target heart rate. To do this, you must first identify their maximum heart rate. This is the highest their heart rate should go, or the maximum number of times it should beat every minute during physical training.

An easy way to determine maximum heart rate is to subtract your client's age from 220. For example, if they are 20 years old, their maximum heart rate is 200 beats per minute (220 - 20 = 200). If they are 40 years old, their max heart rate is 180 (220 - 40 = 180).

The target heart rate during moderate intensity exercise is somewhere between 50 and 85 percent of the maximum heart rate. For instance, when doing heart rate training with a 20-year old client, their target heart rate zone—sometimes referred to as the HR zone—is 100 to 170 beats per minute. One-hundred is 50 percent of their max heart rate, or max HR, and 170 is 85 percent of their max heart rate.

If the exercise intensity is greater, heart rate percentages increase as well. During higher intensity training, it's not uncommon to increase client's heart rates to 70-85 percent of their maximum.

Identifying your cycling client's fitness goals will tell you which heart rate range will provide the most benefit. For example, the best heart rate zone for losing weight when cycling training is generally between 70 and 85 percent. Training in this zone will help them burn fat more effectively.

A Sample Heart Zone Training Cycling Workout

What does heart rate training look like in the context of a cycling workout? Here is a sample moderate intensity 45-minute cycling routine. This type of training increases the client's heart rate slowly and for sustained periods of time.

  • Cycle 5 minutes with a target heart rate of 50-60% the max, easy intensity

  • Cycle 15 minutes with a target heart rate of 60-70% the max, moderate intensity

  • Cycle 15 minutes with a target heart rate of 70-80% the max, higher intensity

  • Cycle 5 minutes with a target heart rate of 80-85% the max, vigorous intensity

  • Cycle 5-10 minutes with a target heart rate of 50-60% the max, easy intensity

If the client wants to make their cycling more difficult or burn more calories faster, an interval cycling workout would help achieve this goal. This workout involves increasing and decreasing intensity several times throughout the training session.

A sample interval training cycling workout that uses heart zone training looks like this:

  • Cycle 5 minutes with a target heart rate of 50-60% the max, easy intensity

  • Cycle 1 minute with a target heart rate of 70-75% the max, higher intensity

  • Cycle 30 seconds with a target heart rate of 80-85% the max, vigorous intensity

  • Cycle 2 minutes with a target heart rate of 50-60% the max, easy intensity

  • Repeat steps 2-4 four times

  • For the last round, cycle at a 50-60% heart rate for approximately 5 minutes to adequately cool down

A heart rate monitor can help clients recognize when they are in their target training zone. Taking their pulse manually is another option, though it may be more difficult as it requires stopping the exercise long enough to obtain their pulse.

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