Training Intensity & Heart Rate

Listed below are instructions on how to use these plans with and without a heart rate monitor, and instructions on how to read/perform interval workouts.

The training plans listed here give a workout intensity based on heart rate. If you don’t use a heart rate monitor the chart down below correlates heart rate zones with training intensity, so you can still use these plans without a heart rate monitor.

Using This With a Purchased Training Plan

If you are using this in conjunction with a prebuilt training plan, the plan may not have a test built into it.  You can adjust your plan to include a test. The best time to do this is on Wednesday.  Monday and Tuesday will be recovery days, then test on Wednesday when you are somewhat rested.  Thursday’s workout could be a quality workout in the other sport.  Doing the test on Tuesday is a close second best alternative.  You don’t want to be fatigued going into the test, but you don’t want to be completely rested either.

Determining Lactate Threshold Heart Rate

There are several ways of determining lactate threshold heart rate, and each method may give a different heart rate. The methods listed here will give you the most useful number for the training zones and desired training intensities used in this training plan.

Experienced athletes can determine their lactate threshold (LT) heart rate by doing a 30 minute time trial. Perform a solid warmup, and then do a 30 minute time trial (all out) on a relatively flat course. Record your average heart rate for the final 20 minutes of the time trial. Use this number as your lactate threshold heart rate (bottom of zone 5), and plug it into to determine all your zones. During a time trial pace yourself so that you can cover the maximum distance over the 30 minutes. Your pace should be relatively constant. The beginning will feel fast but sustainable, while at the end you will have given as much as you can.

You should do the test while you are rested – the day before the test should be a day off or a light day of training. This test can be done on the bike and on the run. Typically the run LT heart rate will be 5-10 beats higher than your cycling LT heart rate. As an estimate use 7-8 beats difference until you have tested both. However, results can vary widely with a gap of as much as 25 beats between running and cycling LT heart rate, and it is possible to have a cycling LT heart rate higher than your running LT heart rate. If you’ve done the test correctly then you should rely on your results.

Less experienced athletes should use a different test to determine LT heart rate. This method was developed by coach Gale Bernhardt. After a couple weeks of training perform a 10 minute time trial after a solid warmup. Start with an easy to moderate pace, and then increase it gradually every one minute. Continue to do this until your breathing becomes labored and clearly audible. Use this heart rate as your LT. Also note when you feel a burning in your legs. This will often happen several minutes after the change in breathing. Be careful not to overestimate your LT heart rate.

Athletes should have a minimum of three weeks of training before attempting LT tests.

If you notice that it is very easy or very hard to hit your zone 5 heart rate, you may need to adjust your zones up or down. You can retest or you can rely on your experience to adjust the zones. It should take a hard effort to hit zone 5. In a race you will be able to stay at this heart rate for roughly 60-90 minutes.

Some cyclists notice different heart rate zones (lower heart rates indoors) when training indoors compared to outdoors. If you notice this variation you may want to consider establishing both indoor and outdoor heart rate zones.

Setting Heart Rate Training Zones in Training Peaks

The following instructions and image show you how to set your heart rate zones within Training Peaks.  You can also set your training zones with Joe Friel’s Training Bible books.  If you will not be doing this you can skip to the next section.

See image below to aid with instructions.

1. Click on your name in top right

2. Click on ‘account settings.’

3. Click on ‘zones.’

4. Enter your average heart rate for the last 20 minutes of the test.  Put this in the box labeled “Threshold Heart Rate.’

5. Select ‘Show auto calculation methods’ below the Threshold Heart Rate box.

6. Select ‘Joe Friel for Running(7)’ or ‘Joe Friel for Cycling(7)’.

7. You can confirm the calculations were made by confirming that your test result heart rate is equal to the bottom of your zone 5a heart rate.

8. SAVE!  You must scroll down and click ‘save’.

If you don’t have a separate place to enter cycling or running heart rate, click on ‘Add Zone’ near the top left of the box.

Changes in Heart Rate

As your fitness changes so too may your heart rate. Experienced athletes are likely to see their LT heart rate come down as their fitness improves. Beginning athletes may see the opposite – higher heart rates as their fitness improves.

Understanding Heart Rate

A high or low heart rate is not an indication of fitness. Heart rates vary widely by individual, even among elite athletes. Your heart rate will even vary by day. As you become more experienced learn to rely on perceived effort as well as heart rate. Your effort should correlate to heart rate training zones as described in the chart below. Do not become a slave to your heart rate monitor.

Remember that your heart rate is only one of many indicators of what is going on inside your body. Your best indicator of fitness is speed in relation to effort.

Heart Rate Variations

Reasons that your heart rate may be higher than normal include: illness, dehydration/heat, and prescription drugs.

Reasons that your heart rate may be lower than normal include: training fatigue, lack of sleep, higher training volume.

Heart Rate Zones vs. Perceived Effort

Until you estimate your LT heart rate, or if you train without a heart rate monitor, use the table below to correlate heart rate with perceived effort.


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