Elevated Beginning HR and Training in Zones

5 Stars from a USAC Level 3 Cycling Coach.
I have a female athlete I have been working with for one year. I coached her through the 2019 Panama City Beach Half Ironman, where she was the bike portion of a relay team.
My question is about HR Zone training and specifically the Maffetone Method. I used the Method to increase my own Z2 power from 170 Watts for an hour to 220 Watts for the same hour this year and want to do the same for her. When I take her observed MAX HR of 182 bpm (During TrainerRoad Ramp Test and the A race this summer), and subtract her age, I get 136bpm as the target. Here’s the problem. She has an abnormally high starting HR and begins pedaling on the trainer at about 100 to 105bpm. (I start around 60, with a normal resting HR of 49). Then she complains the whole hour that it is FAR too easy, despite knowing that Maffetone is supposed be easy and buying into this form of early off-season base training. She doesn’t seem to even sweat at all until up around 145. It’s like her zone structure is compressed. I can’t find any literature on efficacy of Zone training when a reasonably in shape individual is starting at a higher HR. I should say she is battling M.S. and also hypo-thyroidism, so we must very carefully plan her training strategy around these challenges. She is under very regular medical supervision and is mentally game to try anything. Would you have any insights? Should I allow her to call her Maffetone HR limit 145bpm? Or should I stay hard-nosed and make her ride at 135?
Thanks in advance,
Christopher VanEpps - Vestal NY Trainer Road User.
PS> If you do use this for the PodCast, in a deep dive, would you let me know it’s coming? I believe if she hears this from you guys (She’s also a TR user), it might carry enough weight to put the matter to rest, for both of us. LOL.

First question is how many people hit Max HR in the ramp test ? I don’t, legs give out way before. Also what was the A race ? Not the bike leg of an Ironman ?


I agree with @SeeEl. The max HR I’ve seen during a ramp test is 185 but the max I’ve seen in a race (40 min crit with an all out minute into an out of the saddle sprint finish) was about 202. I don’t think a ramp test, and especially not an 112 mile bike, is the ideal way to get a max HR.

I’m always within 3-4 BPM which is around 95-98% of max HR

Many seem to get close to, but not necessarily to max HR.

Other max HR discussion with ramp mentions:

You have to question any method that subtracts age from max heart rate.

Wouldn’t you be better off working out her LTHR and then base zones around that value instead?

Maffetone Method is very well documented.

Thanks everyone, but i have more than enough real world HR data from my client to establish the Max HR she has ever achieved on the bike. I’m not interested in creating a program or method based on some theoretical max she might achieve in perfect lab conditions. I’m using what her body is actually DOING when pushed to the point where she breaks. My REAL question is: Does anybody have any knowledge of studies showing if there is a spectrum shift in HR Zone workout training for someone who’s natural HR is high before they get off the couch.

The Kavonen method addresses some of those issues. I used to use it to calculate my HR zones as I’ve a pretty low HR, mid 30s. You calculate her heart rate reserve by subtracting her resting heart rate (taken lying down first thing in the morning) from her max HR to get her heart rate reserve, and establish the zones within that. It should accommodate the narrower heart rate zones.


What makes you say this is abnormal?

Good question, Ellotheth. In your experience, what’s the typical starting HR for reasonably fit, trained athlete, before training? If we agree that “resting HR” is taken right after waking, preferably before getting out of bed, my athlete was 82. But moments after mounting her bike, HR jumps right up to 105 range. With an observed Max of 182bpm, That’s not much headroom. And the Karvonen Method, suggested by another forum user puts her zone 2 between 142 and 152bpm. Interestingly, that’s the range where her RPE is about what the Maffetone Method of base training calls for. I should also mention she’s an RN, so is familiar with all the medical attributes at play. Thanks for engaging the discussion!

I’m not a coach, but creeping on the Strava accounts for some women athletes I know shows starting heart rates around 100bpm. Personally, my resting HR is around 65-ish, and when I get on the trainer in the morning it’s at about 100-110. The max I’ve observed is 196 (on the trainer, during a ramp test).

I don’t know, we could all be abnormal. Are there (sex-disaggregated) data on this?

I’d be interested in the answer! I just had a Vo2max test done recently and as part of that was told that my HR zones are very compressed. My resting HR is around 54.

I’m also usually at 100+bpm within a couple of minutes of hopping on the bike but it doesn’t necessarily go a lot higher. Last weekend I did Warren (2hrs 15m of 60-70% FTP); my average HR at 115 and it was easy.

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My resting heart rate is 55 bpm, but the moment I sit on the bike it jumps momentarily to 100 bpm. So this situation is not that unique. My max HR is 190. I have small chest and heart and simply it needs these additional pumps to start. The power does not matter - 80 or 120W - just sitting on the bike and making even one crank revolution is enough to achieve 100 bpm. Upper zones seems more normal and in line with traditional Coggan model.

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Very interesting. According to the Karvonen Method of Zone Analysis, your zones calculate as follows:

Z1 129 to 136

Z2 136 to 150

Z3 150 to 163

Z4 163 to 177

Z5 177 to 190.

Does that seem about right to you, from an RPE standpoint?

Heart rate will rise before she steps on the bike as an anticipatory response to exercise. Then as soon as your athlete starts pedalling parasympathetic withdrawal occurs, boosting HR again. So, starting from a highish HR (relative to resting) is absolutely normal.

I wouldn’t overly worry about the narrowness of the HR zones. There is a lag in HR response, it will rise over time with exercise. If your athlete starts in mid zone 1 her HR will likely drift up into zone 2 anyway. That’s the benefit of working to power it reflects metabolic effort. You can establish a power output for zone 2 and peg her effort to a particular wattage. HR will catch up in time.

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I am aware of all of that and am getting some data points from you fine people on HR normalcy. But the whole point behind the Maffetone Method is HR target based, over sustained relatively low-level efforts, at a particular threshold. When spring hits, and we begin the final programs leading to her A race, we will be 100% dedicated to power meters and power based training.


Looking on the recent workouts that include endurance rides and over-unders:
Pettit - so L1 and L2 Zone (Coggan) and Z1, Z2 Karvonen, the heart rate drifts from 100 to 105 bpm during the whole workout. So basically my Z1 and Z2 are consolidated into one zone. https://www.trainerroad.com/career/jarsson/rides/65527370-pettit

Warlow (over-under to show higher efforts)

Like you see - on the VO2 efforts, the HR is close to normal levels inside the zones. Looking at 90-95 cadence my lower HR is closer to the Karvonen level you have proposed, but still a little bit lower. https://www.trainerroad.com/career/jarsson/rides/64925966-warlow

But from the RPE stand point of view the zones seems ok.

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Hi Christopher,

There’s such variation in HR rates between individuals it’s difficult to compare them. There’s a 60 year old male in my club who regularly hits 205 in a turbo sessions. His max is 215. The standard age based calculation would place him at 160 HRmax and the Maffetone method would place his aerobic zone at 120 and below, clearly inappropriate for him. I’d be inclined to allow her to cycle to 145.

You mentioned that she has MS, the loss of neural activity can affect sweat response - it may act to delay the onset of sweating. This would likely push her HR up a bit as well. It could also cause her to underperform in the Ramp test, resulting in the sessions seeming too easy.

Very interesting, thanks for posting it up.

Best of luck, Joe.

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You wrote, “There’s a 60 year old male in my club who regularly hits 205 in a turbo sessions. His max is 215.” HOLY CRAP!! LOL.

The Karvonen calculations put her Z2 at 142 to 152, so i’m setting her “redline” for this specific training at 148bpm. So you and I are largely in agreement. [thumbs up] And yes, I am KEENLY and consciously aware of the MS and HypoThyroidism physical manifestations, and that we do nothing that over-taxes her system and leads to an adverse auto-immune response. It’s a holistic approach to training and i’m really valuing y’all’s opinions on the matter!

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