Heart Rate and Zone Setting

Usually I don’t pay a lot of attention to my HR during training, as it usually takes care of itself. However, after the Christmas and New Year holiday season, and a few weeks of lingering sickness, I’ve been starting to look at it in more detail.

When when I started training again after the year end. I noticed that my HR was trending higher than usual and was to be expected after the long holidays and illness. A recent tempo workout (3*20 @85%) had me working in my ‘threshold’ (threshold according to strava zones) heart rate zone for the most part and even had me up at >90% HRmax. I’m no expert, but a tempo workout that gets my HR >90% isn’t really a tempo workout :joy:

Before Christmas I was struggling to get my HR up this high even with VO2max intervals, so to get it so elevated with tempo tells me something is amiss.

I know we always talk about training to power numbers, but there is a point where we need to consider heart rate? Using it as a barometer to push on, or to dial things down? I’ve had a few ‘easy’ weeks, and tried sprinkling in a couple of more testing sessions, but am still running on the high side.

Now, I’m wondering about how I set my HR zones and if it’s the best method? Currently I use the numbers from Garmin, a percentage of HRmax but is there a better way to define zones?

I’m 48, Max HR is 189bpm. Ordinarily, my RHR would be mid-high 40s, but recently it’s been in the high 50s. According to Training Peaks, my threshold HR is 170, which was set in the same ride where I hit a new HRmax of 189 (just after recovering from illness)

So with all that what’s the best way to define my HR zones? And why?

Thanks for chiming in :+1:t2:

My HR zones based on %Max HR (I use this setting on the Garmin and in Strava)

Screenshot 2020-02-10 17.43.43

My HR zones based on Max HR, if I use strava auto-calculation, which change my zones completely. What calculation are they using here, and why?

Screenshot 2020-02-10 17.38.42

First off, if worried about HR always go see a doctor. Especially if it’s high and not dropping after workouts.

Assuming no medical issue then I look at it in conjunction with RPE and workout performance. If HR is high but tempo feels like tempo normally did, and you get the workout done with no problems, then I wouldn’t worry about it. Maybe you’re just fresh after your break, HR always goes a bit higher when I’m not carrying a load of fatigue. If RPE is also up, and/or you’re failing the workout, then either you’re still ill and need to take it easy for a while, or your fitness dropped and your FTP is set too high so your tempo workout is actually SS or threshold.

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Regarding zones, I found what lines up best for me is rather than taking numbers off (an almost arbitrary) max heart rate, is to do percentages from a sustained threshold effort. Like you point out, heart rate changes with fitness and so using this method keeps the zones updated. The percentages and guide I used are from here: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/joe-friel-s-quick-guide-to-setting-zones/

Since using these zones instead, I find that RPE, power zones and my new heart rate zones all fall into alignment much better than when I used strava’s default max HR formula.

To get the threshold number, the article recommends doing a 30 minute threshold like effort and taking the average HR from the last 20mins of that effort. Though I just tend to take it from the last TT or seriously hard group ride which I feel is reflective enough.

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Thanks for chiming in

So far I’m ok in this respect, it’s dropping, but not to a level that it would have done before Christmas. Then again, my max is also higher than it was. I’m feeling fine within myself, don’t feel sick, just slightly elevated HR.

I’m thinking maybe a combination of these factors and caught between a rock and a hard place. Need to take it easy, but my FTP is eroding :joy: ah well, I’d already told myself need to take it easy again :confused:

Thanks for your inputs.

I did see the article you posted and plugged in my latest hr threshold value from TP. This was established during a recent, very spicy group ride, so it should be a good indicator.

With this calculator I get a wider endurance zone, but the other zones are quite narrow,
Eg only 11bpm for Aerobic and 8bpm for tempo. Did you see the same thing?

If “Best” = “most accurate” - lab tests.

Not sure how useful this screencap is, it’s where my zones (except Z2) are set with Polar… ‘auto calculated’ from min & max - the spread doesn’t look too dissimilar to your Strava calculated numbers. [I’m not on Strava].
Edit: 161/179 = 90% (± rounding); 134/179=75% (± rounding)

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Yes, that’s exactly how mine worked out too and I had the same initial reaction as you have. But after giving those zones a go, I just found they worked brilliantly and like I mentioned, fall in line with power zones and RPE much more accurately - with the added bonus of being able to update as you lose/gain fitness (and the updated zones always hold true) and threshold is in my mind, a more reliable number to use than max HR.

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