Pushing the limit - pain vs discomfort

Hello All,

My main question is how to know if I’m pushing too hard during workouts specifically with regards to Cardio. I regularly bump up against my max heart rate during intervals and distinguishing discomfort (leading to adaptation) from pain (leading to damage) is not easy. Any advice? I do the workouts because I want to stay fit - don’t want to be hurting myself.



So you’re worried about damaging your heart? Do you have some underlying medical issue? If so I would talk to your doctor about your concerns.

Assuming you are healthy, your heart is generally not the limiter for injury risk.

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No underlying issue. It’s more a question of figuring out when too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. Knowing when my legs are cooked is easy (they don’t turn the pedals anymore!) knowing when your heart has done enough is tougher.

As far as I know your body will self limit itself before you damage your heart during a single session.

If you’re pinning it every day, that’s not a good idea, but you’ll start to feel like crap and not be able to work hard enough to hurt yourself pretty quick.

I was turned onto HRV4TRAINING by this forum and it is useful in moving intensity around and making sure you are getting a reasonable amount of recovery in.

Thanks. Just downloaded the app. Looks interesting.

i take it with a grain of salt…some days when it has said i need rest i do a fantastic ride an d feel so good and another day it gave me a score of 10 and i felt lousy on the ride…explain???

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I don’t think you should ever feel pain while training. Your muscles may be so tired that you can’t physically push the peddles, but not pain.


The simple answer is that if you’ve done the ftp test properly using an accurate smart trainer or PM, and then you follow the training plan, then you’ll be working in a variety of zones that ensure you don’t over stress yourself.

Further to that, from reviewing the workouts, (and assuming you use a HRM) you will be able to see what your average HR is during harder intervals. If you know your max HR you’ll also be able to assess what % of max HR you were working at.

Rather than HR stress I would recommend considering what overall training stress your body can absorb, recover from and then continue training productively. That will inform what plan you follow and how much training is good for you per week

ETA: you say you are regularly bumping up against max HR, can you link to a recent TR workout where this happened?

You may also wish to consider your workout environment, is it sufficiently cool and do you use a fan? Overheating will raise your heart rate and lower your available power…

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How are you calculating your maxHR?

The default 220 minus age formula might be the average for the population as a whole, but is #$%^ at predicting the max for any one individual.

Most people do not routinely go above 96-98% of their max, as it is uncomfortable, and not particularly efficient training or racing.

If you are regularly bumping up against your formula-calculated maximum, my guess is that your true maximum is a fair bit higher.

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Thanks everyone. Super helpful answers. Re: environment, not a problem, relatively cool, lots of ventilation etc. re: Max heart, not using formula just using highest number I have ever seen (177). Peak heart rate during tough intervals is usually 170-174, I go a few beats higher sometimes when racing on Zwift. Re: correct FTP pretty sure I’m doing it right - ramp test is hard to get wrong using a Neo in ERG mode.

Link to recent workout I found cardio hard but doable: Link

Thanks again for the great answers!

Ventilation is fine, but you actually need air/wind blowing over you (a good fan or two).

Yup, two fans - on at the front one at the back. The wind blows in both directions at once in my cave :wink:

They may be actually canceling each other out with that configuration creating a stagnant air pocket in the middle. It’s generally recommended to have both fans in front left and right of the wheel. Maybe one pointing higher (body/ neck) and the other on your lower section.

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Actually they are down low on opposite sides of me, puts me right in the middle of a nice flow all around the body. Ran it with two in front but would just get hot back. Thx.


Discomfort is a given if you are working hard at making change. Pain should not happen unless you are injured, max heart rate is a tricky thing and is different for every person even at my age recommended is 174 and I operate well above that. One race last year my average was 184 over 58 minutes with a max of 197. Each person is different.

So much of our training is mind over matter so if I were you i would;

Make sure you’ve had a recent check up with the Doc. See if he thinks it would be worth doing one of the heart/lung scans just to make you feel better.
My Doc told me that I didn’t need one based on EKG/physical and still thought it might make me feel better though.
Keep riding hard.

That example you gave is VO2 max efforts, getting your heart rate up near maximum would be expected during those.

The Givens workout you you linked to, I would really struggle doing 3 minutes at 130% of FTP so I would expect anyone doing it with a correctly calculated FTP to be maxing out their heart rate.

Welll, there is good pain and there is bad pain. Spencer +2 this am was painful … in a good way.

HR does vary. 2 years ago I held 192 racing mtb. Held 188 in a 5k 2 months ago. Have a late 50s friend whose max is almost 200. (Held in a race).

Gotta love that eyeball bleeding feeling.


Don’t be afraid to HTFU :wink:

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