The month of January has absolutely flown by, and my primary goal of being consistent has been going well. This month I was mostly focused on getting back into the routine of working out. I wasn’t really focused on my times, mileage, or stats. As we head into February, consistency is still going to be my number one priority, but now is the time to start laying out a more formal plan to move forward with into the main training season with.

Per the norm of the internet, there are literally millions of different ideas floating around about building a training program. HIIT vs Non HIIT, high mileage vs low mileage, power zones, etc. It’s extremely easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of information and strong opinions. So, considering the theme of my year, consistency, I’ve written down a consistent concept from a lot of workouts i’ve seen the past few weeks while reading up on different programs. Heart rate zones.

The idea behind heart rate zones is that by determining your maximum beats per minute, or BPM, you can tailor a workout program to avoid over-stressing your body. A quick and simple guide for determining your max heart rate (aside from doing a brutal workout to hit that max) is a simple formula — (220 – AGE). So in my case, 220 – 30 = 190. To check how accurate that is for me — I looked back into my training logs to see what my maximum heart rate has been on Zwift.

My maximum logged HR during a cycling workout is 181bpm. Pretty close to my off-the-cuff 220-AGE estimate. By most accounts, cycling max tends to be a little bit lower than say a running max. Adjusting for this, which can be around 5% higher, puts me right at ~190. That’s a pretty cool trick.

Once we’ve established what my max HR is, how should I use this information? This is where zones come into play. The general idea is to break up your BPM into five zones, 1 – 5. Here are my ranges calculated using Triathlon Taren’s calculator:

  • Zone 1 : Recovery pace, warm ups, cool downs ( up to ~112 BPM)
  • Zone 2 : Harder effort but very sustainable ( ~112 – 145 BPM ) ~60-75%
  • Zone 3 : Race Pace for long races ( ~145 – 162 BPM) ~ 75-85%
  • Zone 4 : Speed Workouts to build top end ( ~162 – 173 BPM) ~ 85-95%
  • Zone 5 : Pure Speed and VO2 — woof (173 – 191 BPM) ~95% to max
Zwift actually has my heart-rate zones built in, and their default for me is actually pretty accurate!

Okay, now that we have zones established, here is the key to this whole thing. From what I understand, most people are in favor of the 80/20 rule. 80% of your training should be inside of zones 1 and 2. That means only 20% of your training should be zones 3 or higher. Wait what? Long story short, researchers have found that training in Zone 3 does not provide enough benefit compared to the difficulty of training. Basically, it isn’t fast or hard enough to build your upper end, while depleting you physically. Zone 3 has been labelled a “gray” area. To gain real speed, operating in zone 4 or 5, for shorter workouts (think HIIT) is the way to go, while building long endurance at a much easier zone 1/ 2 keeps your body from getting too beat down.

I think this whole thing is a pretty fascinating concept, and one that I will continue to read and learn about as I start building out our training plans in the next few months. What do you guys think? Does this make sense to you?