Cycling Heart Rate Zones Explained:

If you do a search on heart rate zones, you’ll get a large selection of zones with different values and number of zones, enough to get really confused. It seems that everyone has a different opinion on the matter. As we are regularly coaching cyclists that just want to get on and train right without having to get a degree in medical science, we keep our zones simple. This article discusses the zones that we use in our coaching program and how you can use them to maximise your cycle training. I’ve found that these zones are very effective for the training required for cycling. They are slightly different to the ones that normally come as default with the Polar heart rate monitors.

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No one Heart Rate Zone System is better than another.

I want you to know that at the end of the day no one HR zone system is better than another. The important thing is to decide on one and then stick to it. In the table below and the descriptions that follow, explain the Heart Rate Zones that we use for our own personal training as well as Cycling-Inform’s Coaching program.

This is one of the most effective ways of using your heart rate monitor to improve your cycling. These Zones are also endorsed by Cycling Australia.

Description Intensity Code % Max Heart Rate
VO2 MAX Boosting Very Hard – Can’t speak VO2 92 – 100 %
Anaerobic Threshold Endurance Hard – Difficult to speak at all E3 85 – 91 %
General Aerobic Endurance Moderate – Talk in short sentences E2 75 – 84 %
Base Aerobic Endurance Easy – Able to carry out conversation E1 65 – 74 %
Recovery Easy – Able to carry out conversation REC 50 – 64 %

Cycling Heart Rate Zones Explained: Cycling Australia official Heart Rate Zones

Rest <50% MHR
This zone is associated with very light training and rest. Sometimes used during a transition phase in your training where you’ll spend time walking or performing other very light cross training exercise. Sometimes referred to as active recovery. Its the zone you generally use when you are stretching or performing other maintenance related activities like Pilates and yoga.

Zone REC (Recovery) 50-64%MHR
Sometimes combined with the next zone, this is a zone where you’ll spend your time doing your recovery rides. It feels like you almost arent training at all in this zone. Its a very important zone as it helps flush out your muscles in between intense training sessions. The key to this zone it to ensure that you dont go too hard because if you do youll not be rested enough to go really hard in the harder session of your program.

Zone E1 (Aerobic Endurance) 65-74%MHR
This zone is where you build your aerobic base and is a zone that you’ll spend a lot of time in when you are building your cycling base fitness. This zone is the foundation at the beginning of your season for which youll build your strength then speed on throughout the year. This zone builds your aerobic power and enables you to ride long distances and improves your average speed while riding at an easy pace. This zone is normally associated with social riding. You are able to carry on a normal conversation, and is best done while riding with others as a relaxing pace. Its also the zone where you’ll warm up and cool down in.

Zone E2. (General Aerobic Endurance) 75-84%MHR
While this is an important zone for training in to build an increase in muscle glycogen storage, you”ll need to be careful spending time in this zone. Its sometime referred to as on-mans land or temp riding as you are riding too fast to build your aerobic base but too slow to develop your V02MAX and lactate threshold. The result of spending too much time in this zone is that you’ll get home feeling tired but not have really improved your fitness. Therefore this zone is not an efficient use of your training time. And in a lot of cases its the zone you’ll be in when riding in medium paced bunch rides. For that reason its important to monitor the time spent in this zone. In moderation, it is however a good zone to ease you into interval training and during a specialization period before starting to race. Cyclists that train in this zone a lot end up quickly reaching a plateau in their fitness.

Zone E3. (Anaerobic Threshold Endurance) 85-91%MHR
This zone is where you start to get some real improvements to your fitness. Referred to generally as strength endurance training this zone helps to increase your ability to ride at lactate threshold. It is a very important zone to train in for endurance events and road racing. This is not an easy zone to train in and is associated with interval training where youll ride for short durations at an above average intensity. Youll be breathing hard in this zone and not able to carry on a conversation. Training in this zone helps build tolerance to the muscle burn that you get when riding hard as well as your strength endurance. Its a critical zone to train in to be able to successfully bridge gaps, work in breaks, time trial and climb long hills.

Zone VO2. (VO2 MAX Boosting) 92-100% MHR
Often referred to as V02MAX this is the hardest zone to train in. This is a zone where you will increase your V02MAX and build your hearts ability to increase its cardio output. It is mainly reserved for short and very intense intervals as it is not a zone that you can spend much time in. However, trained properly, cyclists can ride a short 20 minute individual time trial almost completely at the bottom of this zone. Holding a conversation is imposable. Use the lower end of this zone for very intense interval training and the higher end for sprint training.

I hope that helps explain cycling heart rate zones.

Next Article: How to Test for Your Cycling Max Heart Rate