High Heart Rate and Training

One of the things we talk a lot about is heart rate. More specifically, people are always concerned when they are riding around with their heart rate pinned toward maximum all the time. They want to know why their heart rate is high compared to other people.

The short answer is: Your fitness.
The longer answer is: Training you probably haven’t done yet.



Sweaty Indoor Training Ride


HR & Power Zones

First, heart rate is different for everyone and your max heart rate cannot usually be accurately calculated by old, general rules of thumb, 220 - your age. You may genetically have a very high max heart rate, which could be good for you. If you have a heart rate monitor, you can test you resting heart rate, then hop on the trainer and test your maximum. And then you can accurately determine your heart rate training zones.

Generally, your heart rate zones correspond to your power training zones. Ultimately as you get fitter through training, your heart rate will go down in each respective power zone. You’ll be doing more work, with less heart rate. Over course of your training plan, the training you do in each zone changes the size and boundaries of each heart rate zone. Do more endurance work and your endurance zone will get bigger and your endurance HR zone will likely move downward. Practice sprinting a lot in VO2 max, and your maximum heart rate will increase.

It’s worth spending time in the off season to understand how your body works to generate pedal power so that you can be more specific about creating training adaptation. Once you know your physiological strengths, you can work to improve other aspects. What’s cool about cycling is that you need to have a balanced set of physiological tools in order to ride well. You want the right amount of endurance (4 hours), a relatively high maximum power (FTP), and appropriately fast legs to climb hills or win the sprint finish. (High cadence). Each of these skills trains you heart differently.

Power and Heart Rate Zone Table

Training Your Heart

Armed with a better understanding of yourself and your physiology, you can set out to make changes through training. My enthusiast opinion is that if your heart is always beating over 90% of your max HR, you likely could benefit from training it to beat more strongly and with fuller chambers of blood to increase your oxygen delivery. (Don’t we all need this?). Beating fast is good, but it means that your heart beats in little squirts with less then optimal oxygen in your blood.

Get a waterbottle and fill it with water. Now give it a big full squeeze and note how much water is left inside. Do it again and empty the bottle. Now fill it again, but this time, do really fast, small pumps. How does that compare? Are you fingers tired? How many squirts are required to get down to even half? A trained heart provides big, full pumps of oxygenated blood. Less work. More O2 per big squeeze.

The counter intuitive thing is that to train your heart to beat more strongly and more fully, you need to ride slower. You may have heard a lot of chatter about Zone 2 training, which is pretty low intensity for many people. But zone 2 is where you can practice breathing deeply, fully and forcefully from your diaphragm, which is what we need to train the heart. I’m not gonna lie, I hate 90’minutes of Zone 2 training. But it’s ok to throw some form sprints or power variability in the mix. It doesn’t have to be boring zone 2. There is lots of info about this on the interwebs. (Or ask me if you want to see some example workouts. Many peolple skip zone 2 work thinking it’s too easy, usually because they don’t understand where the key gains come from. Cycling is primarily an oxygen based sport. The more fully and completely your heart beats, the more oxygen moves from your lungs into your blood and ultimately into your muscles where is fuels your Muscular engine. That is why base building is important. 

There is nothing wrong with a high heart rate, but it’s not very efficient for a cyclist. If you’re always riding around maxed out and out of breath, you may need to train differently to build that most vital of all muscles, your heart.

I am by no means an expert but I have read these and other references in my own quest to train better.


HR 5 Zone Calculator:


Training Your Heart:

Heart Rate and Power Zones:

Muscle Physiology:

Getting Started: