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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
O.K., I'm just getting back into cycling after a two-decade absence. Lots of things have changed during that time, including the move to more specific heart-rate training zones.

I'm currently reading three books on the subject: Heart Zones Cycling by Sally Edwards and Sally Reed, The Lance Armstrong Performance Program (don't laugh -- it was on the shelves at the local library) by Chris Carmichael, and Ride Your Way Lean by Selene Yeager. All three divide the HR range into five zones, and all seem to treat each zone as having the same meaning:

Zone 1: Easy riding, recovery
Zone 2: Endurance base
Zone 3: Aerobic capacity
Zone 4: Lactate threshold
Zone 5: Maximum capacity -- VO[SUB]2[/SUB]

However, each has a very different formula for setting each zone, given one's maximum HR.

Edwards/Reed:
Zone 1: 50% - 60%
Zone 2: 60% - 70%
Zone 3: 70% - 80%
Zone 4: 80% - 90%
Zone 5: 90% - 100%

Carmichael:
Zone 1: 60% - 65%
Zone 2: 65% - 70%
Zone 3: 70% - 80%
Zone 4: 80% - 85%
Zone 5: 86% - 100%

Yeager:
Zone 1: 50% - 64%
Zone 2: 65% - 74%
Zone 3: 75% - 84%
Zone 4: 85% - 94%
Zone 5: 95% - 100%

Needless to say, this is quite a discrepancy. Let's say that my maximum HR is 183. (For the sake of argument, it matters little whether this is derived from the standard "220-age" adage or from an actual individual test.) The results for the different zones are as follows:

Zone 1
Edwards/Reed: 91 - 110
Carmichael: 110 - 119
Yeager: 110 - 117

Zone 2
Edwards/Reed: 110 - 128
Carmichael: 119 - 128
Yeager: 119 - 135

Zone 3
Edwards/Reed: 128 - 146
Carmichael: 128 - 146
Yeager: 137 - 153

Zone 4
Edwards/Reed: 146 - 164
Carmichael: 146 - 155
Yeager: 155 - 172

Zone 5
Edwards/Reed: 164 - 183
Carmichael: 157 - 183
Yeager: 173 - 183

(I'm leaving off the fact that Edwards/Reed actually have two methods of calculating their zones -- one based on maximum HR, the other on "threshold" HR -- and that, even given the same HR data, the two methods come out with completely different results that diverge more as you get into higher zones.)

Obviously, there's a great degree of difference here. For example, if you're in Zone 1 according to Edwards/Reed, you're not in any zone according to the other two; more seriously, if you were trying to get into Zone 4 to work on your lactate threshold, depending on whether you were using Carmichael or Yeager's zones, there would only be a single BPM (155) where you could be said to be in the proper zone.

This might not matter so much if the three books treated the zones differently, but all seem to attach the same meanings to them, and prescribe the same sort of training sessions hitting the same zones for the same purposes as each other. Given that, please help ease my puzzlement: is any of the three book's sets of zone-defining formulae considered more authoritative or precise than the others? Or is it just a crap-shoot? As mentioned above, it seems to me rather strange that two of the books come up with almost totally-different ranges for something as critical as lactate threshold.
 

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There are discrepancies, and that's because heart rate, like much in medicine, isn't black-and-white. As you become fitter, you'll notice that you can more comfortably reach higher heart rates, and you can put forth the same effort with a lower heart rate. There are other definitions of HR zones that include how heavily you are breathing and whether you can carry on a conversation. Your HR will also change with your age, the temperature of the air, the time of day, and your health (like if you have a cold). Anyone who wants to make a buck from writing a book is going to publish something slightly different so they can claim to be the authority.
 

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O.K., I'm just getting back into cycling after a two-decade absence. Lots of things have changed during that time, including the move to more specific heart-rate training zones.

As mentioned above, it seems to me rather strange that two of the books come up with almost totally-different ranges for something as critical as lactate threshold.
recovery - I can sing!
endurance - I can talk in full sentences
tempo - I have to talk slowly
threshold - grunt
sprint - huff, huff, huff, huff
 

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+1 for Friel. I use his method for both HR and power based training. The 220-age is very inaccurate and trying to figure out your true max HR is difficult unless you are being chased by lions on the plains of Africa or some other life and death situation. Testing is repeatable so it is easy to monitor performance improvement. The down side is the tests are not easy/fun but the more you do it the easier they get.

it has been awhile since I read Yeager's book but I think hers are based off of a test as well. I think similar to Friel's. i think Yeagers book is also the most recently published and as you have noticed things have evolved a bit.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks for the link. Certainly, given Friel's reputation, anything he says should be taken seriously. I'd have to note, however, that in one sense this only adds to the confusion.

You see, both Friel and Edwards/Reed take a similar approach: rather than working from maximum HR, use a test to determine LT, and then calculate from there. (They both also break zone 5 down into 5a, 5b, and 5c for extra precision.) I'll leave aside the fact that the two tests are quite different -- the point is, since they're supposed to measure the same point, they theoretically should be giving similar results. However, given an accurate LT number, the formulas they use diverge even more than the three I mentioned in my OP.

To give an example: say that I take both LT tests, and, as luck would have it, they both give an identical result of 150. In that case, the zones would be set as follows --

Zone 1
Edwards/Reed: 90 - 105
Friel: up to 121

Zone 2
Edwards/Reed: 105 - 120
Friel: 122-134

Zone 3
Edwards/Reed: 120 - 135
Friel: 135-140

Zone 4
Edwards/Reed: 135 - 150
Friel: 141 - 149

Zone 5a
Edwards/Reed: 150 - 158
Friel: 150 - 153

Zone 5b
Edwards/Reed: 158 - 165
Friel: 155 - 159

Zone 5c
Edwards/Reed: 165 - 188
Friel: 160 and over

From these results, it would appear that, if you're in one zone according to whichever book you're using, you're probably going to be one zone higher or lower according to the other book, but rarely if ever in the same zone for both.
 

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Thanks for the link. Certainly, given Friel's reputation, anything he says should be taken seriously. I'd have to note, however, that in one sense this only adds to the confusion.

You see, both Friel and Edwards/Reed take a similar approach: rather than working from maximum HR, use a test to determine LT, and then calculate from there. (They both also break zone 5 down into 5a, 5b, and 5c for extra precision.) I'll leave aside the fact that the two tests are quite different -- the point is, since they're supposed to measure the same point, they theoretically should be giving similar results. However, given an accurate LT number, the formulas they use diverge even more than the three I mentioned in my OP.

To give an example: say that I take both LT tests, and, as luck would have it, they both give an identical result of 150. In that case, the zones would be set as follows --

Zone 1
Edwards/Reed: 90 - 105
Friel: up to 121

Zone 2
Edwards/Reed: 105 - 120
Friel: 122-134

Zone 3
Edwards/Reed: 120 - 135
Friel: 135-140

Zone 4
Edwards/Reed: 135 - 150
Friel: 141 - 149

Zone 5a
Edwards/Reed: 150 - 158
Friel: 150 - 153

Zone 5b
Edwards/Reed: 158 - 165
Friel: 155 - 159

Zone 5c
Edwards/Reed: 165 - 188
Friel: 160 and over

From these results, it would appear that, if you're in one zone according to whichever book you're using, you're probably going to be one zone higher or lower according to the other book, but rarely if ever in the same zone for both.
I think part of your issue is you are looking at the testing and the %'s for the zones as exact measures. These are designed to be used as tools to monitor changes in fitness with incorporating as little stress to the athlete as possible while still getting the job done. In order to get the true lactate threshold it would be necessary to take blood from the athlete test it, continue exercising and test, keep repeating at regular intervals until a significant upturn in blood lactate levels was noticed and record that heart rate. I have read these protocols the the internet, but they become difficult and expensive specialized equipment etc. As a result, the pros have developed their own tests which in their opinion get you to an approximate LT and base their training off that.

this is why powermeter training is so popular now, but even there exact measures are difficult. There they use the term functional threshold power FTP. It is themax power one can hold for an hour. This test is too stressful to be repeated often so Friel developed a 20 min max power and then take 95% of that number to approximate FTP, it could be 93 or 96%. The idea is to test often to make sure you are in the proper zone for the desired training effect. How often is a function of your training volume and intensity but if following a pretty aggressive regimine 4-6 weeks is not unreasonable but if training much less 2-3 months might make more sense. You should be well rested before testing and allow for some recovery as well.


Friel's Cycling Training Bible might be of interest to you. I might suggest to pick a methodology and follow the protocol for the test and appropriate training zones. Don't mix"apples and oranges" and I think you will be fine.
 

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If using HR to help guide training, then keep in mind:

- the levels, no matter how defined will have a lot of slop in them. Attempting to define precise HR numbers for training is meaningless as there is quite a lot of variability from day to day in HR response to the same workload (let alone HR numbers when you have a number pinned on your back).

- HR training levels typically also come with guidance as to how they are to be used in training, so considering levels without considering the training that goes with them is also pretty meaningless. One coach's level 3 might be another coach's level 4, and so making straight comparisons may not be right, as one coach might give more level 4 in a plan than another.

- if the levels don't seem to match your experience (e.g. you do regular hard threshold intervals but your HR is no where near the level suggested for "threshold"), then adjust the levels to suit.

- HR is NOT a measure of fitness. It's a measure of the rate your heart is beating and is a reasonable proxy for level of effort for sub-threshold steady state riding, but it can be quite misleading, especially if your effort is highly variable, or involves working at and above threshold power and you have not accounted for non-pedalling effort impact on HR response of things like environmental, hydration, motivation, food, drugs like caffeine, stress, etc.
 
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