Sunday, 8 January 2012

Heart to Heart (Base Miles)

My Heart Rate and Cadence from Today's Ride

I wrote last week about heart rate zones and base mile training.  The idea being to draw more on fat than carbohydrates as your fuel for your ride aswell as building an aerobic base.  Ideally your heart rate should not exceed heart rate zone 2 for you to fully benefit.

When I ride base miles, I have a light breakfast like a banana and use water as my fluid, steering away from energy drinks as you don't really need to be inputting carbohydrates into your system.  You're not exerting so much energy by controlling your heart rate through your speed, cadence and gearing (Disclaimer - Our biologies are all different, so please consult a coach if this is something that you want to really drill into).

My maximum heart rate is 184bpm, so my heart rate zone two (HRZ2) - which is 65-75% of your maximum - means that my training zone is between 120bpm - 138bpm.

If you have a look at my heart rate data above, you can see that the pace of today's club ride meant that my heart rate average was 136bpm, however I consistently went above that, particularly in the third quarter of the ride as the ride elevation had a gradual ascent.

My highest recorded heart rate was 173bpm, which puts me right at the top of HRZ5 - which means my system switched to carbohydrate for fuel.  Carbs need to be optimised, so you end up having energy drinks or gels to replace them to keep you going. Ultimately, you end up putting calories in, which reduces your overall calorific reduction/benefit (albeit it delivers other benefits, particularly if you do this as an interval in your ride).

If you compared heart rate zone data from all of the riders our today, it will be different. A young, fit 23 year old may have a completely different maximum.  If their maximum heart rate is 194bpm, then their HRZ2 is 127bpm-146bpm.  What that means if I were to ride with that individual, their HRZ2 median is nearly top of my HRZ2 maximum (my heart will be working harder to ride at the same speed).

Which leads me to my point.  If you want to build your aerobic base, you are probably going to need to ride alone or with someone a relatively comparable heart rate as you.  By riding in a group, you go at the groups speed.  Each rider will be exerting different levels of energy to keep up with the group.  If you're on the front riding the wind, you'll be pushing that little bit harder.  If you're hidden in the group, you'll be pulled along by draft.  It's all a bit unpredictable, as my data shows today.

To do effective base miles, you need to pick a pretty flat route, ride at a higher cadence than normal and wear a heart rate monitor to keep an eye on what your ticker is doing.  As your heart rate increases, either slow down or change gear but reduce the effort.  It takes a bit of doing, but you soon get the hang of it.

Alternatively, you could sit on a turbo trainer.  I'm fortunate enough to have a Wattbike at home which means I can work on my pedal stroke at the same time as sitting in a specific heart rate zone, it's about as good as you can get in terms of accuracy and control.

I'll see if I can get a qualified coach to knock up a blog about base miles to qualify this issue further as it is a key part of a winter training regime.


  1. Thanks Phil.

    One of my massive issues recently has been trying to find WHERE exactly my zones should be. You've quoted 65-75% for zone 2, whereas I've read all sorts of different values chucked about recently. I'm just starting (at nearly 34 years old) to try and train properly and find methods that don't include power meters, but it's hard to know what to do when I don't know what intensity to do it at!

  2. Phil,
    To be honest I think for pot-holers like us it is nearly impossible to do zoned riding, in a group, on the open road. At this time of the year where I want specific zone exercise I get more benefit from turbo work with a constant read-out heart rate sensor. However, there is no accounting for the "Wellbeing" index of how much better you feel being out on the road, in the fresh air with the sights and sounds of real cycling.
    Happy New Year
    Cheers Tony

  3. HNY Phil, thanks for the blogs. I'm going to give it a good go this year, building on what I started in summer.
    Notice you are focusing on HR and cadence, which is key for monitoring the training plan, what computer are you using? I have had a good look around and reviews vary a lot... Any recommendations?

  4. Dear Brooksboy,

    I use a Garmin Edge 800 with heart rate + cadence sensor. A much cheaper option is the Polar CS200, I had one of these before the Garmin and it was bombproof and available for about £100-£119. It also did all the key measurements on the bike.

    Alternatively, you could consider one of the wrist worn heart rate monitors. Good luck with it.


  5. Hi James,

    I use the BCF/ABCC/WCPP (Revised Guidelines, which are: -

    Methodology: BCF/ABCC/WCPP (Revised Guidelines) -

    Zone: Percentage: Based on MaxHR only.
    Recovery Below 60%
    1 60% - 65%
    2 65% - 75%
    3 75% - 82%
    4 82% - 89%
    5 89% - 94%
    6 94% - 100%

  6. Hey Phil

    I'm following same methodology and riding solo to maintain the discipline and focus required to stay in the zones.

    useful to track your avg speed over the course of a ride and see how this increases over time in same zone as your base endurance increases

  7. Hi Phil

    I'm new to cycling but hold a belief that working at higher intensity also serves to increase base endurance through increasing lung capacity, heart strength and improving lactate clean up. I would believe that working at a higher intensity would mean that you also work on base endurance. This in turn would mean that you are increasing how long you can maintain a base level. What are your thoughts?



  8. Hi James,

    I've got a couple of coaches writing guest blogs around this issue, they will give the best guidance. Watch this space.


  9. Hi guys.. Im using STRAVA training Program.. It gives you all your heart rate zones.. automaticly once you have input your max heart rate. Its a really good program... Even gives a AVG power out put on climbs and rides. Have a look if you want.