8This is the second instalment of the E3Coaching series that we are running over winter, last week we spoke about the basics of training. If you've not taken a look at it you can view it here: E3Coach Series The basics of training

Why do we test? What’s the point?

We all want to train smart but in order to do this we need a benchmark to work from. We can all take our resting heart rate nice and easily but this on its own is not going to help set your personal training zones. The cost and logistics of getting to a lab to perform a VO2 max test means this is out of reach for many and so it’s left to us to find a way to get our max heart rate data by ourselves. Why we need this is so that we can work backwards from this figure to define specific zones to train in.

A couple of things you need to consider when heading out for a max effort test on your bike are:

  • It is a safe area which is not too traffic heavy or too technical

  • Using a climb that you can ride up normally. There is no point aiming for a hill you can’t climb steadily.

  • Go with someone, for two reasons… Firstly, they can shout and motivate you to get that last bit of effort and secondly, if there is a problem there is somebody there to help - yep maximal effort can lead to vomiting or passing out!

  • Warm up. Don’t just find your nearest hill and smash it cold, or chances are you won’t be riding the next day.

  • Make sure you start your Garmin/Polar or whichever device you have, there is nothing worse than giving your all and realising you forgot to hit start!

  • Do it again, this is the way to check you have left a full effort on the climb. If you reach same heart rate or higher then chances are first effort was not max, if it’s lower, then you put your hardest effort in first time.

For this test I am expecting that you will have a bike computer to record data and that you won’t be stopping at the top to find a pulse…

Where to test?

When selecting a hill, try to find one that is of good length and a consistent gradient, one of the guys at UKXCNews use a 1 mile hill with an average gradient of 6%, its consistent and its repeatable over the season. its not to far from home but long enough that when they arrive, they have sufficiently warmed up.


Now you have done your test, uploaded it and seen what your max heart rate is, check in your online files in any races or tough events and see if you have got a close, or maybe even a higher heart rate. If you have got higher in a race, then take that as the better reading.

Next important factor is muscular effort. As much as we would all like to feel like pros, we are not. As mortals, our limiting factor will be strength basically meaning our legs will reach their max before our cardio will. Our aim should be to get strength up as close to max heart rate as possible and this will take time, but following a good training structure may leave you finding you can hit higher heart rates. You have not improved your heart rate but have improved your cycling strength.

Using the data, we now have to put some structure into our training, but what data do we have?

  • Resting heart rate, taken first thing in the morning before we get up. How do we use this? It’s always worth taking resting heart rate a couple of times a week. If you find an increase of around 10 beats this can mean you are fatigued or coming down with something. REST.

  • Max heart rate from the test - this is an effort guide and in your races, spending too much time here will mean a potential blow out. BACK OFF. Taking 40-50 beats off this max reading will give you approximately BASE training intensity.

  • Threshold/turn-point - this is data that you can find from your racing and it is what your average heart rate was for the event. This shows you the effort that you can hold for that period, so you can work on improving this by setting interval efforts just on or above this number.

So the simple reason as to why we test is to make the most of our training sessions and to help ensure progression. Every ride has a purpose and a little science behind it to make sure it’s not junk.

The testing information I have shared here is really simple and easy to access, but we have not gone into power or FTP, Functional Threshold Power, where we start to make it more complicated. What I wanted to achieve here was show you that you can get your numbers without having to spend out a vast amount on time or tools.

You can use your max heart rate to work out zones, as below.

Zone From To BPM
Zone 5 Speed(anaerobic) 90% MHR 100% MHR
Zone 4 Economy(anaerobic) 80% MHR 90% MHR
Zone 3 Stamina(aerobic) 70% MHR 80% MHR
Zone 2 Endurance (aerobic) 60% MHR 70% MHR
Zone 1 Recovery (aerobic) 50% MHR 60% MHR
Enter your max heart rate: BPM Calculate

That said, please do drop us an email if you would like to learn more about getting your data up together with power, VO2 max testing or any other questions.

Next week we will be talking about base training, the zones you obtain in this test will be useful when you are heading out for some base.