Friday, December 16, 2011


I have had an issue for a while when I am cycling. I never can seem to "hit" my target HR zones. When I was with Train-This, we used Joe Friel HR zones for both the bike and the run (I believe, Mary can correct me if I'm wrong) with a Z1 (recovery), Z2 (endurance), Z3 (tempo) and Z4 (short races). There was an offset between bike zones and run zones, like usual, and I still have a hard time understanding WHY there is an offset, but I attempted to follow these HR zones to the best of my ability. When I am running, I have no problem dialing into the required zone. I can run all day at my endurance zone, and I can hit and run at tempo pace when it's scheduled.

But I just CANNOT seem to ride in my cycling zones. For instance, my Z2 for last year on the bike were (approximately, I can't remember exactly) 142-162. So, for the majority of my rides (all my long rides, all IM bike splits) should be ridden at a HR somewhere in there. But, where do I tend to average my HR for long rides? In the 120s (if I'm lucky). This happens on the trainer, outside, all the time. During IM Wisconsin, the only triathlon where I have worn my HR monitor, I actually averaged in my Z2 (on the high side even) but this was a race situation AND it was hot as balls on that bike.

Mary figured that part of my issue with this (because it was an ongoing issue over 2 seasons) was that I was just cooked from 2 Ironmans in one year. Personally, I felt like I was just being too lazy on the bike. I felt like I was riding at endurance pace, based off of perceived effort, but it's hard to tell sometimes!

When I made the switch to QT2 two weeks ago, my HR zones changed to the QT2 system. They are ZR (recovery), Z1 (endurance), and Z2 (tempo). I ran a 5K in October and Mary used that data to structure my new zones. They are smaller and lower than the previous ones I used, so I thought that I finally might have a chance to actually ride in my endurance zone. My first bike ride in, I was absolutely determined to hit my HR zone, and I did it, by sprinting my ass off for 75 minutes. My Z1 was 134 - 145, and my average HR was 134. So even riding above my BSE (best sustainable effort) for 75 minutes, I BARELY made it into Z1. And I don't think I could ride at that intensity for much longer than 75 minutes, so that is going to prove to be problematic for long rides.

By this point, I was super frustrated.

That same day, I had posted a photo on facebook that I had taken with my iPhone. The photo was of this index card I had decorated with my HR zones so that I could sit it in front of me and stare at it while on the trainer - just another safeguard against slacking (because that's what I thought was going on). A QT2 teammate, Keith, that I am friends with through Mary commented on the photo about how my HR zones are higher than his (my Z1 is his Z3) and he said that he also had trouble riding in his HR zones, and said that it is common for runners who are used to using our entire bodies when we work out, so when we have to use just our legs, we have a harder time because we lack leg strength.

I wanted to run this theory by Mary, so I hopped over to the QT2 forum and posted a question for Mary with some background (for other members who read the forum), my "conversation" with Keith, and asking what her thoughts were on the matter. Sidenote: because I am a QT2 Mission Plan Athlete, things have changed a little bit since being a Train-This athlete. Questions about training, races, switching workouts, and other questions in general are posted to Mary's QT2 forum instead of emailed to her directly (if you want that kind of communication, you have to be a 1:1 athlete, but I can't afford it). It works out fine because Mary is very diligent about checking the forum and answering questions, and you can also see what other people post and her answers to their questions. Also, since she is now one coach among other coaches, she can actually brainstorm problems her athletes are having with other knowledgeable people in search of answers. I believe this is what Mary did, since her and I had no idea what was going on last season.

 Long story short (ok actually it's long, sorry!) we think the problem is a lack of leg strength. It's kind of crazy when you think about it, because I don't look like I lack strength in my legs. I am pretty solid, my quads are pretty big, and I've done a LOT of training the past 3 years. But, this also does make sense to me. I might be strong endurance-wise but in terms of actual strength, I don't have a lot. I think this is why my quads blow up in marathons, IM marathons, and even at the end of a hilly long run.

To try to fix this, Mary is going to have me doing a lot of lower body max phase strengthening exercises (and I think my max strength phase is going to be extended) and a lot of low cadence, big ring trainer rides over the winter. I am just glad that this problem has been figured out, that it's not my fault, and that there is a solution that will hopefully make me a stronger, faster athlete!


  1. Glad things are moving toward a potential solution! Was Mary and her crew able to explain how leg strength relates to the HR issue? It sounds important and interesting but I'm not sure I follow. (I of course always have the reverse problem, happy HR on the bike, freaky high HR no matter the pace on the run.)

    Is it weird that when you posted that pic on twitter/fb (can't recall) I imagined it was a huge poster, not an index card?

  2. Dang you have put a lot of thought into this one! My HR is always lower on the bike too and varies from morning ride to evening rides.

    That is why I ditched the HR monitor and train with power on the bike. Training with power eliminates all the guess work!

  3. I agree with Jeff. Power on the bike = you are either putting in the work or you aren't.

    Hows the knee?

  4. well if one of you 2 wants to buy me a powermeter then I will train with power. but until then.. HR it is!

  5. I think that makes sense too! I have a similar build with big strong looking quads that are actually sissys.

    I like having someone else worry about my schedule and what I'm doing but I also LOVE learning the what, when whys of what our experts are planning for us!

  6. My two cents: Your relativly low heart rate during cycling is due to excellent cardiovascular efficiency. Your heart is not pumping harder because you don't need it to. Your leg muscles are clearly getting all the O2 and fuel they need. So what's the problem?! Stengthening the leg muscles will help you build fast-twitch muscle fibers not used in cycling. Fast-twitch fibers are much less efficient than slow-twitch fibers, so sure, if you build the fast-twitch fibers your heart will have to work harder and you'll get a higher HR. But fast-twitch fibers are not going to help you increase your average speed during cycling or running, so while you might show an increase in HR, personally I doubt that will translate into any gains in LEG performance. But now that I think about it, if it's a stronger heart and greater system-wide efficiency that you want, then it could work. Eureka, now I see where you are going with this. Do it!

  7. HR training and I are not friends right now :)

    BUT that makes total sense, and I think I have a similar problem with lack of leg strength. I really have to work to get my bike HR to where it needs to be (unless I am going balls out on a hill or something) Can't wait to hear how it goes.

    Sounds like Q2 is going to be pretty good for you!

  8. I had the same problem last year when biking. I was always telling Coach J I couldn't get into the zones she had indicated in the bike plan. Except for riding up hills, I couldn't maintain the HR. An experienced triathlete friend mentioned to me toward the end of last season that this was probably a result of leg strength. I started incorporating weekly hill repeat rides and noticed an improvement. Fast forward a few months, and less riding: I just started going to a spin class where the cyclometers provide "measured" power and it was pretty depressing to see how little power I am putting out :-( Why are power meters so freakin' expensive!


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