How To Set Your (Ballpark) Training Zones Without Testing

It’s a good old fashioned dilemma.  I ask you to keep your heart rate in lower zone 2 for most of your workouts, but I don’t let you test your bike or run zones for 4 weeks since we don’t want to whack you with a full on TT effort until you’re toughened up.  What’s an athlete to do?  Worry not, we’ll just set some ballpark temporary zones until we test you!

Gonna Take A Highway to the Temporary Zone!

How To Set Your Temporary (Ballpark) Zones (in order of reliability).

1. Use the same heart rate zones from last season.  For an experienced athlete, heart rate zones are typically quite stable from one season to the next (but pace and power can vary alot!).  In fact, I don’t do a run heart rate test since I have my heart rate zones very well dialed in (and I’m an easily fried athlete so I avoid race efforts in early season).

2. Heart Rate Files From Races. For most athletes we can use your average Olympic HR as the bottom of your threshold zone, your average HIM HR as a proxy for your tempo zone and your average IM HR as your steady zone. Send me your race files and I’ll take a look. Stand alone bike and run races work well too if you have the data. This is probably the best way to set initial heart rate rate zones.

3. Using Recent Run Race Results to set Run Pace Zones. This doesn’t work if you’ve lost fitness or had some downtime since your last run race. But if you’ve recently done a run race and you’re basically at the same fitness level, plug your race distance and time into the McMillan Calculator.   Your steady zone will roughly correspond to the “long runs” paces provided by the calculator.  Email me about using this info to set your HR zones.

4. Perceived exertion & breath markers. I like having new team members use perceived exertion for a couple of weeks (even though it drives some of you nuts since you can’t be sure you’re in the right zone) because it starts the habit of teaching you to tune into you breathing and feelings of exertion. Developing the ability to tune into your body’s signals (as opposed to blindly sticking to a number on your power meter or heart rate monitor) can be the difference between a successful Ironman and a miserable failure.  Here are some rough guidelines for finding your zones based on perceived exertion & breathing (these are off the top of my head– if anyone has any better descriptions I’d welcome them).

5. The MAF 180 formula. If you have no previous HR data and you can’t stand the ambiguity of trying to tune into your breathing, then use the Maffetone Formula to set your steady HR zone. The details are here. For most athletes this number will work well for your run zones and it might be about 5 beats too high for the bike, but it will at least give you ceiling to stay below.

Don’t worry if your zones are a little bit off at first.  The first few weeks of training aren’t about being perfect, it’s about keeping it gentle and enjoying things.  We’ll have everything dialed in soon enough!   If in doubt, set your zones a little lower and never hesitate to email your dear old coach if you have any trouble!


About Coady

Lucky to be coaching some really awesome & fun people!
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