Comparing HR Zones and RPE Zones
When preparing my training sessions on the turbo, all workouts and articles emphasise the importance of training in the correct zone in order to get the most benefit. Using a heart rate monitor and a display that you can watch whilst training means that the cadence and resistance (or gear) can be tweaked during an interval to keep the HR in the recommended zone.
Some videos/workouts use heart rate zones (HRZ) as the measurement, others use the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) method. I originally wanted to find a quick way to translate RPEs into HRZs because the cycle GPS units I used (first a Bryton Rider 50, and now a Garmin Edge 800) can display a heart rate zone, as well as the BPM figure.
I originally started this spreadsheet to give me a quick sheet to print out sop that when I used an RPE scale workout, I could just translate it into the HRZ method so it would be consistent with my cycle computer.
Of course nothing is every as easy or straightforward as it first appears …..
After doing quite a bit of research on the internet, I discovered a variety of methods for calculating your heart rate limits and zones, and also the scales used to measure workload.
My searching drew me a bit deeper into the uncertain world of HRZs and RPE sales, and I came away with no definitive answer to what I was looking for to start with.
Firstly I just wanted to confirm the scales I was using. And here was the first surprise (well to me anyway); there is no single scale. The various scales I found included:
- Heart Rate Zones
- 5 zone scale
- 6 zone scale
- 5 zone with the zones split into 2 or more) parts (so a 6 or 7 point scale). (I found this very odd – why call it a 5 zone scale, when you’ve got, 1 2,3,4,5a,5b,5c? Numbers continue above 5)
- RPE Zones
- 5 point zone
- 10 point zone
- 20 point zone
Maximum Heart Rate
In order to work out where your current level of exertion fits on the scale, you need to know your maximum HR. Without having a full physical test to accurately measure your maximum heart rate, there are a number of methods to estimate the maximum HR from your age. One method take into consideration gender and weight, another methods just uses age as the data point.
The range of maximum heart rates given by the different formulas give a a range of about 10 bpm from the lowest “maximum” to the highest “maximum”.
Calculating the training ranges is also variable. These range from the simple percentage of the maximum rate to methods that take into consideration your resting heart rate.
So, what I thought would be an easy “plug in the numbers” type exercise turned out to be more involved than I expected. In some ways, I was left more confused after doing this, than I was when I just grabbed the first “How to get your max HR” article I found.
The way I use this is to use the lower of the maximum HR values as the maximum when I’m turbo training. I’ve jumped above this a few times, but even though I’ve got a good level of fitness, I’d rather err on the side of caution. I’ve come back from some rides and found that on some of the really steep hills, I’ve managed to push myself to the upper maximum HR value for a very seconds (and over the lower of the maximum rate for up to 20~30- seconds).
To compare the different results I put together a simple spreadsheet which performs several calculations. I’ve sourced the calculations from several places I’ve found in my research and noted the source of calculation next to the table. All these sites are referenced by other training and coaching sites.
Download the spreadsheet from here. You just need to fill in the white cells at the top of the sheet (Date of birth, age, gender, weight and resting heart rate). You can optionally put in your name if you want to print it out. The weight can be entered in kilograms or pounds. There’s a drop down to select the scale.
The spreadsheet was written in Libreoffice and I haven’t tested it in Excel.
Here are some of the sites I used when looking into HR Zones and RPE scales. These sites, and others are also listed in the spreadsheet.
Bikeradar article: Bikeradar is a good general site for all sorts of cycling related reading
Brian Mac Coaching: Brian has a good range of sports training articles on his site and I’d recommend spending some time exploring it. His site was consistently at the top of the search results, and I’ve found quite a number of other writers refer to him.
WattBike: WattBike are the manufacturer of indoor training bikes, developed in association with British Cycling. These are used by pro-teams and are seen at all the cycling shows I’ve visited in the UK.
Beginner Triathlete: Another useful training site, even if you’re not planning of competing in a triathlon.
Active.com: A good range of articles covering a range of sports.