Heart zones for "older" (yikes) riders!

(Tim Camden WBR (C)) #1

I’m 54 and the oldest rider that rides in my group. Some of the guys are 17- 27 years old and they have max HR of 190 +. They will ride around at 170 bpm then sprint to 190+. They routinely are no where near their HR max but I’m there all the time. My heart rate is close to theirs but I’m at max.

The recommended heart zones of 90%, 80%, 70%, 60%, and 50% for zones 5-4-3-2-1 seem way to low.

166 X .90 = 149 bmp.

Previously on group rides, I would be working with the group then blow up on a long pull and get dropped.

I started monitoring my HR and would draft whenever my pulse was 160 and I would not blow up anymore but I stayed in Zone 5 almost all the time.

Now on group rides I am routinely maintaining 155-165. Usually around 165 I’ll stop pulling and jump in a draft for few min  till my pulse is 150 - 155 then I’ll take another turn.

On hill climbs or sprints, I now will tach up 173 or so.

I spend almost all of my fast group rides at zone 5.

I feel fine no chest pain or shortness of breath.

As we age, do the target zones become more narrow?

Should zone 5 be Max HR X 0.95% instead of 90%?

Should I use my actual max heart rate instead of the predicted max?

I know, ask my doctor. The thing is, I am a doctor and the recommendations are geared toward general groups of patients and not so much for specific individuals that may be more fit than the average Joe.

I’m wondering what other older riders are doing and if any of the coaches or exercise physiologists that Zwift have an opinion. If I did a Cardiac stress test, they would only stress me to about 80% of pred max HR which would be 132 for me. I’m not too worried about my heart at 130 bmp but 170-175 or prolonged periods at max HR worry me because I have no info about this.

(Paul Graham) #2

I’d recommend using the Karvonen math formula Tim.

Karvonen uses your current fitness status as calculated using your true maximum heart-rate (MHR) and your resting heart rate (RHR) to arrive at a figure called heart-rate-reserve. (HRR)

Heart-rate zones are calculated from your HRR

There are a number of web-sites that will do the calculation for you once you enter your max HR and resting HR.

Google Karvonen heart rate reserve.

ACE is established source of information:


As I have said, to be as accurate as possible you will need to know your true max HR (Get on your bike and after a good warm up, hit the pedals with everything you’ve got) and resting heart-rate (record the rest HR before you get out of bed in the morning.

Clearly, you’ll need to be in good shape to perform a true max HR test.

Once set up with Karvonen values, HR zones will need to be tweeked to arrive at the best zone % for your current fitness state.

Looking at your numbers I’d say they are low for a fit person aiming for accurate data to use in zone calculations.

If you need further help, drop a line here :slight_smile:



(Steve Ellis) #3


From your original post I’m wondering whether you are using the “220 minus age” formula to estimate your maximum heart rate. If so, my input is that _ that formula is useless for an individual _. For me, for instance, that calculation is wrong by at least 20 beats per minute. And that sort of error is not unusual. So in line with Paul’s comment, I’d say that you need to use your actual, tested heart rate data.

Besides working on the bike to max out your heart rate, another way to estimate that value is to do an FTP test, identify the heart rate you are at, and use that rate to set your heart rate zones – max is x% higher, lower zones are y%, z%, etc. lower. There are many reliable web pages that describe this process much more accurately than I have just done. 

I’ve identified my threshold heart rate by field testing, duplicated in many instances over 11+ years of heart rate exercise data, and my max heart rate by experience – I’ve never recorded a higher heart rate (though I’ve never done as hard an effort as many describe, as in a vomiting level of work). If I pushed the effort even harder, demonstrating a still higher max heart rate, I guess I’d prove that I’m even more than 20 years younger than the calendar says.

(Tim Camden WBR (C)) #4

The formula I was using is the (220-age) formula and I agree, it did not seem to be an accurate ceiling for me. That is what was making me nervous. I have been riding for years but never wore a HR monitor until I Zwifted. 

Thanks for the input and I’ll check into the Karvonen formula.

I did several FTP over winter but I was watching the Watts and not so much my heart rate.

Thanks, Tim

(Cleve Waterman 69y/o) #5

Are you using some kind of power meter?  My SNAP has a “power meter” but my road bike does not.  So when I am riding with the young guys, I basically try to avoid going over the heart rate that corresponds to 90-95% of FTP.  At my age, that translates to very little pulling time.

You should read “The Haywire Heart: How too much exercise can kill you, and what you can do to protect your heart”.  A couple of the better riders in my town have developed atrial flutter/fib.  



(Kevin Knorpp) #6

My suggestion is to make a note of your average heart rate the next time you do a FTP test and set your training zones based on that heart rate, which is known as Lactate Threshold Heart Rate, or LTHR.

Example zones from CTS are here:


Also, consider picking up Joe Friel’s excellent Fast After 50 book.

(Joe Daknis) #7

“I did several FTP over winter but I was watching the Watts and not so much my heart rate.”

If you transfer your Zwift ride data to a Strava account, you can easily go back to look at your FTP test data and see your max HR and/or average heart rate over any portion of the test.

(Mike Sullivan) #8

This is a question I’ve been wondering about since I started using a heart rate monitor last year.  I’m 60 years old and have always been active but have only gotten back into running and bike riding in the last year (I’m a level 6 on Zwift bike).  In an FTP test (128) my ave. heart rate is 155 bpm and I’m usually in the yellow zone when I ride on Zwift.  But when I run I can have an average heart rate of 185 over 4 miles and recover quickly and not feel tired afterward.  When I really push it I’ve seen averages in the 190’s and spikes to 220.  I don’t push it now because of this.  I suspect caffeine level may have something to do with this and I’ve been cutting back on coffee on days I run.  My resting rate is from 55-60bpm.

There seems to be no information on what a fit older adult can expect.  Does it do any harm to have an extended average heart rate over my theoretical max?

(Rodger Tellis) #9

Another 54 year old chipping in here.

The thing to keep in mind is that everybody is different and formula based methods of deriving maxHR are unreliable at best. The 220-age results in 166bpm for me which, while running, is the first 2 miles of a 5k race and I’ll get up into the low 170’s at the end. So that method is not a very good indicator for setting HR zones. Your individual maxHR might be higher or lower than what that formula will give you.

Also keep in mind that most people have different maxHR for different sports with cycling usually having a lower value than running. I’m a runner who knows his HR behavior for running forwards and back but haven’t yet determined a good maxHR on the bike.

For running I use 178bpm as my max based on years of experience and race results. Right now on the bike I’m considering the HR I’m seeing in the Tour de Oz stages and the FTP test I did as my LTHR on the bike. In general, with running, LTHR is roughly 90% of maxHR for most people so by dividing my HR from an FTP test by .9 I have a rough number for my cycling maxHR. Oddly enough it works out to 166.

Sorry if that was a bit of a ramble. It’s just that being new to looking at performance on the bike, as well as Zwift, is new to me and this is something that I’ve been actively thinking about lately.

(Stephen Ingram Team ZF) #10

Interesting Topic,

I too split running and cycling into two different disciplines when considering HR; as when running you will always have a higher HR at a Rated Perceived Effort. This appears to be due to a number of factors including more muscles are used and how they are used in running compared to cycling.

In cycling, power is probably the most accurate measurement to performance irrespective of HR. However, coming from a running background, i do find HR part of the equation to make sure i’m training smarter in the correct zones for quality Lactate Threshold, Aerobic and Anaerobic sessions. While keeping away from ‘junk miles’, those which aren’t effective in training your body systems. Personally i think ‘junk’ is not a good description as some would say any exercise gives benefit!

My goals are basic cycling efficiency and performance by increasing my aerobic base and building my lactate threshold. By using reserved HR method and making some adjustments based on previous IRL data - My stats are at age 51: MHR ~ 174, LTHR ~ 153 and Aerobic HR 117 - 120. In running these cover my strength/speed and endurance workouts, which also reasonably translate across to my cycling FTP zones for similar workouts. I think i noted somewhere, Joe Friel, indicates FTP (cycling) and FTPa (running) is the intensity you can sustain for an hour, while your running LTHR is your average HR for a one hour race.

When i’m on Zwift, i do monitor my power and adjust accordingly, while checking cadence HR and my RPE. Interestingly and anecdotally through structured Zwift’s programs, events and general riding, i was quite surprised to realise how quickly my fitness improved. Before Zwift my previous training had been semi-structured and fell into the wrong zones, for example my aerobic sessions were way to quick for gaining cardiovascular efficiency.


(Raving Cyclist) #11

I’m 75 years old. On my daily 1 hour rides I will average 140 bpm with max rates of 160-165. I do that easily. Last month I did a 1 hour ride where I averaged 160 bpm and hit 185. I don’t need to be doing that. My doctor doesn’t want me getting into the 170s.

I think for people like us, formulas are worthless. My formula max-heart-rate is probably 130. :slight_smile:

I ride over 8000 miles every year. That keeps my cardio in excellent condition. I have a perfect BP according to my doctor.

As far as non-cycling exercise, Nordic Walking is the best!! Total body workout.