Century Road Club AssociationThe CRCA Presents a Day with Chris Carmichael

The CRCA Presents a Day with Chris Carmichael


Establishing Training Intensities Using Heart Rate

Setting the proper training intensities is perhaps the most important piece of planning.

Training by HR has these advantages.

  • It is easy to monitor
  • It is repeatable
  • HR can assist in determining recovery under periods ofdifferent training load.

Training by power can be useful, but because power varies to wildly from instant to instant it can be confusing. HR responds to different physiological intensities in a slower, more obvious manner.

To check recovery, Carmichael sometimes has athlete check sleeping HR. Athletes can also check HR upon waking, while lying in bed, to establish a baseline. Significant changes in this waking HR -- either up or down -- can be a sign of problems.

Athletes should not look at HR during competition but, if their HR monitor can record information, looking back at HR afterwards can be useful.

Field Testing

Carmichael uses two types of tests:

  • Three mile time trial repeated three times, with 15 minuterecovery between efforts
  • Thirty minute continuous test.

The three by three test gives a good sense of a rider's history and current condition. New athletes generally achieve highest HR in the first effort and the fastest time on the last. More experienced athletes with poor current condition will generally have HR climb and time drop from effort to effort. Experienced athletes in good condition will have consistent HR and consistent speed over the three efforts.

LT HR can be estimated from the three by three test by taking average HR over the three efforts and then reducing it by three to six beats per minute (BPM).

LT HR can also be estimated using a stepped test on an ergometer and blood testing. The resistance is 150 watts at the start, with the load increased 50 watts every three minutes, then every two minutes. Blood is taken and analyzed at the end of each stage, with the coach looking for a 1Mm increase in concentration of lactic acid at end of each stage. [I may have missed hearing Carmichael say what concentration of lactic acid is considered LT but believe it is about 4-6Mm -- JT]

After using the three by three test a few times, the continuous thirty minute test is used.

The thirty minute field tests are usually conducted on a long hill. If conducted on a flat road the power shown will be a little lower and HR also lower. Note that the perceived exertion to hit a target power output or HR is lower on a hill than on a flat road. Thus target HR should be different for workouts on hills and flat terrain.

In addition to heart rate information, the tests can also record power, speed and heartrate. Other values, such as cadence, can also give useful feedback.

At the start of each training period, the athlete should have a new field test to re-establish training intensities.

Using the Data

Each workout should have a HR window, and the closer to LT the workout the tighter the window should be. But Carmichael does not use overall "zones"; rather he makes prescriptions for each workout.

For general endurance rides he sets a ceiling of eight to 12 BPM below the average from the three by three test as a ceiling. Specifying a "zone 2" is not flexible enough for this basic type of ride.

In contrast, a LT workout should be conducted at much more specific intensity, and might have a 3 beat range on the target HR.

Athletes should have a menu of workouts. How to establish training intensity depends on the energy system being used in each workout. For high intensity (above LT), the HR targets should minimums. For LT workouts they should be windows, with ceilings and minimums. And for aerobic workouts there should only be ceilings.

What does it mean when HR shoots up in a workout? Often that is due to dehydration more than overtraining. In overtraining HR often doesn't go up, rather it doesn't respond as quickly to effort or climb much.

Note also that HR is often lower in winter, higher when the temperature is high, and tends to climb late in a ride or race.

Previous To learn more

Introduction | Carmichael Training System | Designing a Training Program
Resistance Training | Establishing Training Intensities Using Heart Rate

Notes hosted by Century-SBCG.