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  Last updated: 2/28/2010

Training to the Numbers
(can training really be that scientific?

You have put in your base miles. You are feeling good on the bike. And you have made a personal commitment to improve your speeds and aerobic threshold. But where next?? Friends talk about heart rate monitors and "training zones". You have read about lactate threshold and the theory of pushing your limits using intervals. And in surfing the web you have stumbled across the Carmichael Training System Field Test (CTS). But the numbers you read about vary from program to program. Which ones are right - it seems there must be some science to call upon?

The fact is that all training programs are based on the same principles, all work, and there is no proven "best" (at least based on head to head comparisons). In fact, after chasing my own numbers from day to day (which varied significantly - especially when I compared them to my road speeds and how I physically felt) I decided that logic really supported perceived exertion as the most logical. And for the last years, that is how I have trained. I have found myself much happier in my training, feeling less stressed than when I would miss my day's target, and I find I am just as strong as ever when it comes to how I do. So in the end, I think this is a personal choice, and the real decision lies in the commitment to take that first step to push your comfort limits and stress the cardiovascular system.

I think the following question and my answer reflect the frustration many feel and my approach:

Q. I am not sure which base calculation I should use for setting up my training zones. My measured Max HR is 181 and my measured LTHR (by the CTS) is 170. Do I base my zones off the MHR or the LTHR. Because of the high LTHR compared to my low measured MHR, there is a large disparity between the two zones. Training so far using the MHR method seems hard enough, but should I be pushing it harder and go for the LTHR method? Here are examples of the numbers (and zones)for me personally (I am 43, male and have been riding seriously for about 18 months - BL

A. As far as I can research it, the CTS Field Test is a proprietary Carmichael idea. I could not find any studies that correlate it with traditional methods to determine lactate threshold or MHR.

Will it work? Sure, any approach that forces you to push yourself will lead to improvement. Is it the best? There is no data.

What are the risks of picking one approach over another? If the heart rate you are aiming for in a recovery zone is too high, you risk over training when you really wanted to be in what is a very important part of a training program, a recovery zone, and as a result you risk a higher rate of burnout or overreaching/over training in your program. And if you are riding at a high level threshold zone at a heart rate that is excessive, you may be putting in a lot of unneceassary pain for minimal additional if any increase in training benefits (and may in the end decide to bag the whole thing).

There is no question that I feel different in training from day to day - what I ate, time of day, an extra cup of coffee, and even the effects of my ride the day before. I worked through this quandary (for myself) a number of years ago and decided that perceived exertion (not using HR numbers) avoided the focus on the monitor and in my mind made the most sense to maximize my training benefits and keep cycling enjoyable.

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