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Active Expert: Gale Bernhardt

5 Posts tagged with the heart_rate tag

For my cyclists that have power meters, I like to use a combination of heart rate and power numbers for some workouts. One reason I do this is to flush out fitness data that would otherwise be hidden. Let me give you an example.

If the assignment is to ride at Zone 2 heart rate (the biological response), the athlete does that workout without regard to power output or speed. This kind of workout has its place in training and I do use it.

If the assignment is to produce Zone 2 power, the athlete completes the workout and typically comments in the feedback section. A comment might be, “Heart rate high (or low) for Zone 2 power.”  Or they might comment, “Workout went well.” In any case I do get information from this workout – and the workout has its place in my mix of workouts.

Sometimes, I use a combination of heart rate and power so the athlete can drive the highest power possible on that day, while limiting the biological cost. Below is a sample workout for an athlete with a current Zone 2 top-end wattage of 135 and top-end Zone 2 heart rate of 136. I wanted an aerobic workout  that produced the highest possible power during specific intervals.


The workout

Do a 10-minute warm-up.

The entire workout is 4 repeats of the following:

5 minutes at ~135 watts (Keeping heart rate 136 or below. If you can push higher watts than 135 for a cost of 136 heart rate – do it.)

5 minutes at 120 watts or less (Zone 1 heart rate)

End with easy spinning at Zone 1 heart rate

One of my athletes (power and heart rate data used in the sample above) recently returned from a ski trip in Switzerland. He skied for six days at an altitude of 3000 to 4000 meters. He lives at sea level. Though he was only at altitude for a week, his results for the workout I describe above showed a marked change. He was able to push wattages much greater than 135 while keeping heart rate low. Important to note, his low heart rate felt low and the effort felt easy. (Sometimes athletes note that a low heart rate feels really hard – i.e. Zone 2 heart rate feels like Zone 3.)

You can see his graph below.

Power after altitude 2013_edited.jpg

(You can select the graph to make it larger.)

Did his time at altitude change his ability to push higher wattage for a low - aerobic - cost? Is this result just part of his increased fitness due to the training mix? (It’s important to note I’ve worked with this person for a few years.) Or, was this workout a performance fluke? (He was able to produce more wattage than what is normal, given this heart rate.)

The questions are reasonable and I’ll continue to monitor his performance to see if it is time to make an adjustment to training zones.

If you are a self-coached athlete, it is important to cross-reference training zone data from time to time to be sure you are getting the most benefit from the workouts. You can get some of this data from testing – but – I believe it is important to sample workout data as well.



Detailed off-season plans for triathlon and cycling, along with event-specific running, cycling and more triathlonplans found here.

Comments can be added on Facebook.

Ironman and half-Ironman plans available on ActiveTrainer.

983 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: altitude, power, heart_rate

Cyclists and triathletes training with power can be tempted to keep pushing the same power levels and workouts in the off-season that were normal in the race season. Aiming to keep training volumes and intensity levels the same year round can lead to burnout and injuries. Even Olympic athletes change workouts so they can be faster in the upcoming season.


You too must change your training in order to achieve new success.


One way of changing training is aiming to harvest as much power from a workout as possible, without popping over a heart rate cap. For example, if you’re using one of my off-season (base or preparation) training plans you may find one of your workouts allows a range of heart rate intensities from Zone 1 to Zone 3. One way to aim for higher power levels – while restricting heart rate – is to go ahead and aim for your Zone 3 peak race season power production during the ride and recover when heart rate reaches the pre-assigned cap. 


This kind of workout is great for indoor trainers and helps the time pass quickly. Here is one example 60-minute indoor trainer workout:


Warm-up 15 minutes at Zone1 to 2 heart rate. 


Pick a rolling course on your trainer or simulate a rolling course. Ride at roughly XXX watts (your Zone 3 power goal) until your heart rate reaches the top of Zone 3. When HR reaches the top of Zone 3, spin easy at Zone 1 watts, or less, for 2 minutes. Repeat the sequence until 35 minutes are up.


Spin easy at Zone 1 watts.


I find this kind of “gaming the system” does a few things for athletes:

  • Even if you are new to using power on an indoor trainer, and you don’t have power on your outdoor bike, you can begin to figure out power zones to make winter training more interesting and fruitful.
  • Once you know a power goal and a heart rate cap, you can use self-talk to relax and keep heart rate lower while aiming for high power output. This skill can, and should be, transferred to the race season. In other words, how can you keep biological costs (heart rate) low while riding fast? Play with this, and you should find you can influence the numbers. 
  • The workout allows you to aim for some of the racing season’s power production without turning the session into the same workouts you’ve done for months.


With the right mix of workouts, you can make next season your best.






   Detailed off-season plans for triathlon and cycling, along with event-specific running, cycling and more triathlon plans found here.


   Comments can be added on Facebook.


   Ironman and half-Ironman plans available on ActiveTrainer.

6,330 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: cycling, workout, power, heart_rate, indoor

In the last blog I mentioned that I would cover why I was able to ride within my lactate threshold heart rate range for two hours and forty-five minutes. That’s not possible – is it?


Recapping some of the altitude specifics, the mainstay of my training over the summer was directed at doing mountain bike races between 8 and 11 hours long and at altitudes between 9,000 and 12,600 feet. I live atroughly 5,000 feet. The September race where I accumulated near three hours at lactate threshold intensity was at altitudes between 3,000 and 6,000 feet.


I’ve written a couple of two-part columns that will give you background of altitude affects on training and racing. The first one is “Altitude Training for Athletic Success” and the second one is “Acclimating to Altitude”. From the columns, a couple of key points:

  • Heart rate increases in response to higher altitudes – but you cannot maintain the same speed or power output for that given heart rate at increased altitude. This means that lactate threshold heart rate at increased altitude is lower than your home base.
  • For a given speed or power output at a lower-than-your-home-base altitude, the corresponding heart rate will be lower. (Assuming temperature and humidity conditions are similar.)


To know my actual heart rate training zones for all ofthe corresponding altitudes where I raced this summer, I would need to do a test at each location. Since that is logistically not possible for me, I use the same data collection zones for all altitudes and adjust accordingly – I raced according to my rating of perceived exertion (RPE) for the lower altitude event. This means the data for my race at a lower altitude is not really all within an accurate lactate threshold zone. So no, I didn’t spend near three hours at lactate threshold.


Also recall within the altitude columns that you can produce higher speeds and more power output at lower altitudes. (The reason why the Olympians living in Colorado Springs train with supplemental oxygen sources for sea level racing.)


Sans actual power data, I believe I did not have the training to tolerate the power outputs I was generating at the lower altitude race.  If the neuromuscular and metabolic systems have not been trained for the speed and power outputs (duration and intensity) possible at lower altitudes, then I believe there is a possibility of cramping.



Questions and discussion can be found on my Facebook page.

Cycling and mountain bike training plans can be found here.

669 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: training, altitude, racing, power, heart_rate, acclimitization, lactate_threhold

As you know from last week’s post, I decided to start the VE100 Ride with bailout options. Those of you that are Twitter followers saw that I made it at least 64 miles of the possible 100 miles on Saturday. (Photo reposted below.)


My initial plan for the ride was to remain aerobic, or in Zones 1 and 2, for the first 50 miles. I was going to keep an eye on heart rate on my Garmin.


Learning #1, software updates:   I updated the Garmin software the day before the ride. I didn’t know the update would erase my settings for the display screens. I learned about the problem when the group of 12 was rolling out to begin the ride. I didn’t want to stop and mess with a computer so I decided to just ride by RPE and download heart rate data later.


At the first potential bail spot, I decided to go on because I felt pretty good. It was at this stopping point that I shared one of my tricks. Ron Kennedy had a thorn or piece of glass in his tire that he could not remove with his fingernail. I loaned him my safety pin to remove the debris and it worked like a charm.


Trick Shared: I have a safety pin attached to cuff of my cycling gloves. The pin keeps the two gloves together when not on my hands and it serves as a great tool to remove stubborn debris from bike tires.


We passed a couple more of my potential bailing points and I still felt good, so I decided to ride on. At just over 50 miles, there is a second major refueling stop. I felt reasonably good here, so I decided to go for the entire 100 miles.



At the 64 mile point, I’m packing a lot of clothes under that jacket (I swear it's not all winter fluff!) due to a 28-degree start temperature and a 57 degree finish temperature.




Bruce Runnels seems happy to be riding over a century today – 120 miles?


I did some experimenting with hydration and fueling. Hydration was primarily a formula of sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate and some flavoring (lemon juice or Emergen-C). I did have one Coke during the ride. Fuel came from solid foods, rather than liquid. I tried this technique because of a presentation I attended by Dr. Stacy Sims at the USA Cycling Coaching Conference last fall. I’ll do a separate column or post on this issue alone at a later date.



Zone 1

Zone 2

Zone 3

Zone 4

Zone 5

Zone 3-5

Ride Time

Out Time




















You can see that this year’s ride was about 18 minutes slower than last year. The fastest ride time for the VE100 was 5 hours flat and we were very lucky with near constant tailwinds for the majority of the ride. We weren’t as lucky with the wind this year.



When I downloaded the data I was surprised to see so much time in the higher heart rate zones. I had over an hour more time at Zone 3 and above this year. I suspect that due do the illness and low training in recent weeks, I drove higher heart rates but had reduced ability to turn that into speed.


Learning #2:  When I am detrained, my RPE correlation to heart rate is not as accurate as when I’m well trained.


I decided to look back at training data from the last two years. I looked at gross weekly training hours for the week of the century ride and the five weeks prior.


Here’s what I found:


VE100 Wk

-1 wk

-2 wks

-3 wks

-4 wks

-5 wks




















As you can see from the chart, I’m down about 12.5 hours compared to last year. There’s not much anyone can do when they get sick except try to get healthy as quickly as possible.


Though I was worried the VE100 had the potential to make me sick or give me other injury issues, now that I’m out four days past the ride I can safely say that I’ve recovered well. In fact, I felt pretty good on Monday.


In the next day or so I will sit down and begin to plan training through mid-August. Looking at my current training status, I have some work to do before I’m ready to race…

727 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: heart_rate, century_ride, stacey_sims, sodium_citrate, sodium_bicarbonate

I received this question yesterday:


Q:   Hey Gale - I’m frustrated and would very much appreciate your opinion. I began working with a new coach and my coach has me focus on pace and power, rather than heart rate, which I’ve really enjoyed. I love shooting for specific speedy numbers in my workouts and as often as possible I try to exceed the numbers assigned. Here’s the dig. While I’ve been achieving good numbers, it seems I’ve been sick more in the past year than ever before. Each time I seem to make headway on gaining fitness and speed, I get sick again. My morning heart rate is elevated and I’ve noticed that my heart rate is elevated relative to the power zones my coach uses. Coach says that heart rate isn’t important in my training and the only thing I need to worry about is pace and power. What do you think? D.L.


A:    Hi D.L. ~ Sorry to read you’ve been sick a lot. Repeated illnesses can be very frustrating. I use multiple tools with my athletes to track progress and attempt to head off trouble. Achieving goal pace and power numbers on any given workout are just two of the many tools I use to monitor an athlete’s progress. Here are some thoughts:

  • Your heart rate is an indicator of how your body is responding to work and recovery. When athletes are coming back from an illness, I prefer to restrict workouts by heart rate rather than power or pace. I find that aiming for pace or power zones possible when the athlete was healthy, are not possible during recovery from illness and some athletes get frustrated when “the numbers” are not giving the answers they want. Until you are 100-percent healthy, forget about power and pace. Here are some guidelines for adjusting your training plan during and after an illness.
  • I have found, repeatedly, that pace and power will come around if you allow your body to heal and get healthy. Those that try to push for those higher numbers often see more setbacks. The more setbacks you have in training, the harder it is to achieve your optimal performance goals.
  • Once you think you are healthy, do pay attention to how your heart rate responds to various workouts and environmental conditions. What is your “normal” (that is normal for you) morning heart rate? What is your normal heart rate for lactate threshold power or pace intervals? What is normal for a recovery day? What is normal after you’ve recovered for several days? If you see a disconnect between heart rate and pace or power, log that in your journal and take it to heart. Perhaps you need another recovery day, when the plan called for another tough workout?
  • If you haven’t had a blood test recently, it might be a good idea to get one. A blood test lets you know if things are normal or out of range. Occasional retesting is a good idea so you can see if there are any trends in the numbers. Also, if you do get an illness, you can compare your normal healthy blood values to illness numbers.
  • Plenty of items affect recovery. See this link for a column on how much time it takes to recover from a race. Those items not only apply to races, but really tough workouts, and blocks of tough workouts, as well.
  • I think it’s a good idea to know your normal body temperature range. High, or heading towards high, body temperature can be another indicator of the need for more recovery to prevent an illness. Unfortunately I don’t have a hard number for you to aim for at this time. (i.e. “If your body temperature is up x.yz degrees, take the day off.")
  • I have to assume your coach has designed your training plan to elicit specific responses from your body, in order to help you peak for your upcoming event(s). Constantly trying to “over-achieve” the numbers assigned for you may be causing you more harm than good. If you think your training zones are too low or you wonder about the purpose of a workout (restricting pace or power), talk to your coach about it. The same comments apply to workout time and/or distance. If you’re in a cycle of overachieve, illness, overachieve, illness – it’s a sign something isn’t working correctly.
  • Is your life more stressful now than it was awhile back? If you haven’t told your coach about new items affecting your lifestyle, you need to.
  • Closely monitor how you feel. Yes, I know there is no feel-gauge, but you can use a scale to rank how you feel on any given day and during a workout. Use any scale you please – 1 to 5, 1 to 7, 1 to 10… In any case, rank how you feel. If 1 is terrible and 10 is great, how do you feel today? Multiple days rating less than five is a warning that you’re heading for trouble.


There are more items that you can track to keep an eye on how your body is responding to the demands of training – and life.  I believe you need to monitor more than just power and pace. Only monitoring power and pace is like only looking at the speedometer of your car to determine if the car is working correctly. If you ignore the gas gauge, oil pressure gauge and other indicators on your car, you may end up broken down with a towing and repair bill that is very undesirable.


More resources:

Overtraining blog

Morning body temperature experiment

882 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: power, heart_rate, pace, overtraining, illness