On my Saturday's ascent race I was riding 181bpm HRAVG and saved some power for the last km where my HR peaked at 190 (which is my highest ever recorded HR at my 37 years or age). I felt rather normal at the top, no fatigue or extreme oxygen deficiency. Just normal very deep breathing with high frequency for about 20 seconds and I was fine. the way I usually breathe on the doing it 100% races.

This is the data from my Garmin of this ascent race.

I should point out that my calculated HRMAX is about 182bpm although in reality it's clearly 190 (as the upper data shows). I suspect it's even higher, but anyway. I was obviously pedalling at 95-100% HR for about 50 minutes. That's surprising to me. This to me may be a good indicator that my HRMAX is closer to 200bpm rather than 190 which would mean I was peddaling at 90% HRMAX most of the time. Can anyone confirm this reasoning?


As I've heard some of the others were riding well below 170 bpm HRAVG but had much better time than me. I suppose this is due to larger heart volume, larger lungs therefore much better oxygen efficiency. Since my heart rate increases quite rapidly I suspect my heart volume is rather small(ish) so it has to speed up faster to deliver the needed O2.

I wonder how can I improve my performance? What kind of training will lower my heart rate while keeping the same performance level. I suppose lowering my HR by 10 bpms would give me enough room to improve my performance by more than 10%.

  • Ten years ago my calculated HR[max] would have been 172 by one formula, 168 by another. However, that year I checked into an ER with a kidney stone and my HR was 205 (and BP was 195 over something like 110). Sep 6, 2011 at 19:22
  • HR[max] isn't the limit of how fast your heart can beat. It's a recommended threshold that shouldn't be exceeded due to health issues. You can exceed your HR[max] but it isn't recommended. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_rate#Maximum
    – Mac
    Sep 6, 2011 at 21:21
  • Actually, they generally recommend that you don't exceed 80% of HR[max]. Sep 6, 2011 at 21:49
  • @Daniel: Yes for a normal aerobic regular training. But races are a different activity where participants tend to pus themselves. This particular climb is known to be first 10% on 80%HRmax, then 80% on 90%HRmax and the last 10% on 100%HRmax. Sep 7, 2011 at 5:52
  • How can anyone possibly know (without having measured it) that a particular climb would achieve a particular heart rate in a given individual? One person may be at 60% while another is at 90%, when they're riding side by side. Sep 7, 2011 at 15:16

2 Answers 2


First off, understand that HR drops as you age, even if you stay in good physical shape. Older riders will tend to have a lower HR.

In addition, HR drops as you become better conditioned to high-output activity. Basically, as you suggest, the capacity of the heart and circulatory system increases so that sufficient oxygenated blood can be delivered to the muscles at a lower HR.

Also, as one trains, the muscles develop more anaerobic capacity, so they need less oxygen, and they develop more glycogen storage capacity, so they need less blood sugar.

Others probably have more specific suggestions based on research, but basically to train the circulatory system (and muscles) you keep repeating the conditions where you want it to perform. Some accommodation occurs within a few days (mainly in the form of hormone levels and blood volume), while full accommodation probably takes 6 months or so of every-other-day full-out rides.

  • 1
    Are you taking about HR[max] or HR[rest]? As much as I know resting heart rate falls with regular intensive exercise, doesn't it? Maximum still stays although your body output increases. So you can do more but heart rate stays the same. My HR[rest] is already quite low as it's 48bpm. Sep 6, 2011 at 12:36
  • Basically talking about HR[max] here, or perhaps HR[max-delta], since it's generally recommended that one not exercise all the way to HR[max]. And in someone not accustomed to exercise HR can be easily driven quite high on brief, vigorous exercise. Once one becomes accustomed to exercise it's harder to achieve that peak level. Sep 6, 2011 at 17:43
  • So your answer is what? Train harder and HR[avg] at the same level of performance/power will drop? Is that what you're saying? Because I've done a bit less than 2500km in the last 5 months or so. How much training will get me there? And can I expect my HR[avg] to drop from 180 to 160 on the same slope with same timing? or would that be just +-5 bpms or so? Sep 6, 2011 at 18:20
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    No one knows what your individual capacity is. A Greg LeMond doesn't get to be a superior cyclist purely through training (or through drugs, for that matter), but it takes a certain degree of innate ability -- the right genetic makeup. I think you should appreciate what you can do and enjoy whatever improvements you can achieve, without worrying so much that maybe someone is better than you. Sep 6, 2011 at 19:14
  • 2
    The vast majority of cyclists do about 50 miles the first season, 20 the second, and zero thereafter. But the serious amateur cyclists I'm familiar with probably do a 35-70 mile ride (maybe two) most summer weekends and a similar amount in shorter rides during the week. Sep 11, 2011 at 1:53

Cycling is an aerobic sport and for any sustained effort you are limited by oxygen delivery and conversion. Meanwhile, heart rate is just a measurement of how fast your heart is beating -- the other missing component of oxygen delivery is "stroke volume"; and then you still have to get from the delivery system to power production. Stroke volume is determined in part by the size of your heart's ventricles as well as the "ejection fraction" (specifically for aerobic production of power, the left ventricle and left ventricle ejection fraction). Decreasing your heart rate, in and of itself, will not allow you to produce more power. Cycling training will tend both to increase stroke volume and to increase the mitochondria you use to produce power aerobically. At 67kg and 1.73m, climbing 2600 ft in 8.5 miles in 55+ minutes means you were probably producing in the ballpark of 3.0 - 3.25 watts/kg.

The way to improve your time is to improve your power, not to decrease your heart rate. Indeed, it doesn't make much sense to compare your HR to that of others since there is a great deal of variation across individuals in their power:HR ratio. Two riders with the same HR can produce very different power output; two riders with the same power output might have very different HR. For hillclimbs, the ratio you want to focus on is watts/kg of body weight. Since it appears your BMI (at 22+) is relatively low, you'll want to improve the numerator. (For flat races, aerodynamic resistance is the greatest source of drag so the ratio you want to improve is watts/(sq. meters of drag area)).

  • Th3 first 5 minutes were not climb yet. So climb was 50 min 55 sec and 7.11 mi long. And my weight is 67 kg and I'm 173 cm high. May I ask you how did you estimate (calculate?) power output? I'm curious... Sep 6, 2011 at 21:04
  • The simplest way is to use an online calculator such as this one, which gives an estimate of around 215 watts or so. If you weigh 67kg, your average output was around 3.2 watts/kg. A quick alternative is to note that you climbed roughly 800m in ~3000 seconds, so the quick estimate is 75kg * 9.8 m/sec^2 * 800 m / 3000 secs which is right around 200 watts for the potential energy component.
    – R. Chung
    Sep 6, 2011 at 21:19

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