Max HR and using different HR zones for different sports


Here’s a thought experiment for you:

Imagine that there was a sport where all you did was single arm bicep curls to power a machine along a track. Athletes competed over different distances just like in cycling from all out sprints to multi-hour endurance distances.

  • Would this be fundamentally different to cycling?

  • How would the body react to lactate production?

  • Would there be a lactate stead state or FTP?

  • How hard would the respiratory and circulatory systems be working at FTP?

If the answers to these questions mean that FTP produces a lower heart rate than it would with more muscle recruitment then I think that would be the fundamental reason for different zones for different sports.



Here’s some data for you to add to your puzzle. I have a running max HR of 185. I have seen this during 5k races and repeats over 400m long. Cycling max HR seems to be 180. This has been witnessed during the ramp test and at the top of the hill during the weekly local drop ride. I have no idea what this means in terms of training intervals though!


Thanks @themagicspanner. When I wrote that post I was confused due to a couple of Phil Maffetone articles I’d read that stated the following:

A frequently asked question is whether different heart rates should be used for different sports. For example, should the maximum aerobic heart rate, as determined by the 180 Formula, while swimming be different when the same athlete is cycling or running? How about walking, or tennis? The short answer is no. The 180-Formula holds true for all aerobic training activities.

At the same heart rate, all sports require essentially the same levels of metabolic activities.

Looking at the “Transferability of Running & Cycling Training Zones in Triathletes” study that Mikael linked to it now makes perfect sense why you would need different zones for different sports.


I have noticed that if I put in a sport specific max HR, the %ages don’t usually match up with threshold efforts.

A true max HR testing protocol is very hard… that is your max, your absolute max, as in you are going as hard as you can as if your life depended on it, while a threshold HR field test is much more reasonable and is what many people judge efforts against.

My cycling threshold is about 5 beats lower than my running, which is fairly common and so the zones for running and cycling in strava work for a single max HR.


If your bike and run threshold HR only differ by 5 bpm, then yeah, using the same zones should suffice.

That study I referenced earlier comparing HR at anaerobic threshold when on a cycle erg versus a treadmill showed a few athletes with a pretty big difference:

Bike HR at anaerobic threshold: ~166 bpm
Run HR at anaerobic threshold: ~139 bpm

Bike HR at anaerobic threshold: ~138 bpm
Run HR at anaerobic threshold: ~157 bpm

I need to do more testing to see exactly what my running/cycling threshold HR’s are.

Out of interest, what were the tests you did to determine your running/cycling threshold HR’s?


You can use the old Friel 30 minute time trial. Subtract the first 10 minutes and the last 20 minute average is roughly threshold HR. The good thing about this is it doesn’t really change much, so you don’t need to keep retesting. Only pace/power at that effort level changes much over time.

It just so happens that my running HR matches up quite nicely with the Maffetone suggested zones, but for the bike, I still think I’d put -5 to 10. I used to target 135 HR on the bike for endurance efforts and did all of my training before getting a power meter by HR. For the bike, this wasn’t always possible though since when it is cold out, I might only reach 120 bpm, and when mountain biking it would go over that frequently.


With regards to HR zones, there seems to be a real conflict with the term “tempo”… some coaches use the term interchangeably with “threshold” (mainly in the running world), whereas others define it as the zone between aerobic and threshold.

Do most of you guys class “tempo” as the zone between aerobic and threshold?


In my experience it’s pretty sport specific. Tempo running = Threshold riding


Tempo in running can be anywhere from 10k to marathon pace, depending on the coach.