Don't say I didn't warn you.... This is what I wrote on another thread which touched on HR zones - I've just cut and pasted from there:
The best way to set up your HR zones is to do a max HR test but that's damn hard work. I did mine for running and it took me a week to recover from it. It was informative to do once, but I don't think I'll do it again, thanks.
An easier way to get your zones is to do a Lactate Threshold test (from Friel's Training Bible, great read, BTW) - I do it every 6-8 weeks or so for both cycling and running and work out my zones from there. I like this method as it's reasonably easy to do, is a good workout in itself and doesn't take ages to recover from. Also, LT is very trainable so this will move up with time and your zones can be adjusted as necessary.
So how do you do this? First, make sure you're well rested. Then hop on the bike (road or trainer, I prefer doing this on the trainer as it's consistent everytime) and warm up well - 15 minutes. Then you're going to do a 30 minute all-out effort in a gear that you can maintain ~90RPM in for the duration. Your LT will be your average HR for the last 20 minutes of the time trial. Once you're done, cool down for 15 minutes.
So you've got your LT HR, this gives you top of Z4 - anything above this is totally anaerobic, and hurts like hell after a couple of minutes. To work out the other zones, here's what you do:
Top Z1 (Recovery zone): LTHR x 0.826
Top Z2 (Endurance): LTHR x 0.890
Top Z3 (Tempo pace): LTHR x 0.933
Top Z4 (LT intervals): LTHR x 0.99
Top Z5 (Anaerobic): LTHR x 1.093
Remember this is NOT max HR so the multiplication factors are different.
I never ride for distance or speed - HR is the key for me. This helps me to avoid the common mistake that people make by going too hard on their easy days and not hard enough on their hard days. An easy or long ride day should be Z1-2, no more. You will be shocked at how easy this is! I'm building in some tempo stuff (Z3) at the end of the long rides just to get used to riding hard with tired legs (this weekend it's 2:00 Z1-2 then 1:00 Z3). Intervals I do Z4-Z5 depending on the interval.
I'm a strong believer in getting your RPE figured out with HR as HR can be off for one reason or another (overtraining, fatigue, dehydration, heat etc). For me Z1-2 is conversational, Z3 is "irritatingly" hard, Z4 is a "don't talk to me" hard and Z5 is a "cough up a lung" hard. Interestingly, my breathing pattern changes with intensity too, so that's also a good guide.
Hope this helps!
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Specificity, specificity, specificity.
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