How to turbo train with a heart rate monitor

During the autumn and winter months, many of us turn to indoor training as a means of maintaining our fitness levels. Structuring indoor training can be difficult with many riders wasting hours with ineffective sessions.

Luckily, there are plenty of apps that offer a range of training suggestions and plans. But with many of these basing their training plans around heart rate and power training zones, it’s important to understand what these are.

Below is a guide to what heart rate training zones are and how they’re used for training. You can find more advice on power training zones over on our advice guide. This advice isn’t restricted to indoor trainers and can also be applied when training outdoors.

How do heart rate monitors work?

During exercise, your heart pumps oxygenated blood to your muscles and is a key factor in your performance.

Through a heart rate monitor, you can measure how fast your heart is beating - in BPM (beats per minute) - which indicates how hard your body is working. With this information, you have the necessary performance data to create a more effective training plan.

Heart rate monitors come in a range of styles, including chest straps, arm bands and wrist watches, and the majority will connect to the app you’re using for your indoor training to give you live heart rate data.

How can I use it for training?

To use a heart rate monitor for your training, you’ll first need to establish your heart rate zones. These are five levels of exertion that can be calculated using your heart rate and it’s these zones that you use when creating a turbo training session. The five zones are:

Zone 1: Active recovery

  • 50-60% of max heart rate
  • For recovery rides
  • Improves recovery after hard training sessions

Zone 2: Endurance

  • 60-70% of max heart rate
  • Exertion you can maintain for long rides
  • Improves endurance

Zone 3: Tempo

  • 70-80% of max heart rate
  • Hard riding that is noticeably difficult, but can also be maintained for long periods
  • Improves aerobic capacity, power and strength

Zone 4: Threshold

  • 80-90% of max heart rate
  • An effort that can’t be maintained for too long as it’s close to your limit
  • Improves lung capacity and high-speed endurance

Zone 5- VO2 Max

  • 90-100% of max heart rate
  • A real leg burning effort that can only be maintained for a matter of minutes
  • Improves heart’s ability to quickly pump oxygen to the muscles

As you can see, the different heart rate zones improve your performance in different ways, which is why knowing them and creating training sessions around them is so important. Afterall, there’s no point only doing zone 2 riding if you’re aiming to compete in your first race or hill climb, and equally a sportive rider aiming for their first 100-mile ride won’t need to be incorporating much VO2 max training.

Therefore, when creating training sessions, use these heart rate zones to help guide you.

How do I find my heart rate zones?

Once you’ve got your heart rate monitor, establishing your heart rate zones is easy. All you need is your resting heart rate and maximum heart rate.

The former can be taken when relaxing in the house. Heart rates can fluctuate due to various factors, so taking a few readings and averaging it out is a good idea.

Using the formula of 220 minus your age is often stated as a method of finding your max heart rate, but this can be unreliable. Instead we suggest conducting an indoor cycling test.

Doing so is easy with the following steps:

  • Do a 15-minute warm-up.
  • Then, starting off at a fast pace, increase your speed every minute. Stay seated the whole time.
  • After about 5 minutes, or until you can’t hold the pace anymore, get out of the saddle and sprint for 15 seconds.
  • Take your heart rate straight afterwards or upload your data after the test to find your max heart rate.

Now that you have your max and resting heart rates, you can calculate the above heart rate zones and start creating your new training sessions and plan.

Example of training zones in use

Once you have your training zones set, you should use them to create your training sessions. For example, if you’re looking to compete in hill climbs, you’ll need to improve your VO2 max. A session you could create for this would include 3-minute repetitions of zone 5 riding, with 5 minutes easy riding in-between.

For long endurance rides at the weekend, you should be aiming for zone 2.

Ultimately, most of us aren’t experts when it comes to creating training sessions. Using a specialised app makes doing so much easier. With your end goal and training period, there are plenty of training apps which will create training plans for you. Use our guide to the best training apps to help with this.

Visit for a range of cycling equipment including heart rate monitors and power meters.