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Find Your Threshold

A heart rate monitor is an excellent tool to help you maximize your fitness results—but only if you know how to use it. It’s one thing to strap the monitor on, but quite another to understand what the numbers mean and how to use them to improve your fitness.

Don’t worry—you don’t need to be an expert in exercise science to reap the benefits of heart rate training. All you need is a little information to put your heart rate monitor to optimal use—and Julie Siegel and Erin Finnegan, two of our passionate indoor cycling instructors, are offering a clinic to help you with this process. The clinic—which will be offered 3 times—is a threshold test and is designed to help you find your anaerobic threshold.

What is the Anaerobic Threshold?
The anaerobic threshold, sometimes called the lactate threshold, is a heart rate training zone where you pass from aerobic metabolism (with oxygen) to anaerobic metabolism (without oxygen). If that sounds too complicated, think of it this way: it’s the “shortness of breath” zone.

Here’s what’s interesting about the anaerobic threshold: it changes based on our fitness level. Our maximum heart rate (the highest number of times per minute your heart can contract) is a fixed (and likely genetic) number—but our threshold heart rate is a moving target. For most fit people, the threshold heart rate is somewhere between 80-90 percent of maximum heart rate; however, extremely fit people can have a threshold heart rate above 90 percent and extremely unfit people can have a threshold heart rate at around 60 percent of maximum heart rate.

Why Identify the Threshold Heart Rate?
So, why do we want to know where our threshold is? Because that gives us the best information for improving fitness. If you want to improve your performance and your fitness, you can aim to raise your anaerobic threshold closer to your maximum heart rate. In other words, the goal is to improve your maximum sustainable heart rate—the highest heart rate that you can sustain over time without a drop in performance.

It’s good to know your current threshold heart rate because that helps you design the most effective workouts. To improve fitness, you want to spend time “at/about/around” your threshold. You’ll also want to spend some time below and a little time above the threshold—though too much time above threshold actually only serves to suppress it. (Above-threshold intervals are short and intense and should be used sparingly.)

The Threshold Clinic
Ready to find your threshold? Here’s what you need to know:

  • Prepare: Show up well fueled, well hydrated, and well rested. You should have done only very easy activity the day before the test and easy to moderate activity for 2-3 days prior.
  • Heart rate monitor: Bring a heart rate monitor if you have one. We’ll have extra monitors available for those who need them.
  • Challenging workout: Come ready to work hard. Whether or not you want the threshold information, this class is a challenging workout. You’ll spend 20 minutes in the saddle at your threshold. It’s a hard effort!
  • We’ll do the math: All you have to do is strap on the heart rate monitor and give it your best effort for 20 minutes. We’ll take the average heart rate over 20 minutes to identify your threshold.

You’ll have three opportunities to find your threshold:
Tuesday April 16 at 8:30 a.m.
Thursday April 18 at 6:30 a.m.
Saturday April 20 at 12:00 p.m.

This is an excellent opportunity to assess where you are so that you can set solid goals for where you want to go!