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Pro cyclists know exactly what their heart rate and functional threshold power (FTP) is. They use the numbers to guide their training by splitting their training rides into zones. Zone 1 is a very casual ride, while zone 4 is similar to the power needed to climb a mountain.

Increasingly, it is not just the pros who are crunching numbers to train more effectively. You can too, especially as the costs of the equipment tend to fall with increased competition and patents expiring. If you want to improve your cycling, an investment in either a heart rate monitor or power meter is a good idea.

Once you know your maximum heart rate (MHR) or FTP you can split your training into zones. Using zones rather than how the bike feels on the ride allows you to train more effectively. The better you train, the better your performances in big cycling events such as sportives.

power-meter-heart-rate-monitorUsing zones in your training plan will help you train more effectively

What You’ll Need

You can work out training zones by measuring your heart rate or power for FTP. This is accomplished by using either a heart rate monitor or power meter.

  • Heart rate monitors tend to involve strapping a monitor to your chest as you ride. The data is fed to your phone and cycle computer, which you can review for analysis and monitor as you ride. There are some monitors that read your heart rate from your wrist negating the need for a chest strap. They tend not to be as accurate, however, so there is a trade-off.
  • Power meters attach to the bike often on the crank or wheel hub. It gives you a reading in watts fed to your cycle computer and are downloadable for analysis. Many cyclists prefer power meters to measure how hard they are riding.

Whichever you choose you will need to determine your MHR or FTP. So let’s look at that next.

Determining MHR

MHR is determined by riding intensely to find your maximum heart rate. You can either do this by finding a quiet, steady climb with few junctions or use a turbo trainer. If you opt for the former always take a safety-first approach. When you are ready to begin, do the following:

  • Warm-up for 15-20 minutes. During the warm-up ensure your muscles are ready for seated and standing efforts and climb your chosen hill for about five minutes at a brisk pace. This will give you a good idea of the gear ratios needed to ride at maximum effort up the hill.
  • Main Test: Climb the hill four times. On each climb increase intensity about every 30 seconds up to a sprint speed that you can maintain. Make a note of your hightest heart rate figure for each of the four climbs.
  • Warm down for 10-15 minutes. After you have completed four climbs, spin out your legs to avoid lactic acid build-up.

The highest heart rate reading during the test is your MHR. Make a note.

Determining FTP

Like MHR, determining FTP involves pushing your limits. If you are planning to use turbo trainer to discover your FTP we have published a detailed post about it: Home Trainer Program - week 1 - Power Meter Based.
If you are planning to cycle on the road, safety first please and do the following:


Warm-up for 15-20 minutes. Ride at a steady pace. This should be followed by intermittent efforts for five minutes. Here, pedal hard for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds soft pedalling. Do this five times. This will open your blood and oxygen flow, ready for the main test.

Main Test

Make sure your power meter is recording and start a new interval. Pedal hard to a wattage you think you can sustain over the test. Like time trialling, do not start too hard. Progress to a wattage you think you can sustain over the next 15 minutes. Bear in mind that the best cyclists in the world can only sustain 400-500 watts for an hour. So if you’re starting at around this figure, you’re going to struggle.

After 15 minutes riding to the highest sustainable effort, ride flat out for five minutes. If you find yourself fading, you have probably ridden too hard in the first 15 minutes. Adjust for your next test.

Save the data and start a new interval.

Warm Down

Warm down for 5 to 10 minutes to spin out your legs to avoid lactic acid build-up.

I Have the Numbers What Next?

Once you have the numbers, you can structure your training around zones. See below:

Zone 1

  • Easy effort.
  • You can chat freely.
  • 60-65% MHR
  • 56-75% FTP
  • Feels like you are warming up.

Zone 2

  • Steady effort.
  • You can speak one sentence at a time.
  • 65-75% MHR
  • 76-90% FTP
  • Riding on the flat.

Zone 3

  • Brisk effort.
  • You can speak a few words at a time.
  • 75-82% MHR
  • 91-105% FTP
  • Feels like you are riding hard.

Zone 4

  • Hard effort.
  • You can say one word at a time.
  • 82-89% MHR
  • 106-120% FTP
  • Feels like a tough climb.

Zone 5

  • Very hard effort.
  • You can’t speak!
  • 89-100% MHR
  • 121%+ FTP
  • Sprinting.

Zones are individual to the rider. So your zone 3 may be different to your riding buddy’s zone 3. Also, note that as you improve your MHR/FTP will change. So redo the test periodically.

Now you have your numbers and zones you can incorporate this into your training plans. It is recommended that you use the serviecs of a qualified cycling coach to assist you with a structured training programme. A good coach can outline the benefits of zonal training and answer questions you may have. Structured training will be covered in more depth in later blogs.

Keep cycling!

cycling-sportive-trainingUse zones to train for big events such as sportives

Sources: Martin Birney, Cycling Weekly 

Submitted: 27/8/20

Although cycling is fantastic, there can be no denying it can be a time-consuming sport. Improving means putting in the hours and effort. If you are short on time, this may make you feel that big cycling events such as sportives are out of reach.

The good news is that by using specific training techniques, you can see real improvements to your cycling, building endurance and strength two essentials for long rides.

Both techniques demand no more than a ninety-minute ride and provide plenty of benefits to your cycling.

Although nothing replaces a long spin putting away the miles, you will notice tangible improvements to your physical condition and riding style.

cycling-techniquesBuild strength and endurance using specific techniques

Commuting and Safety

Given the length of the ride, you may feel you can do these techniques on your commute to work. As you’ll be doing this on open roads with vehicle and pedestrian traffic hazards, you must find quiet roads where junctions are minimal, and traffic levels are low. As such, you may want to consider using a turbo trainer for these exercises, especially if quiet roads are hard to find.

Let’s take a closer look at the techniques.

Strength Endurance Training

Strength endurance training for cyclists essentially means riding in a higher gear for a defined length of time. Some professional cyclists have likened this to cycling weight training.

To get started warm-up for around five minutes. Once you are on a suitable road, do the following:

  • Select a high gear. When you pedal, this should feel like you are making a 7/10 effort or using 85% of your maximum heart rate.
  • Cadence should be around 50-60 RPM
  • Ride for 5 minutes continuously unless you have to stop for safety reasons.
  • Recovery time should be just under 5 minutes. Take the opportunity to select an appropriate gear and spin your legs.
  • Repeat between 3-6 times depending on your ability. Try to work towards doing this six times in a ride.

If you can't measure cadence and heart rate just go by how the ride feels.

To get the most from this exercise you should concentrate on your technique. So with this in mind, ensure you are:

  • Using your glutes, the strongest muscles in your body.
  • Keeping your core stable.
  • Adopting a smooth sustained pedalling technique.

Cycle coaches believe that this exercise increases the power your muscles can produce through overloading and recovery, and it improves neuromuscular recruitment. Put simply, your muscles will be stronger, and you’ll be using them more effectively.

If you do the technique correctly, you’ll improve your core, strengthen your glutes and improve your pedalling form.

When you’re done, ensure you refuel and rest your legs if possible.

strength-endurance-cycling-trainingStrength and endurance are needed for long rides and sportives

Fasted Endurance Training

Fasted training provides endurance benefits which are needed to ride sportives, long rides, and cycling events. Although fasted cycling can’t replace long endurance rides, they are still highly useful in building endurance and provide other cycling benefits.

Riding in a carb depleted state puts your body into fat-burning mode. To ensure you reach this state, it is advised to do this exercise in the morning. Your body burns carbs overnight, and you’ll be ready for your fasted ride.

You may want to consider a protein breakfast. Boiled or scrambled eggs are good for this. Any food with carbohydrates in it is a no-no. This includes:

  • Toast
  • Honey
  • Cereal
  • Fruit
  • Bread
  • Milk

The ride itself will ideally be for 60-90 minutes, and you’ll ride at a steady pace, at about 70% of your maximum heart rate. It is important to keep the ride steady and not try anything like high-intensity training due to fatigue. This makes it ideal for commuting as it doesn’t matter if you’re stopping at junctions frequently. Always, however, adhere to road safety guidelines.

When finished, ensure you refuel but don’t go overboard.

Some pro riders use fasted training as part of their training programmes.

Both of these exercises are good if you want to ride the big events but have limited training time. Both build endurance needed for long rides, and if you adopt the right cycling techniques, you will notice real benefits to your cycling.

As well as these two techniques consider using high-intensity interval training to help develop your cycling abilities further.

Strength endurance training
Fasted training

Date submitted: 18/8/20


Without question cycling and touring the French Alps is something everyone should do at least once in their life. It is a beautiful and spectacular part of the planet offering crisp mountain air and majestic views.

From a cycling perspective, it is a region that offers some of the best and challenging climbs in the world. From riding the highest through road in Europe on col de la Bonette, to the dizzying gradients of Galibier, the climbs will test your abilities and deliver an unparalleled sense of achievement when you reach the summits. The thrilling descents that follow the climbs are fantastic. There is nothing quite like weaving down long winding roads with the mountain air filling your lungs.

geneva-nice-french-alpsExplore the French Alps and have a breathtaking experience

One of the aspects that makes French Alp riding that little bit special, is the fact that so many of the alpine passes are connected. To ride Galibier, you ride col du Télégraphe or Lautaret first. Not only does this make for a more interesting ride, but it increases the challenge. This is something we cyclists relish.

The Tour de France and the French Alps

Since Le Tour began in 1903, professional cyclists have tested their metal to themselves and each other in the French Alps. In the early days, riders rode individually and not as part of a team. Often, they would ride through the night, covering great distances.

In its first edition, the Tour de France was won by Maurice Garin. Over six stages he spent 95 hours in the saddle. He finished 64 hours ahead of the last-placed rider.

Cycle Geneva to NiceRide famous Tour de France Cols all week in SportActive's Geneva to Nice, cycling over La Route des Grandes Alpes

Today, the well-drilled riders ride across The French Alps. This makes it a must ride for you, a budding amateur cyclist. It never gets old riding this part of the world. Here are some ti

  • Use a Tour Company – It is advised to use a tour company to ride The French Alps. Should you experience bike issues or difficulty, having the back-up of a company is always reassuring and ensures you’re not stranded.
  • Choose the Tour that’s Right for You – There are a range of tours from ‘La Route des Grandes Alpes’ to competitive sportives such as Marmotte Granfondo Alps or Marmotte Granfondo Pyrénées. All will take you across Tour de France cols. The sportives in this part of the world tend to be tough but are so rewarding.
  • Explore the Alps – It is not always possible to explore the villages and towns when riding on the bike, but you should explore as much as you can. Mountain life is like city life in the sense that it is unique. Take the time to soak up the atmosphere. It is majestic and wonderful and insightful.
  • Savour the Views – The views across valleys and landscapes are spectacular and beautiful. Take some time to enjoy them, especially when resting after reaching a summit. You will be standing on the highest mountains in the region, and the views will stay with you for as long as you live.
  • Don’t Forget ‘The Beast of Provence’ – Although it stands alone from the rest of the Alps, Mont Ventoux is technically part of it. This is one of the toughest climbs in cycling and one for you to try at last once. This legendary mountain is sometimes kind, often cruel, and it will test you psychologically as well as physically.

Touring the French Alps

You may decide to explore the French Alps by car or better an RV (Recreational Vehicle). If you are planning this, take a bike with you and explore the region. You won’t regret it. You may want to download an RV guide to learn about the best places to visit and to get you up and running.

The French Alps is an amazing part of the world, and you should explore it by bike at your earliest opportunity. You’ll never forget it.

cycling-french-alps-sportactiveView from la Cime de La Bonette - 2860m altitude

Submitted: 27/7/20

Although the lockdown was hard, it did bring opportunities. You may have had a chance to take up a hobby that you had been meaning to explore for some time. If that activity was cycling, you’re in luck. We have some advice for you to keep you motivated to ride and enjoying the benefits of cycling and leading a healthier lifestyle.

With this in mind, here's some pro cycling tips for new cyclists that discovered how fantastic it is to ride mile after mile over the last few months.

beginners-cycling-sportactiveBecome a better cyclist than you ever thought possible!

Keep Motivated

Motivation is key for a successful cycling career. You may not be aiming to compete against Chris Frome in the next Tour de France, but the desire to get on two wheels is important. As you progress and you ride longer distances in a shorter time you will feel a great sense of achievement after each ride. This will spur you on to get on the saddle and ride. Apps such as Strava help you to monitor your performance and record your personal bests. This too provides great motivation to ride and improve.

That said, as a new cyclist, you may well be making common mistakes. Eventually, without pro coaching advice, the chances are that you will hit a wall, and this can lower your morale. So let’s look at ways to improve your technique. Seeing your bike skills progress will feed your motivation.

freeguide-cyclingDownload Your Free Cycling Guide

Core Strength

Like most sports to be a good cyclist, you need good core strength. Previously we published exercises to help you improve this aspect of your cycling, and you can read our post, ‘Improve your Core Strength for Better Cycling’ which provides easy to follow exercises to improve your core.

Good core strength helps to prevent injury and conditions such as osteoporosis. It enables you to maintain a good position for cycling, helping you to sprint and climb more effectively.
With a good core strength, you will adopt the correct cycling posture, which helps you become a better cyclist. Pro cyclists do core exercises every day.

sportactive cycle trainingRiding in Mallorca is the best way to learn, progress or train


As mentioned, there are common mistakes beginners tend to make. One of which is pedalling incorrectly. Here are some examples of common pedalling mistakes:

  • Freewheeling when descending – It is nice to take your foot off the gas and let gravity power your bike. There is one problem here, and that is the build-up of lactic acid in your legs. As you come out of the decline, the acid build-up makes your legs sluggish and heavy impairing your speed. The secret here is to keep your legs turning in the descent even if there is no pressure under your pedals. This avoids the build-up of acid so as you start pedalling again you don’t feel sluggish and you don’t lose speed or momentum. If the descent is particularly fast or on a dangerous road, then freewheel and keep your hands ready to apply the brakes. Always take a safety-first approach when cycling.
  • Undulating roads – If you cycle quiet roads as you should you will notice many roads are not flat but undulating. The secret to optimising your performance is to go as fast as you can on the declines. The extra momentum will see you climb the ascents using less energy allowing you to ride further and faster.

Try Not to Rock in the Saddle

The correct cycling posture is to keep as still as possible in the saddle. This posture avoids injury and maximises your energy levels. Rocking as you ride is an easy habit to get into and a common mistake. If you have a well-developed core, your obliques and lateral glute muscles will keep you still in the saddle.

Also, watch your shoulders. Rocking them does not help in any way but just burns energy. Each unnecessary muscle movement burns energy that should be going into your legs. Your performance on long rides, in particular, will be adversely affected and you may find you suffer burnout before you finish.

The Benefits of a Cycling Training Camp..., for Beginner Cyclists

If you feel you have hit a wall in your cycling a good training camp will help you break through it. Any common mistakes will be addressed as you’ll learn proper technique and pick up training tips through solid pro coaching advice.

Even if you haven’t hit a wall, pro coaching advice, peloton riding and having focused cycling for a week or two will empower you to ride further and faster. Our beginners cycling training camp will put you on the right road to success.
When you leave, you will have the cycling knowledge to ride further and faster and have a fulfilling cycling career.

But first of all, a beginner’s cycling holiday in Mallorca is a holiday and not a boot camp. It is great fun spending a week cycling in Mallorca enjoying the 25°C sun in October and spring. Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea is fantastic, and you'll get a chance to discover the culture and make new cycling friends. It is the perfect way to enjoy and embrace cycling. Discover our beginner’s cycling holiday now.

cycling beginners SportactiveImprove your cycling skills in the Mallorca sun!

 freeguide-cyclingDownload Your Free Cycling Guide

Submitted: 22/7/2020

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About SportActive

We've made it our mission to make your experience of cycling in Mallorca one of the most incredible of your life

Every member of the cycle training team at SportActive is a passionate and accomplished cyclist in their own right, not to mention an expert in cycle training. Indeed, it was after taking part in numerous races across Europe, America and Australia that Flora and I eventually decided to set up SportActive in order to offer a new approach to training for cyclists. Having experienced the very best that cycling clubs had to offer, we wanted to make these experiences accessible to everybody, which eventually led us to found SportActive - a unique cycling break company, committed to help cyclists at all levels improve their skills and have fun doing so.


Contact SportActive

28 Gelvin Gardens, Trench Road, L/Derry, BT472DQ, N Ireland
Tel office : 0044/ (0)287136 5997

Martin Birney - 0044/ (0)75 997 191 79 or 00353/ (0)86 196 6006

Flora Mittermair
Landline : 0033/ (0)4 78 59 18 90 (leave voice message only on mobile number) or Mobile : 0033 / (0)6 99 79 12 54