Setting heart rate zones on your Garmin watch or device

I see lots of people struggling to set their HR zones on their Garmin watches and this leads to all manner of weird issues. Setting zones should be simple.

First off, what not to do? I would caution against using 220-age to find your max HR. I think that formula may work well for studying large groups of individuals but I suspect doesn’t work well for individuals. Much like BMI.

Max HR or Lactate threshold HR? I think finding max HR is problematic. Max HR will change depending on your training status. If you’re at the end of a heavy block of training, you may not be able to achieve max HR. Finding your max HR isn’t pleasant either. I think it’s better to use LTHR, in my experience, it doesn’t vary much. Most importantly, I think LTHR is more useful, it’s the threshold beyond which your rate of fatigue increases.

Step 1 — determine your LTHR

Joel Friel provides good advice for establishing your LTHR.

To find your LTHR do a 30-minute time trial all by yourself (no training partners and not in a race). Again, it should be done as if it were a race for the entire 30 minutes.

at 10 minutes into the test, click the lap button on your heart rate monitor. When done, look to see what your average heart rate was for the last 20 minutes. That number is an approximation of your LTHR.

This weekend I ran the Leeds Half-Marathon. My average HR for the 85 minutes was 161bpm. I could use that as my LTHR or I could let tell me, which it did. I think either value would work fine.

Screenshot of Weather Up’s widget

Step 2 — personalise your zones

Then I use Garmin Connect to set my zones in my device’s user profile.

My zones happen to be:

  • Z1 -73%
  • Z2 74-86%
  • Z3 87-97%
  • Z4 98-100%
  • Z5 101-

Zone 2 is where I spend most of my training time and is the most important one for me. I did tweak my Z2 range from the defaults. 74-86% of 163 is 120-140bpm and I know I’m still able to breathe easily and have a conversation in this zone.

That’s all there is to it when setting heart rate zones.

Travelling in Argentina Pt. 2 — Cycling in Bariloche

Photo of a hotel on an island surrounded by mountains

Circuito Chico is a ~20km road that is ~20km from downtown Bariloche. It is one of the main attractions in the area and offers spectacular scenery and it’s from there that you can access Colonia Suiza. A picturesque Swiss-style village. Cycling the Circuito Chico is often suggested as the best way to experience it as opposed to driving. My wife and I recently visited Bariloche and completed the Circuito Chico on bikes but it ended up being a day of frustration rather than one of relaxing in a gorgeous location.

Don’t cycle from Bariloche to Circuito Chico! It’s a ~40km round trip from downtown Bariloche and is not worth the time and effort. You might think, like I did, what could ruin a 40km ride near the banks of the nearby lake?

  1. The vast majority of bikes available for hire are mountain bikes. The bikes are heavy, the tires are slow MTB tires. A gravel bike would have been ideal. An e-gravel bike would have been better. I didn’t spot either of those along the way.
  2. You can’t see much of the lake along the way, so the ride isn’t very interesting.
  3. Worse. The road is busy. The good news is that the cars give you space. The bad news is that the buses don’t, they expect you to ride in the dirt. One bus passed me so close that I could touch the side of the bus.

It took us almost 2hrs to cycle 20km to Circuito Chic and by then we felt like we’d had enough. The stiff headwind didn’t help either

My advice would be to drive or grab a public bus to Circuit Chico. Then hire an e-bike at the start point. Circuito Chico is not flat! It has numerous short climbs with some tough gradients. Yes, we had a tailwind on the way back but by then we were too spent to enjoy it.

Check my ride on Strava