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Testing Guidelines for Heart Rate Zones, Power Training Levels and Performance Benchmarks

There are two reasons to conduct cycling performance field tests:

  1. To set a performance benchmark. After future tests you can compare performance benchmark data to check you are improving or see if you are not improving and need to make changes to your training plan. Keeping tabs on performance benchmarks gives a good reality check. Maximum distance ridden or average power output over a specific duration are standard metrics to track.
  2. To set training zones to follow during workouts. Average heart rate from a 20 minute time trial is used to estimate lactate threshold heart rate and set heart rate training zones. Power training levels are set with average power output from a 20 minute time trial. Use the LW Coaching power level and heart rate zone calculator to compute training levels or follow the instructions in your TrainingPeaks training plan to use their tools.

Conduct accurate tests!

To test accurately you must limit as many variables as possible. Follow these testing guidelines each time you test:

  • Arrive at the test in a rested state, ready to ride fast.
  • Arrive at the test adequately fueled, hydrated and ready to ride fast. During the last 45 minutes before you test, drink a sports drink to boost energy levels along with aiding in hydration.
  • Use the exact same course every time you test. A 10 minute out, then 10 minute back course or continual gradual climb is optimal. No traffic stops is an essential. A road course is the best idea as it is difficult to control trail conditions from month to month off-road. Put slicks on your mountain bike to test on the road or use a road bike if you have one.
  • Test under the same conditions. A calm day is optimal.
  • Always conduct the same warm-up routine before every field test of at least 30 minutes warming up with at least one effort near lactate threshold.
  • Select a gear that allows you to maintain a cadence between 85 and 100 rpm. Avoid the impulse to mash a big gear at slow rpm – the greater resistance will build more leg-burning lactic acid. The secret is to use the gearing that is most efficient for your personal riding style. Most athletes will respond better to using a slightly lighter gear than what you are accustomed to. Settle into your pace and avoid any power surges or accelerations. Pedal at the maximum effort you can sustain at an even pace for 20 minutes – don’t blow up halfway!

Data to record

  • Distance covered in 20 minutes. This is your key performance benchmark number.
  • Average heart rate from the  20 minutes. This is used to estimate lactate threshold heart rate and to calculate your heart rate training zones using the LW Coaching Heart Rate zone calculator.
  • Average power from the 20 minutes, used to calculate Functional Threshold power and set power training levels.
  • Perceived exertion (scale of 1-10) at the end of the test.
  • Weather conditions.
  • How you felt on test day.
  • Any other information relevant to the test outcome.

Calculate Heart Rate Training Zones

Calculate Power Training Levels


Coach Lynda

Coach Lynda’s testing tip: Do your first test at the start of a training block. Repeat your test every 6-8 weeks to track training progress, fitness development and keep your training zones on target.

By Lynda Wallenfels Google+

  8 comments for “Testing Guidelines for Heart Rate Zones, Power Training Levels and Performance Benchmarks

  1. Avatar
    April 11, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Field test went well. Got close to blowing up a couple of times but I backed off in time. Weather was cool around 15 C with almost no wind. My average HR was the same as last year’s lactate balance point tests results at 165 bpm.

  2. Avatar
    May 28, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    What are your thoughts on testing indoors on a spin bike that will measure Cadence, Speed, Distance and Power rather than outdoors. FYI Outdoors I would not have access to Power Measures and uninterupted course could be difficult

  3. Avatar
    May 29, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Test in the conditions you will be training. If you do all of your training indoors on a spin bike this would be the best place to test. Your indoor test results cannot be used to set up outdoor training zones. An outdoor test must be used for that.

  4. Avatar
    Paul Olpin
    May 15, 2014 at 8:34 am

    when I apply my power and heart rate data to the calculator, it doesn’t seem to give me any understandable numbers or ranges for training. Can you help?

  5. Avatar
    May 15, 2014 at 8:38 am

    What browser are you using? Have you tried a different browser? Currently it works only on PC. It is not mobile friendly. That is on the upgrade to-do list. It just got pushed to the top of the list 🙂

  6. Avatar
    May 16, 2014 at 8:03 am


    The calculator is now mobile friendly! Try it out again today and let me know how it works for you on mobile.

  7. Avatar
    August 7, 2014 at 10:52 am


    I’m preparing for my field test this weekend but I don’t have a power meter. Absent performing the test indoors on a stationary (which I expect most all of my training will be out of doors), I think I’m left with attempting to estimate this figure. Any suggestions?


  8. Avatar
    August 7, 2014 at 11:47 am


    You DO NOT need a power meter. A power meter is an optional extra and advantageous tool but not required to either successfully do this test OR follow the entire training plan. Follow all the heart rate guidelines and ignore the power guidelines. All workouts have both heart rate and power guidelines to accommodate all athletes and all bikes in training.

    From the test take your average 20 min heart rate and use the HR calculator linked in your plan to calculate your HR training zones. Follow the HR training zones for each workout.

    Test in the environment you will be doing most of your training. If you ride outdoors most days, do the test outdoors. An indoor heart rate will be higher than an outdoor heart rate mostly due to heat stress.


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