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Cardio Training

by Coach Seiji


You are a dedicated motocross racer and you have the drive to put all your motos in at the track and miles on your bicycle. You work hard and you expect dividends. You know exactly what to do at the track but do you know what to do on the bicycle? You know the pros ride bicycles but is that the extent of your knowledge? The purpose of this article is to make your cycling or other aerobic training as effective as it can be – to train smarter, not just harder.

There are three fundamental elements to all athletic training:

  1. Frequency - simply how many times per week you do an activity.
  2. Duration - how long an activity lasts for each session.
  3. Intensity – how "hard" you are going; at what percentage of your maximum effort are you expending in that exercise session.

Coach Seiji puts Andrew Short through a lactate threshold test on a stationary bike.

Photo: Coach Seiji

All three of these variables are manipulated to create a single workout and then again to form a training plan. The last variable, intensity, is the one that gives seasoned cycling pros and motocross athletes the most problems and is the least understood. This article will lay a foundation so you can measure intensity and know what systems in your body are stressed for each intensity level. This will give you the knowledge to build your cycling or other aerobic workouts and help you start to create a training plan. It will also give you a physiological goal for each workout, which will help keep you motivated to complete the workout correctly.

Intensity and Body Fuel Systems:

The main reason for modulating your intensity level is to be able to stress your body’s different fuel systems. At the lowest levels of exercise intensity most of your energy is derived from utilizing the oxygen you breathe and metabolizing fat. Fat is the most efficient fuel source in your body; it yields more energy per molecule than your body’s other choices for fuel and has no harmful by-products. As the exercise intensity increases a smaller portion of your energy demand is met by processing fat and a larger portion is met by processing carbohydrates, still utilizing oxygen. As exercise intensity increases even further eventually, all of your energy comes from carbohydrates.

At a certain point, you cannot provide all the energy from the carbohydrate by utilizing oxygen alone and you start producing energy from carbohydrates in the absence of oxygen. The downside of this is you produce a harmful by-product in your muscles called lactic acid, which will degrade your performance radically if allowed to accumulate. Lactate Threshold is the level where you are accumulating lactic acid at the same rate you are neutralizing it and it is an important physiological marker. Measuring your intensity level during exercise and controlling this level will allow you to stress each fuel system for the correct amounts during the correct periods in your training plan.

Establishing Heart Rate Training Zones:

The first step in the process of making your training smarter is to establish your personal training zones based on intensity. This is done with a field test to measure Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (heart rate at which Lactate Threshold is reached) in whatever cross-training activity you have chosen for aerobic conditioning. You need to utilize a heart rate monitor that has the capacity to calculate and average heart rate for the time period being measured. The test is simple but requires you to be well rested, hydrated, and fed as it involves a maximum effort!

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Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR) Test – Warm up for about 10-minutes. Start a 30-minute all-out effort. You should strive to hit an effort level that will allow you to complete the 30 minutes at as high an intensity level as possible for the entire test. You don’t want to fade towards the end of the test but you don’t want anything left when you are done. When you are 10 minutes into your 30-minute all-out effort, start your heart rate monitor recording function and stop it when you hit the 30-minute mark. Cool down for 5 minutes. The number you need from this test is the average heart rate for the last 20 minutes of your effort. This is your LTHR.

Now that you have your magic LTHR number, you need to calculate your five heart rate training zones:

Add one beat to each zone starting number beginning with zone 2 to get the correct zone range numbers, i.e. add one beat to 89% (high zone 2 number) of the LTHR to get the low heart rate number for zone 3.

Let’s say your average heart rate was 155 BPM from your heart rate monitor.
Zone 1 would be anything less than 129 BPM (155 x 0.83 = 129)
Zone 2 would be 130 to 138 BPM
Zone 3 would be 139 to 144 BPM
Zone 4 would be 145 to 155 BPM
Zone 5 is anything above 155 BPM

Zone Purpose Fuel 
% of LTHR
1 Recovery
Predominantly fat <83%
2 Aerobic conditioning Mostly fat, some carbohydrate 83-89%
3 High level aerobic conditioning Fat and carbohydrate 89-93%
4 Aerobic/anaerobic threshold Predominantly carbohydrate 93-100%
5 Anaerobic conditioning All carbohydrate 100%<

OK, Now What?

Now that you have your 5 heart rate training zones established, what do you do with them? This is where the task of creating an actual training program starts. In general:

  1. As intensity goes up, duration comes down. This applies to how you do one workout as well as how you plan for an entire week. For example, you may do one hour of cycling in zones 1 and 2 but you may only do 3 intervals of 4 minutes each in zone 4 for a total of 12 minutes in zone 4. It also means that weeks that have only lower zone workouts in them will have more total weekly volume of training than weeks that include work in the higher zones.

  2. You progressively work from lower zone workouts to higher zone workouts. In January, you may be only using zones 1 and 2 but in April, you have workouts that include zones 4 and 5. You cannot gain the advantages of working in the higher zones until you have done enough work in the lower zones.

  3. The higher the zone, the less total weeks you work in that zone. You may be able to work for 12 weeks in zone 1 and 2 but only use zones 4 and 5 for four weeks total.

  4. The closer you get to your important race, the more you add higher zone work but the less total volume you do. The few weeks before your important event are the least in total volume but have the most bouts of higher zone work.

  5. View any work above zone 3 like a pill: the proper dosage at the proper time will yield excellent results but take it at the wrong time or take an overdose and it can ruin your season.

  6. You should always be doing some zone 1 and zone 2 work. These are the pure aerobic, fat metabolizing zones and you always need the ability to do this efficiently. As the season progresses and higher zone work begins, you do it less and less but you should always be doing some of the lower zone work.

These are just general pointers on how you create workouts and training plans. There is a mix of art and science to creating workouts, training weeks, and annual training plans. This is beyond the scope of this article but it will be covered in future installments of the Racer X Virtual Trainer.

Now that you have some basic knowledge about exercise intensity, body fuel systems, heart rate training zones and general rules for creating workouts and training plans, you are well on your way to smarter training. Any racer can just train harder and harder but the ones that continually gain fitness and speed, season after season, are also training smarter. Do what you can to train as smart as you can so that the effort you apply to training produces the most rewards!

About the Author: Seiji Ishii is the head coach of provides online coaching and personal training services to motorsports athletes. Coach Seiji has worked with both pros and elite amateurs including: Heath Voss, Ryan Clark, Austin Stroupe, PJ Larsen, Hunter Hewitt, Drew Yenerch, Rusty Potter, Jason Anderson, and Andrew Short. Learn more at or contact Coach Seiji directly.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Simon Griffiths May 10, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Hi Coach Seiji, i've not long qualified as a fitness instructor and i ride most weekends. I really like the site and all the expert articles but could you clear something up for me? Why does the percentage of LTHR start from 83%? I want to stay away from the 220-age way of doing things and understand this way completley. Thanks, Simon

  2. Gravatar
    Coach Seiji May 10, 2010 at 9:37 am

    I think you are asking me why zone 2 starts at 83% of LTHR? This, like all zone determining formulas, is a best estimate of where your predominantly fat burning, aerobic only zone starts in relation to your LTHR heart rate. The LTHR is the "solid" number since you are actually performing a field test to determine this number (well, without a blood lactate analyzer, this is still an estimate but it's WAY better resolution than any other way). The percentages have been derived from studies done by various researchers and the results compiled to determine this "best estimate."

    Does this answer your question.

    Remember that LTHR is what you are trying to change via aerobic training. It will go up and down with changes in aerobic/anaerobic conditioning and this method with the field test and formulas to determine training HR zones (haha HR is again an estimate of workload) that a normal person can do without a lab full of equipment like blood lactate analyzers, oxygen uptake analyzers, power meters, C02 analyzers, etc. and then again, all that involves estimations and formulas based on other studies.

    The reason I keep mentioning all this estimating is that in the end, in my experience, the athlete is ahead of science. For example, if the athlete is saying that he feels like his zones are off because the number he sees doesn't match when he feels, say, his body producing lactate faster than he can get rid of it, his own estimation of where the zone should be moved to is probably correct. I am saying this is a seasoned, experienced athlete.

    In cycling, the release of relatively inexpensive power meters has improved measuring and estimation of training work rates and zones and I see that in the future the way to go whether it be wattage meters, accelerometers, etc. so keep studying!

    Dude this will throw you for a loop: do research on lactate. The newer research is changing ideas about lactate being the "bad guy." The new stuff is saying that lactate is your body's way of making more fuel when needed! How does that strike you after what you have learned. Just goes to show you we aren't as smart as we think we are! Again, in the end. what someone feels can trump a lab full of scientists!

  3. Gravatar
    Simon Griffiths May 11, 2010 at 12:08 am

    Coach Seiji, thanks for answering my question and for the interesting reply, i appreciate it!!! I'll keep studying and continue to bathe in the knowledge on this site.
    Thanks again,

  4. Gravatar
    Joe March 07, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Coach Seiji thanks for sharing this information, I have a question that I´ve been looking for a long time. I already have my working zones and everything. My question is in which zone you have to be working out for motocross?

  5. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 10, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Joe, please post your question on the forum where Coach will see it. Comments on articles do not generate automatic notifications like the forum does. Seiji posted this article a while ago so I doubt he is still following it to see new questions.

  6. Gravatar
    Andrew October 30, 2012 at 11:39 am

    I have no experience with actual cycling, but I do have a stationary bike that I use regularly. I never know what resistance level to put it on, wondering if I should typically be pedaling slower with higher resistance or faster with lower resistance? If I'm hitting my target heart rates how much does it matter?

  7. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer October 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    If you are hitting your target HR's is really doesn't matter.

  8. Gravatar
    kurt December 09, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    hey i was wondering if you could tell me how you figure out the max heart rate for zone three because i'm having troubel trying to figure it out

  9. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer December 10, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Kurt - Did you do the LTHR test? If so what was your number?

  10. Gravatar
    kurt December 11, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    yes i did and my LTHR was 189bpm

  11. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer December 12, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Your average heart rate was 189 BPM, so...

    Zone 1 would be anything less than 157 BPM (189 x 0.83 = 157)
    Zone 2 would be 158 to 168 BPM
    Zone 3 would be 169 to 176 BPM
    Zone 4 would be 177 to 189 BPM
    Zone 5 is anything above 190 BPM

  12. Gravatar
    Kurt December 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    thanks you for your help really appreacite it

  13. Gravatar
    Bryan May 28, 2013 at 6:41 am

    It says you can only train in zone 4 or 5 for around 4 weeks. How many times a week during this 4 week period should you preform up in the 4 and 5 zones if Ill be racing every Sunday?

  14. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer May 29, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Bryan - this is actually a tough question. It depends on how much time you have spent training in the lower zones. High zone training, like Seiji says, is like a pill. You have to use it properly or it can ruin your season. To answer your question specifically as it applies to you is hard b/c I do not know anything about your current fitness level and training. But generally speaking zone 4 and 5 workouts are limited to two days per week.

    Have you ever considered taking the guess work out of your training and following one of the premium training plans offer on the site? If not, you should look into it for sure. The program cost $20 bucks per month and the first month is free to try. Click on "Premium Training" in the menu above.

  15. Gravatar
    Brandon January 07, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    I also don't understand how to calculate the zones. My number is 183 bpm.

  16. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer January 07, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Brandon - You zones would be
    Z1 <152
    Z2 153-162
    Z3 163-179
    Z4 171-183
    Z5 >184

  17. Gravatar
    Matthew August 21, 2014 at 3:05 am

    This might sound stupid but I just bought a pulsometer and want to know my training zones, so when I start the LTHR test, how can I find that effort level in order to not to fade or still having some energy at the end?

  18. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer August 22, 2014 at 7:24 am

    Matthew - I'm not sure what you are trying to ask. Can you please elaborate?

  19. Gravatar
    Mike November 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    What happens when I am no where near able the complete the LTHR test (on the cardio level). What zones do I want to start in? I haven't worked out in a gym for 4 to years. I am 29 so... just getting back into it I was going to workout for one week starting at 140 45mins, and increasing 10 beats for the next weeks. To work the heart back into shape.

  20. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer November 24, 2014 at 5:03 am

    Mike - Use the Rating of Perceived exertion (RPE)

  21. Gravatar
    Mike November 24, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Thank you for the big help gives me a good starting base.

  22. Gravatar
    Alex July 24, 2016 at 11:17 pm

    Hi, im looking to carry out the test but what form of exercise should i do to carry it out, is it a running cycling or on the bike test please?


  23. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer July 25, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Each test is independent of the other. Meaning the results DO NOT carry over to each form of exercise. You will have a different LT number for running and cycling. I do NOT recommend an LT test for on the motorcycle. We never do on the motorcycle heart rate based training. Thanks!

  24. Gravatar
    Vincent January 11, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    How long should you be training in zone 2 and how long in zone 3 before your prior event?

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