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45 min training for endurance or Training with an arrhythmia

Mar 10, 2009
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I am hoping someone can provide some suggestions.
My background. I am 64 and have been reasonably active most of my life. I used to cycle a lot until my middle 20s also generally kept fit, then later started mountaineering, bit of running, skiing, kayaking. Stopped for a few years in the 1990s. Then started running and cycling a little. About 8 years ago I started to get heart arrhythmias - atrial fibrillation or AF. I have no other heart issues. Cycling again became my main sport partly because I can manage the heart rate better. After many years I realise I can still do much of what I want - just slower. I now cycle, kayak again, jog again, use weights, even some climbing. The issues are recovery and balancing training.

There is a lot of evidence which links AF with endurance sports. A study on former professionals participating in the Tour of Switzerland showed much higher levels of AF than a comparable non active group, studies on participants in the Barcelona marathon showed the same. There are also other studies showing the link between endurance sport and AF and the evidence is now pretty clear - endurance sport raises the risk of AF. For a long time I have tried to say "Not me". However honesty compels me to suspect "yes including me". So I have cut out all my longer hardish cycling. However I just like long runs, big climbs, take me to the Alps at least once a year if I can. I am looking to find a balanced way forward. So my questions are around how can I train to support low level endurance without endurance training. How can I achieve some of what I have always promised myself while not feeding the AF beast.

The guide limit for hard training and avoiding stimulating AF appears to be about 45 minute training sessions at a time. Limiting my training to that seems to help my arrhythmias, it certainly helps how they affect me. They have improved slightly to about 45% of the time. So there is the first limit - 45 minutes training at a time. I can push my efforts hard using intervals, even during an arrhythmia. 30 second efforts work well, longer ones need careful management especially during an arrhythmia. But they work. I have been using this shorter training for about two months. Actually the cycling has been taking a knock recently due to training for going kayaking in the Alps in July but my question is for the longer term. Just to cover this detail. White water kayaking is what I call a lazy sport. While continuous concentration and control is needed the hard efforts are very short, so it seems to fit OK for me just now. Though the recovery cost can be high.

I enjoy the short cycling sessions. However the aim of short sessions is to make it possible to do long steady very relaxed rides. I want to use short 45 minute sessions where I work hard to enable long very easy efforts - say a max of 60% of max heart rate. The problem with long harder sessions is they raise vagal tone which brings on arrhythmias. They also take recovery time. So any longer sessions need to be at a very relaxed level and perhaps not be that often. Due to life pressures I have only done one medium length hilly ride at that level since starting this. It was slow averaging 18 - 19kph, climbing at 450 metres per hour at 60% max pulse and using stopping to take photographs to move the focus from working hard which I have always done in the past. That ride did work well as a one off. Mentally that style of effort could work for me particularly if I can still do occasional 1500 metre climbing days and even the odd 160k day. Alp d'huez in 2-2.5 hours would be fine. Now I don't mind being last - just being in those places is fantastic when I thought I could never do them again.

Firstly is it reasonable to expect to be able to use these short training sessions to make relaxed 3 to 4 hours plus rides at a steady very touring pace a realistic option, up to 8 or more hours very occasionally would be the hope. In a sense the aim of the short sessions is to raise performance to be able to do the long sessions at a low relaxed heart rate which will not stimulate the central nervous system and encourage arrhythmias.

If yes does anyone have any suggestions on better ways to use these short sessions. Or ideas on how to manage the longer sessions and how to improve recovery (one is go to bed early:rolleyes:). I suppose another question is how often would I likely need to do the longer rides or how infrequently could the longer rides be done without loosing the ability to do them.

I do not expect to be fast just do the distance and the climbs without using to many reserves, perhaps on a tour doing two good days out of three. But it would be nice to be faster:D

Comments suggestions welcome.