I see more and more cyclists ride with heart rate monitors. The efforts of Garmin, Polar, and more, have made constant monitoring of your heart during training more accessible. I’ve always trained with heart rate, right back to my triathlon days in 1998-2002. Why? Well my undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Applied Science in Human Movement, so subjects like bio-mechanics, exercise physiology and anatomy were common discussion topics around uni. Back then, heart rate technology was very basic, but I was lucky enough to have access to VO2 laboratories, even had parts of the original Australian Super Bike designed and tested on campus.
One of the things that amazes me though, is the number of people that simply ‘go for a ride’ while wearing a heart rate monitor. You see, the advantage of a heart rate monitor is to ensure you’re getting the most out of every ride. Riders that want the maximum from each session ride with a power meter, but for the majority of us, the price of a power meter is out of reach.
A huge lesson I learnt throughout my cycling is to ‘have a plan or purpose’. Even if that plan is social, start the ride with that in mind. I’m planning another piece on training plans, but this piece is meant to help you understand what paying attention to your heart can do for you.
Just going for a ride, while it may have some impact on your speed and fitness, is unlikely to have an effect to targeted use of zones. The long term goal of any cycling program is to improve components of your fitness. Whether its aerobic capacity, lactate thresholds or speed. A heart rate monitor is a great and affordable way to connect with how your body performs against a plan. One of the best guides is the use of heart rate zones. I borrowed the following chart from Stage 5 Cycling:
The trick in your rides is to have a goal, and a goal means using the zones to guide your effort. Over the past year, my focus was dropping excess kilograms and improving my aerobic base. This resulted in me spending the majority of my rides in Zone 2. I literally ride with a hard ceiling of 130bpm, for a minimum of 2 hours.
When you head out for a ride, ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve. Sometimes, it’s hard to have individual goals when you’re always riding with a group. But your body will thank you for it.