24 May 2016


A heart rate monitor can formalise your training, ensuring you maximise every revolution. Here’s how…

Power meters are omnipresent in the professional peloton and are clearly a useful training tool. But despite dropping in price, they’re still expensive. Enter the humble heart rate monitor. These start from as little as €40 and, if used correctly, can transform your riding.

The more you spend, the more features you get, like GPS, notifications and wifi connectivity. This can give you a bucketload of data that can be utilized with one of any number of apps. Strava and Garmin Connect are two of the most popular, where you can upload your session and see how aspects like pace and heart rate oscillate depending on factors like course topography. For instance, if your heart rate reaches 98% maximum when climbing a 100m hill, it’s worth planning a weekly or fortnightly hill session and losing weight so you have less to carry.
And that highlights where the greatest benefits of training by heart rate derive from – namely training to zones. This is a tried-and-trusted method to ensure you peak for your goal race, the idea being that you train at different heart rates to stimulate certain physiological changes.
We’ve given you the zones and their specific benefits below but first you need to calculate your maximum heart rate. This is easily done. Simply ride flat out for 20 minutes and note your peak heart rate. This is your maximum. Now you’re ready to ride to the following zones…

Recovery ride
• Intensity: Less than 60% maximum heart rate (maxHR)
• Duration: 10-50mins
• Workout: This should follow a hard day. You need to cycle on a flat route, spinning easy with very little pressure on the pedals, or complete on an indoor spin bike or turbo trainer. Simply start easy and keep heart below 60% of your max bike HR.
• Physiological adaptations: Increasing bloodflow to muscles provides nutrients and removes waste products to speed up recovery.

Easy ride
• Intensity: 60-65% maxHR
• Duration: 1.5-3hrs
• Workout: Don’t be tempted to go above 65% of your maxHR for the entire ride. You’ll recovery quickly after this ride, allowing you to really put the hammer down during your harder most important rides.
• Physiological adaptations: Improves fat metabolism; strengthens muscles tendons and joints; you become more efficient going easy so you recover faster while cycling fast.

Efficiency ride
• Intensity: 65-75% maxHR
• Duration: 1-4hrs
• Workout: During your ride, unclip one leg and focus on full pedal revolution for 1min. Repeat on other leg for 1min. Complete up to 20 times each leg during the ride. If it suits, you can complete single leg cycling on an indoor trainer.
• Physiological adaptations: You improve the ability to use oxygen; improved technique; learn to preserve energy, especially when going up hill or going hard.

Improve sustained power
• Intensity: 75-82% maxHR
• Duration: 45mins-2hrs
• Workout: For many, this is the hardest to complete. You can trick the body and improve your fitness by increasing by 5mins each week for 15 weeks, from 45mins to 120mins. Ideally choose a flat route to avoid downhill sections where you recover.
• Physiological adaptations: Improve the ability to maintain sustainable power; improve carbohydrate metabolism.

Increase threshold
• Intensity: 82-89% maxHR
• Duration: 30-60mins
• Workout: This will help every cyclist improve their ability to sustain a high work rate – great for climbing long hills and hanging onto the rider in front. Ride multiple loops and make sure you complete each loop in a similar time. The ideal is 3x 20min loops.
• Physiological adaptations: Raises your anaerobic threshold, which allows you to sustain a high pace without slowing down. This is a highly successful method of improving fitness but doing too much can lead to burnout staleness.

Improve aerobic power
• Intensity: 89-94% maxHR
• Duration: 14-40mins
• Workout: This must be on quiet roads, ideally with no turns or intersections. You need a 15min warm-up before riding at 89-94% of your maxHR for 30-40mins. It can take you one to three days to recover.
• Physiological adaptations: Sustain the highest-possible maximum power. And raises your VO2max levels. Perfect training for coping with short-term fatigue on steep hills.

You can also use the HRM more imply to set a reminder to remember to feed and drink. So every 20mins, you’ll hear a beep that’ll alert you to take an energy drink.

Right, let’s go train to the beat!