To train properly, you need to be able to determine the intensity of your workout. Not only afterwards you want to know how hard it was for your body. Also during the training it helps if you know what you are doing. You can of course do this by feeling or speed. But especially for less experienced cyclists, training on intuition is difficult if you haven’t developed a good frame of reference. In addition, speed seems to be a particularly bad advisor when there is a stiff breeze. Therefore, heart rate and later power are the most commonly used methods to determine intensity. Heart rate is a relatively cheap method and almost commonplace, but the power meter has also been on the market for a while and has become increasingly cheaper. But what is the big difference between training on heart rate and on power?
THE 2 PROBLEMS WITH HEART RATE
It is especially interesting to know how hard it is for the body. That actually determines how tired you become, how much rest you need and, in the long run, how much better you become. Viewed in this way, heart rate could be a more interesting measure of training than power. Here lies the pitfall, however. There are two major problems with heart rate:
- The relationship between the height of the heart rate and how hard it is for the body is very different from day to day
- There is a considerable delay between an increased intensity and an increased heart rate.
Nevertheless, even power (relatively spoken) is not the same every day. Every day is different and that means that on some days your performance level (or FTP) is slightly lower, making the same power output relatively heavier. However, you cannot adjust the FTP every day. Therefore, when training on power as well as on heart rate, always listening to what you feel, is extremely important.
STARTING TOO FAST AND ENDING too easy
The height of the heart rate, but also the speed at which it rises and falls, is therefore different from day to day. Factors that influence this and often in a combination include: fatigue, altitude, reduced blood volume (after a week of not cycling), caffeine, diet, stress, dehydration. Even on a good day without all these influences, there is the problem of lag. You often have to determine the intensity first on intuition for the first few minutes of a heart rate interval and then find out if you didn’t start too fast or too easy. If you don’t do this, as is often the case in practice, then you often train too hard at the beginning of the interval and actually train another energy system and too easy at the end to get the heart rate down again. It can therefore happen that someone who does an interval on heart rate ends up training in two totally different zones than actually intended. Although you should also listen to the feeling and the form of the day with power, you have this problem to a much lesser degree. You can immediately target exactly the zone that was originally intended.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW WHEN TRAINING with HEART RATE
So is training by heart rate totally worthless? No, far from it, but take these next tips with you.
- Listen to what you feel even more than when training with power. Take into account that the heart rate can be higher towards the end of your training due to dehydration and fatigue, for example.
- Especially up to 90% of your threshold heart rate, your heart rate can tell pretty good what you’re doing. Above that, the delay is sometimes too great for short blocks and fatigue may also play too big of a role.
- For short all-out blocks above the threshold heart rate, do not look at the heart rate, but only listen to what you feel. The fact that sometimes, even though the intention was there, you don’t get above the threshold heart rate is not a problem. If you do not get above it in every training session, there is a problem.
- Don’t start an interval too fast, but let the heart rate increase slowly. It is better to train a little shorter but in the planned zone, than to completely overshoot the goal.
- Make sure you know your threshold heart rate. Do this with an exercise test in a lab or with a self-test. Make sure you regularly re-test (at least once a year).
- Do not work with formulas such as 220 minus the age. These estimations do too much harm to reality.
Our advice is that training with heart rate is a good stepping stone to training with power. When you have mastered this, you will understand better how to use a power meter. When training with power you can keep wearing the heart rate monitor, but you must be careful not to always compare heart rate and power. Why, we explain in another article.
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