All endurance athletes have used heart rate monitors for the last 20 years. Since there is a strong correlation between oxygen consumption and heart rate, knowing your current heart rate is a great indicator of your current oxygen uptake, thus how hard you work.
When you’ve used your monitor a couple of times, you will start to notice that you ride with a low heart rate the pace can be maintained for hours. However, riding with a heart rate close to your maximum heart rate can be maintained for a limited time only. This is a very short description of why it can be useful to know your heart rate during a bike ride.
1. Know your resting heart rate
When you get stronger, your resting heart will get lower. This is because your heart has an increased stroke volume which means it requires fewer beats to deliver the same amount of blood for your body. Thus, registering your resting heart rate every morning or once every week can be a good way to identify progress in your fitness. I can promise you that this is one of the least exhausting ways to discover improvements. If you are a lazy rider that would like to notice progress but doesn’t like to do tough physical tests, then register your resting heart rate in the morning.
Please notice that there are some fluctuations from morning to morning, so don’t give a single measure to impact your evaluation. Like at all other times of the day, your heart rate will be affected by several factors like water balance, nutritional status, psychological stress, etc.
2. Perform a threshold test
If you don’t already know your threshold heart rate, I will strongly recommend performing a threshold test. This could very likely be a criterium or a time trial with a finishing time between 30-60 minutes. Your average heart rate in that race can be used to calculate intervals in the future. E.g. if you do a time trial with a finishing time of 48minutes and an average of 178 beats per minute, then you will get an idea of what kind of intervals are needed to prepare you for the next time trial. Just remember that the adrenalin kick at competitions makes it easier to maintain a high pulse.
You can also calculate intervals or rides at a lower intensity based on your heart rate in the threshold test. How hard these intervals should be is very individual and is influenced by training status and experience.
3. Don’t use a heart rate monitor for pacing in anaerobic intervals
If you do short intervals with a length of less than 3minutes and don’t repeat them over and over again, then it is not a good idea to use your heart rate monitor for pacing. The reason is that your heart rate is delayed in the first 2-3 minutes of the intervals and thus will not reflect your current work. Instead, anaerobic intervals should be done on feeling or optimally by pacing with an SRM crank, PowerTap or similar.
4. Analyze your heart rate data
Polar have a couple of heart rate monitors that offer you the opportunity to analyze data from your races or training rides. Exploring a cycling race is funny and also very useful. For example, time trialists can identify if they have made a too-fast start and didn’t manage to keep the heart rate high to the finish. As I mentioned above, it takes a couple of minutes before you are in the target zone, so trying to hit the target zone after just 2minutes is an easy way to die in a time trial.
5. Trial and error
One of the best ways to learn about heart rate monitors is simply to use them. So get out on the roads!
Before you start training, please read about these 5 common mistakes in heart rate monitor training.