How To Use a Heart Rate Monitor for Cycling

A heart rate monitor is one of the most used tools for pacing strategy during intervals or competitions, analyzing performance and detecting overtraining. Polar heart rate monitor watches make an exact measurement of the current pulse. This information can benefit an experienced user who understands the exercise physiology behind heart rate regulation.

Getting started with heart rate monitor training

One of the best ways to learn to use a heart rate monitor is during training. My point is that it might be a clever idea for a beginner who has never tried heart rate monitors before to buy one of the cheaper models for a beginning and then buy a more advanced heart rate monitor when you know which kind of data you are interested in.

Notify how your heart rate reacts

When you have bought a heart rate monitor: Get out on the roads! Spend a month with your regular training program, just wearing the monitor but notifying how the heart rate reacts to the efforts. It is exciting to study the heart rate, and very quickly, you will discover that you start to use the monitor for pacing. At this point, you are already getting paid back for your investment since you train harder and are more motivated during the ride.

Watch your own heart rate monitor – not your training partner’s…

The fact is that you can only compare heart rate values with your previous registrations. It is because we all have different anatomy of our cardiovascular system. But these systems are all based on the exact physiological mechanisms.

Thus, we can learn from each others’ physiological experiences and adaptations, but we can’t compare individual heart rate values. E.g. your resting heart rate is 58bpm while your friend’s heart rate is 42bpm. Still, I can’t say which one of you are in the best shape nor have the highest VO2 max.

It is unnecessary to use a special heart rate focused training program when you start to use it. As I said, just wearing the monitor for the first month is an excellent education. I remember when I began to use a heart rate monitor for the first time back in the mid-’90s. At that time, I had read some literature about general exercise physiology and heart monitors, but I lacked practical experience with the monitor.

The result was that I made some target intervals for my heart rate, which triggered the alarm system to beep most of the time. After a few of these rides, I started to ride without target zones until I knew more about how my heart rate reacted during cycling. I learned that you have to be patient and wait a while before you start doing intervals based on heart rate target zones.

Use your heart rate monitor during intervals

When you feel familiar with the basics, it’s time to get a step further. You have probably heard about heart rate target zones and maybe how to calculate them. I think it’s good to know the maximum heart rate and the best way to test it by performing a short warm-up followed by a gradual increase in intensity until you reach your maximum heart rate. Sounds simple, but damn hard! Ok, let’s take a little more detailed version of this test:

I have discovered that using a power meter might be one of the best ways to make the increments in intensity just as smooth as needed. For example, making small increments of 10 Watts every 30 seconds is a successful approach to attain your maximum oxygen consumption. If you don’t have a power meter, visit your local gym and use an ergometer bike. If you want to read more about this test, read more about maximum heart rate here.

How do you determine your target heart rate?

There are several formulas around the internet that can be used to calculate target heart rate zones. I have seen formulas with more than six different target zones, but I normally prefer to useless. You can easily define your target zones when you use the Karvonen formula. Remember that several factors influence the pulse, so don’t make the intervals too small.Karvonen’s formula: Target HR = Intensity% x (Max.HR minus Min.HR) + Min-HR

Example: Calculation of Target Heart Rate

Intensity=75%, Max.HR=190, Min.HR=54

T-HR = 75% x (190 – 54) + 54

T-HR = 156

Ok, this was a long story about getting started using a heart rate monitor. I will develop examples of training programs for heart rate monitor training later. I hope you enjoyed this post! 🙂

5 thoughts on “How To Use a Heart Rate Monitor for Cycling”

  1. what is the best heart rate monitor to buy i have used a monitor in the past i have about 60,000 miles on my leggs i just start to think about training in the different target zonez what do you recomend

  2. Hi,
    Good info on how to use the HRM.
    There seems to be a lot of conflicting info on which zone one should do most of the training.
    I did a 2 hour 11 min ride:
    i spent 1 hour 38 min in zone 5 the remainder split from 1 to 4.
    Is this to long at zone 5, should i be doing most of my training in Z3
    (Must finish the Breacon Beast in 6 hours this time!)
    47 years old

  3. Hello Jesper
    First of all, thank you very much for sharing your “Know-how”.
    I would like to ask you if there is any version of your book translated for portuguese?

  4. this is the first thing ive read so far that made me understand how a HRM can help me understand my physiological patterns better
    i guess the whole HR zone training program thing fazed me but now i’m interested, so thanks for the advice!

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