21 Jun 2016


Heart rate monitors are fantastic tools that provide a wealth of information. You’ve got to know how to use that information, though, and that can transform your training by working smarter, not necessarily harder.
Our sister site Vision has outlined a comprehensive plan so you can emulate pro peloton riders, and we’re complementing it here with this more quickfire guide. Doesn’t matter if you’re riding road, MTB or anything on two wheels, everyone can benefit from HRMs now.
Remember, they’re not like speedometers: it’s not about maximum rate, or for how long you can keep it there. The first thing to do is define your own parameters – your maximum and minimum – so you know where you are on the scale.

Cyclocross, road, MTB – whatever you ride you can benefit from easy HRM-based training

Measure your resting heart rate
It’s best to do this over a week or so, just after waking when you’re (relatively) relaxed. Put on the monitor, lie back, and think happy, thoughts. Then average the lowest number from each day. Enjoy this test, as it’s a lot more pleasant than the second one.

Measure your maximum heart rate
There are formulas – such as 220 minus your age – they’re ok to get a vague understanding, but we can get you a much more accurate guide for a little more effort. A proper scientific test would be very accurate, but right now we’re not going to send you to a sports science lab; we’re making a reliable measurement that anyone who’s already fit and healthy can do themselves. Here goes…

Warm up for at least 15 minutes, then find a long (6-7min), constant climb. Start off seated at a brisk pace, and increase your effort each minute for at least five minutes. Then, once you can’t go any faster (still seated), stand up and sprint for at least 15 seconds. Your heart rate at this point is your maximum.

A heart rate monitor is easy and comfortable to wear, and simple to set up with most bike computers

Work out your zones
It’s recommended to determine your effort – your heart rate – into a number of defined zones. There are a number of ways to structure this, and one recommended example is British Cycling’s six-point system:

1. Active Recovery
A very easy spin, with no burning or fatigue.

2. Endurance
A comfortable but purposeful all-day pace. You can still talk, but upper-end pace takes some concentration to maintain.

3. Tempo
Determined and purposeful effort where conversation is harder. Involves noticeable effort and builds fatigue in your legs.

4. Threshold
Tough to maintain, hovering near your limit but (just) sustainable for 60 minutes – it takes plenty of training to achieve that duration, however. Legs burn and speech is very hard.

5. VO2 Max
Very hard effort, with little or no ability to talk. Breathing is extremely hard and legs will burn very quickly. Only sustainable for 3-8min.

6. Anaerobic Capacity
A 100 percent, all-out sprint – though your heart rate actually lags behind.

British Cycling have a fairly complex threshold test to work out your exact requirements, but in general the six zones equate to:
1. 60-65 percent of max HR
2. 65-75 percent of max HR
3. 75-82 percent of max HR
4. 82-89 percent of max HR
5. 89-94 percent of max HR
6. 94-100 percent of max HR

Now you’ve established your limits and found your personal zones, your heart rate monitor lets you tailor intensity very finely. That, in turn, allows you train specifically for endurance, fat-burning, efficiency or anything else. Given that all of us want fast results, and none of us have infinite free time, that’s a very useful thing indeed!
Don’t forget to check out our sister site’s guide to step up the program – but remember that we don’t all have to be elite roadies to benefit from the training techniques and affordable tech.

It’s just as easy to set up your HRM-based training with mountain bike rides, as of course it’s measured in heart rate, not distance and elevation