Updated 7th February 2018
The pros and cons
The previous blog in the series looked at some of the research that has been done around using Power or Heart Rate for training in a lab setting and its results. This blog post will outline some of my experience of using both as a cyclist and coach.
Heart rate monitor
In my experience of heart rate and power meter training, heart rate monitoring is a very reliable tool for improving the performances and results of triathletes and sportive and endurance cyclists. It is also very useful for preventing burnout and overtraining.
Heart rate demonstrates the body’s response to training loads and lifestyle and is a great training tool when used correctly. Most people who compete or participate in endurance events could benefit from use of a heart rate monitor.
They are relatively inexpensive and are often included as part of a package with bike computers.
People who are just trying to increase their basic level of aerobic fitness can also get great benefits from using a heart rate monitor to control the pace of their efforts.
Fluctuating heart rate
There are a number factors that can influence heart rate:
- Low glycogen levels
- Caffeine or other drugs
These may all increase or decrease the heart rate on any particular day. There is also an issue with Cardiac drift where the heart rate increases over time during exercise even though the workload might remain constant.
This variability is sometimes used as a reason to use Power instead of heart rate for training. However anyone who has used power will also know that it’s also very variable when done in real time and a riders power can vary from day to day.
But, over time the heart rate monitoring will give consistent patterns. Below is a good example of how the resting heart rate reduces as fitness improves.
Benefits of heart rate monitor
- Is relatively inexpensive.
- Is very good for controlling efforts up to lactate threshold level, 80 to 90% of Maximum Heart Rate. Most endurance athletes’ training sessions are spent at 60 to 80% of maximum Heart Rate. A heart rate monitor can track this very well.
- Training zones can be set out very well based on maximum heart rate or lactate and heart rate tests.
- Heart rate remains fairly similar over time, while the speed/ power achieved increases at the same heart rate as fitness improves.
- There’s no need to constantly retest.
- Improvements in fitness can be tracked through reduced resting HR and a quicker return to resting values after exercise.
What a heart rate monitor doesn’t do
- Measure the power being applied.
- Give feedback of power used in training or races.
- Measure shorter intensive anaerobic efforts from a few seconds to a few minutes.
As power is one of the things that can be the difference in winning or losing, it is an important metric. Training with a power meter is very good for controlling top end efforts above threshold compared to heart rate. It is also excellent at measuring improvements or non-improvements.
Power meter analysis of races can be used to plan future training. It can also be used to model training for future race circuits.
Benefits of Power meters watts
- Excellent for reviewing race efforts.
- Controlling the training load above the lactate threshold.
- Measuring overall training and racing workloads.
- Measuring Improvements in workloads over time.
- Targeting specific intensities to improve.
- Pacing efforts.
- Understanding how hard you are working when racing.
- Some good software packages for reviewing data.
What’s not so good about power meters
- Having to retest very often to track changes.
- There’s a lot of data to interpret.
- Can lead to overtraining very quickly if used in isolation.
- Can mislead pacing strategies in time trials – if on a good day or bad day a cyclist persists with preselected watts, they can lose time going slower than possible or blow up by going too fast. Tom Dumoulin
Changes in power and heart rate
Below is two tests of the same cyclist. The first test (Blue Bars) in December and the second test (Orange Bars) in April of the next year. It demonstrates the improvement in fitness with decreased heart rates at similar workloads in April when compared to December.
Perceived exertion is still very important and I have seen quotes from David Brailsford and Tim Kerrison, the coach and physiologist to Sky Cycling Team respectively, where they were discussing the use of power data for training.
Both of them suggested that Team Sky and the British Track Team believe that how the rider feels (perceived exertion) when doing the effort, whatever the power output or heart rate, is always a very important part of a review of a session.
- Perceived exertion is fine for leisure cycling.
- Heart rate is useful for endurance cyclist’s triathletes.
- Power is useful for endurance cyclists, triathletes and track sprint events.
- The ideal world is to use them all together in a sensible way.
Paddy Doran High Performance cycling coach at Peak Endurance Coaching
Latest posts by Paddy Doran (see all)
- Video: More Power For Cyclists – 15 Minute Core Exercise Plan From Cathal Moynihan - June 15, 2019
- Sportive cycling tips, descending mountains - June 14, 2019
- Power Meters & Heart Rate Monitor Series: Part 2 - June 4, 2019