A heart rate monitor is a feedback system. It simply tells us how fast our heart is beating. But contrary to popular believe, your heart rate doesn’t always reflect how hard you are working. And this is where the confusion arises. A heart rate monitor is a great tool which can be used to help guide our training but sometimes the numbers can tell a different story than what is actually happening. You may read a higher or lower number than expected based on many different factors such as: the weather, hydration levels, stress levels, amount of sleep, etc. So what is a heart rate monitor good for? A heart rate monitor is a great tool for: (1) learning how to ride easy enough to build a base or recover from a hard ride (2) learning when you are pushing yourself hard enough and (3) knowing when you are overtraining.
- Building a training base requires many hours of riding at a low heart rate. Most of us like to race fellow riders on our easy rides, making the time pass more quickly and enjoying a bit of fun competition. By riding in a heart rate zone higher than your base zone, you risk the chance of not being able to recover fast enough for when the training program calls for a hard workout. This leads to many mediocre workouts which won’t make you faster.
- We all have a comfort zone. This zone is hard enough to make us feel like we are working out but not too hard that we feel more than a bit uncomfortable. If you want to get stronger or faster you need to ride out of this comfort zone to progress. A heart rate monitor is one tool that can help give you the confidence to push harder.
- Overtraining happens quickly, especially when you are passionate about your sport. If you wake up in the morning with an elevated heart rate or you have difficulty raising your heart rate in a workout even with a huge effort, these are a few signs that you might be overtraining.
After you have been riding with your heart rate monitor for a season or two you should be able to go by feel which zone you are working in and you will also know when the numbers are false. Once you understand the difference between what you feel and what the numbers are telling you, you will notice that you use your heart rate monitor less and less. At this point you may want to look into something more accurate such as a power meter which is a whole other topic to be explored in the next issue.