I am often asked by cyclists about heart rate and whether it is still relevant for training, given the increasing use of power meters. So, do power meters tell us all we need to know about our training and how our bodies are responding? Well, no. And in fact knowing how to use heart rate will help you get far more value from your power meter.
Whilst I concede that using HR as a gauge of intensity during a training session (especially those involving shorter interval efforts) can be inaccurate, it is the trend data provided by heart rate response that provides a valuable insight into how your body is adapting to training loads. Additionally, this same data will show when a cyclist is ready to ramp up the training or conversely, when it is time to back off.
Although the interpretation of HR response can be complex, there are some clear markers that are easy to spot, provided the HR data is collected in the first place. Two key measures are:
Understanding Heart Rate Drift Patterns
It is quite easy to spot these trends using any of the common analysis platforms (the graph above comes from the Wahoo Elemnt App). Once you know what you are looking for, Heart Rate trend patterns will confirm both if your training is at the appropriate level and when to take it up a notch.
Generally, the less drift there is in a HR pattern, the more “easily” a rider has been able to handle the training load. If the same session is completed each week for 4 weeks, one would expect to see less drift at week four than week one. If this is the case, power targets may be ramped up. If not, a short-term reduction in load may be required.
It is possible to use a HR / Power “index” to analyse sessions where the power outputs vary from effort to effort. Although this is somewhat more complex and usually the domain of a qualified coach, it is further evidence of the importance of Heart Rate and why it is necessary to collect the data.
So, don’t throw away that HR monitor just yet. It is in fact the perfect companion to your Power Meter and will help to make it an even more effective tool.
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