There are many benefits of training with a power meter. But that doesn’t mean a heart rate monitor has no place in your arsenal. Indeed there is certainly still value in understanding the basics of heart rate training if for no other reason than most heart rate monitors cost less than $100, while a decent power meter will typically set you back at least $500.
For many people, simply working out at a heart rate greater than about 130 beats per minute will ensure some aerobic benefit. But for performance-minded athlete, the best place to start is with a max heart-rate test. Discovering this maximum is a little painful but worthwhile. It’s also worth noting that the alternative formula of “220 minus your age” is notoriously inaccurate. If your pulse is naturally high, then the standard training range recommendations will be too easy. The opposite also applies.
Before taking the test, you’ll want to be in at least decent shape. Otherwise you’ll tire before actually achieving true maximum heart rate. It’s also a good idea to get your doctor’s approval.
It’s possible to do the test while working out outside. You may even attain your max at the top of a hill during a hard group ride or during your morning run. But doing the test indoors on a stationary trainer or treadmill provides a better, more-controlled environment.
To do the test you will need a friend to assist you. The goal is to reach your max in about 15 minutes. If you’re on a bike, shift onto the large chain ring and one of the larger rear cogs. Start pedaling — or, if you’re running, begin your warmup, building your mile time up as you go — and achieve a heart rate of 120 to 130 beats per minute.
Using a heart-rate monitor, have your friend record your heart rate every minute. The monitor consists of two parts: a transmission belt strapped around the chest that relays the heart-rate signal wirelessly, and its receiver, a wristwatch or a device mounted to a handlebar.
The receiver continuously displays the heart rate in beats per minute. An appropriate increase is two or three beats per minute, carefully increasing your speed and resistance. As you approach your max, your friend is ideally shouting lots of encouragement to continue. Remember, this is a maximal test. It’s hard work. It’s going to hurt. You must push yourself until you absolutely cannot maintain the speed anymore. At this point, the number on your heart-rate monitor will be a solid approximation of your maximum heart rate. With this number, it’s now possible to determine your key heart rate training zones.
Knowing these numbers can help you maintain a heart rate that delivers the most benefit for what you want to accomplish on each workout. Remember that it’s just as important to have easy days as it is hard training sessions. Without rest, you won’t be able to train hard enough, recover, and grow stronger. Keeping close track of your workout statistics will help you avoid overtraining, which can result in an elevated pulse during easy sessions and warmups and poor recovery between intervals.
So stay safe, know your maximum, and do it the healthy way.
This story was adapted from “Bicycling Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills,” and originally appeared on Rodale Wellness. From Tribune News Service.