You can put your heart rate into it

Today we are answering another question from a reader. I’ll answer it by showing how it would work based on my trainer session last night. We’ll see how training with power matches up with training with heart rate. Of course, I’ll end by giving my reasons why I choose power.

The question was specifically, “Can I use heart rate to train using the Time-Crunched Cyclist Plan?” The answer is a definite, “Yes.” An approach using a heart rate plan runs parallel through the book. Here is how it works.

My power meter of choice

My power meter of choice

After you do your field test, you should arrive at two numbers. If you are using a power meter you will note your highest average wattage during the two 8 minute efforts. In my case, it was 260 watts during my most recent test. However, I also wear a heart rate monitor. The highest average beats per minute happened in my second effort (incidentally, it was also my lowest power average). The number was 183 bpm.

Once you have these numbers you map out your training zones. Let’s look at power first using my FTP of 260:

  • Endurance: 45% – 73% of FTP = 117w – 190w
  • Tempo: 80% – 85% of FTP = 208w – 221w
  • SteadyState: 86% – 90% of FTP = 224w – 234w
  • ClimbingRepeat: 95% – 100% of FTP = 247w – 260w
  • PowerInterval: 100% – MAX of FTP = 260w – 1500w

Now we’ll take may heart rate functional threshold and create a similar list of zones (using 183):

  • Endurance: 50% – 91% of FTP = 92bpm – 167bpm
  • Tempo: 88% – 90% of FTP = 161bpm – 165bpm
  • SteadyState: 92% – 94% of FTP = 168bpm – 172bpm
  • ClimbingRepeat: 95% – 97% of FTP = 174bpm – 178bpm
  • PowerInterval: 100% – MAX of FTP = 183bpm – 189bpm

Based on last night’s work out of averaging 117w – 190w (Endurance) for an hour with two 8 minute efforts between 224w – 234w (SteadyState) this is what we arrive at. The first column shows my average heart rate and the second my average power. I’m also including the lap break down of the 1 hour session.

  • Lap 1: 139bpm / 163w (warm up)
  • Lap 2: 169bpm / 243w (8 minute effort)
  • Lap 3: 151bpm / 129w (recover)
  • Lap 4: 173bpm / 249w (8 minute effort)
  • Lap 5: 163bpm / 177w (cool down)
  • ALL:   158bpm / 188w (1 hour)

Remember, I was doing this workout based on wattage. You can see that I averaged 188w for the entire hour. That puts me just 2 watts under the upper limit of the Endurance zone. My average heart rate was 158bpm. Let’s see how it matched up with my zone chart… The target is 92bpm – 167bpm and I landed in there with an average of 158bpm.

Let’s zoom in on the SteadyState efforts. That is where the range narrows a bit. The plan calls for wattage between 224w and 234w. Looking at the heart rate approach it would be beats per minute between 168bpm and 172bpm.

As you can see, at 243w and 249w I exceeded the wattage and fell between the SteadyState and ClimbingRepeat zones. Is that what we will see when we look at the heart rate data? At 169bpm and 173bpm we see that I fell right in line with what the plan called for.

Actually, the heart rate was more in line with the plan. I wonder had I taken the wattage down lower in the SteadyState interval if the heart rate would have held there or dropped. Either way, you can see that the approaches are very similar.

So, why do I use a power meter and not a heart rate monitor? Basically, it is because my power meter is inanimate. My heart isn’t. Power is power no matter how you feel. That is not always the case with your heart rate. Many things such as the stress of your day, your rest and temperature can have an effect on your heart rate.

Training with power is a more consistent way to train. Now, having said that, does that mean that Joe Athlete needs to go out and lay down the cash for a power meter? Emphatically, “No!” You can train very well with the heart rate approach.

That is the second reason that I train with a power meter. I have the opportunity to have one and it is fun to track all the data. It isn’t because I think that the little strain gauges attached to my crank are going to have me winning a national championship. Frankly, it is just another toy that makes riding my bicycle a bit more fun for me.

The important thing is that a heart rate monitor or a power meter can be used a tool of accountability. It helps you find a motivation to stay healthy by setting up a regular training approach. It then encourages you by giving you feedback to let you know that what you are doing actually works.

So, go out there an put your heart (rate) into it!