Performance cyclists use a number of tools to monitor their training and performance. We take it to the highest level because competing to win requires that you control every variable possible. Modern bikes are equipped with power meters that measure strength and heart monitors that measure your cardiovascular strain. We plug this data into computer programs and determine if we are training hard enough, or recovering effectively for the next race.
You might be wondering: why measure so much – and is it relevant for me? The answer is yes. The simple principles of training may be helpful to anyone who wants to get in better shape.
- Maximum heart rate. This is the highest rate you can push your heart rate to in exercise at which point, if you pushed any harder, you would experience stress. It is critical to determine your maximum heart rate in order to determine your appropriate training zones. There are several ways to determine your maximum heart rate, but it is best determined by a cardiac stress test. Using this knowledge you can best target your exercise to push yourself and your body for fitness benefit.
- Base Training. Racers like to keep their heart rates in check during the early season. We use heart rate monitors to stay in a targeted zone of 50 percent to 70 percent of maximum heart rate. If you are exercising at this level you can chat, sing to yourself, and exercise for several hours without feeling much strain. Fat is burned most efficiently at this zone and it serves as prep work for more intense endeavors in the future. I recommend at least a four-week Base Period to anyone starting out on an exercise plan.
- Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss. Low heart rate exercise promotes fat loss. This is great for people who are looking to burn fat over a longer period of time. Moderate-to-intense exercise may lead to greater weight loss due to the increased rate of calorie burn. The more calories you burn, the more weight you lose. By using a heart rate monitor, you get a visual reminder of the zone that you are in. If you only have an hour to work out and weight loss is your goal, you have to increase your calorie expenditure by increasing your heart rate to 70 percent to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. This is still somewhat comfortable, but you have to work harder to maintain the effort and a heart rate monitor can help.
- Know Your Limits. The upper end of the heart rate spectrum hurts, but it is supposed to. When you are pushing in the 80 percent to 100 percent range, your body is screaming for you to stop. There is value in this for both racers, and someone looking to break his or her own personal fitness plateau. We monitor our efforts so that we may duplicate the impact of long and intense races, but it is what is happening behind-the-scenes that makes high intensity exercise valuable. During a hard exercise effort, your body adapts by lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and raising your HDL(good cholesterol). High intensity exercise also trains your heart like the muscle that it is. With increased strength, your heart increases its stroke volume, pushing more blood with each beat. As you become more efficient, a heart rate monitor may be used to prevent plateauing. You may keep progressing if you are able to push your heart past the plateaus that you reach.
Deciding to race your bike is a complex scenario that incorporates gear, training, travel, and risk. However, life is also a race and the same basic principles that our riders use to become world-class athletes may be used to lead a healthier lifestyle. Something as simple as knowing your heart rate zones and being able to manipulate them during exercise will make you a better athlete and a healthier person.
Bobby Bailey is a Racer and Director Sportif of the UVM Medical Center Sponsored Dealer.com Cycling Team and 1K2GO SPORTS Coaching Company.