Cycle Training With Power vs Heart Rate Monitors

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If you’ve read my recent post on zones and cycle training you will, by now, be completely convinced that structured and planned training is the only way to go! If you haven’t read it then pop over to the post and then come back in a little while because, after having decided to do some “proper cycle training”, you will now know that the next big question is how to monitor your performance and work out what your training zones actually are.

To do this you need either a power meter or a heart rate monitor and whether to do cycle training with either a power meter or a heart rate monitor is a bit of a contentious question. There are pros and cons for each and in this post we will go through the options so that you can make an informed decision and then go on to work out your own training zones and then finally use them to create a personalised cycle training plan.

Why do I need a heart rate monitor or power meter for cycle training?

Basically to understand how much effort the body is making and to ensure that we are training at the optimum level for the most efficient amount of time. If you can understand how your body is functioning then you can train more specifically and economically. The basis of this is knowing where your personal training zones are and using them to plan an effective long term training strategy.

Can I do cycle training without a heart rate monitor or a power meter?

Yes, of course but you will find it less efficient. You can have a good go at estimating your zones by the amount of “perceived effort” you are making but this isn’t particularly scientific or accurate. External factors such as the weather or how well rested or hydrated you are can make a big difference to how much effort you feel as though you are putting into your cycling. This feel isn’t as accurate as objectively measuring the amount of effort.

Anyway, I have to say that, from personal experience, having some numbers and stats to work with is motivating and fun and it makes me feel as though I am taking my cycling training and fitness more seriously and I think that’s a good thing!

Should I get a Heart Rate Monitor?

Heart rate monitors are relatively simple and inexpensive and usually take the form of a sensor and strap that your wear around your chest. The sensor sends information to your bike computer or phone and you can see your current heart rate as well as most probably get a record of it in relation to the rest of your ride stats.

If you have a bike computer already the chances are it will monitor heart rate with the addition of a chest strap unless it’s only a very basic model. On your phone an app like Map My Ride or Strava will do the same but you will probably need a premium membership to do this.

Your heart rate gives you a good indication of how hard your body is working and each of your zones will be within a certain number of beats per minute. The disadvantages of this method are that again the actual amount of work that your heart does can differ according to other factors such as fatigue and hydration and your heart rate also takes a while to catch up with the amount of work you are doing so there can be a bit of a delay in getting an accurate figure.

Should I get a Power meter?

Power meters are more accurate and measure the amount of power applied through the pedals in terms of watts. You need a power sensor and again this will attach to more advanced bike computers and premium cycling apps.

A power meter isn’t effected by any of the physiological issues discussed above and measures simply the power you are producing rather than the amount of effort you are making.

Very useful!

This all sounds perfect but the big crunch is that power meters are very expensive, particularly when compared to heart rate monitors. However, prices are gradually coming down as the technology and demand increases. Once power metres were only used by pro cyclists whereas they are reasonably common now amongst serious amateur cyclists.

Which to choose?

In an ideal world both a heart rate monitor and power meter used in conjunction would be the best investment. Bearing in mind that heart rate monitors are cheap it really boils down to the question of whether to splash out on a power meter or not.

Or, possibly more accurately are you ready for a power meter or can you still train efficiently with the heart rate monitor?

Regardless of finances, I think you should see it as a journey. I started training using the “perceived effort” method for a while and it worked fine. I’m no pro athlete however and you might need more accuracy sooner if that’s where you are heading but for me starting like this worked well. It was then very interesting to see how that related to my actual heart rate and zones once I got set up with a heart rate monitor. For me, at the stage I’m at, the heart rate monitor is fine.

Will I outgrow it? Yes possibly and then, when I feel like I have actually earned it I’ll maybe go on and get a power meter.

The heart rate monitor route is the sort of half way house and actually, for a vast majority of beginner and intermediate cyclists, is perfectly adequate. Do I need to spend more than my actual bike is worth on a power meter and top end cycle computer? Is my bike worth it? Is that like putting “go faster stripes” on a family saloon car? Or, to justify a power meter do you, the athlete basically have to have the credentials of a race horse?

Maybe for me having a power meter is a bit like entering an old nag into the Derby!

This post is part of a set of posts that you can find below:

Road Cycling Heart Rate Training Zones Explained

How to Use Your MHR and FTP to Set Your Cycling Training Zones

Build a Personalised Cycle training Plan

Training Sessions bank

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