Most young athletes now are being confused between power training and heart rate training. So much so that, most athletes do not even know the proper way to measure, calculate and then train their bodies. There are plenty of people who would brag and boast about how frequently they can hit the pedal within a minute but probably has no idea about the healthiest requirements.
The 1990s and early 2000s brought about a new way to monitor efforts and gauge fatigue with the help of power meter; coaches could examine in a great detail the abilities of an athlete. These can map and measure the efforts of an athlete and display them in watts per kilogram.
Until the invention of power meters, the performance of athletes could only be gauged by the heart rate and speed. However, after the power meters came in, it was proven that heart rate and speed were far less accurate than the new power outputs. Not only has that, using heart rate for pacing also had its disadvantages. It was seen that on keeping the power steady for sometime the heart would start fluctuating.
So the most important question was: Is heart rate valuable as a metric?
- The practice of heart rate training has been around a longer time than power training. It became popular in the 1970s and still is used as a primary gauge for measuring intensity for many, especially runners.
- Though it is a great tool to get training, it is necessary to understand carefully and learn the variables before using it. It needs expert guidance in case you want to use it alongside with power
- The biggest disadvantage with using heart rate is cardiac drift or heart rate drift. During cardiac drifts, the heart rate increases dramatically, while maintaining a steady power output. Cardiac drift is a very common experience for heart rate users.
- Therefore, it is necessary to determine an appropriate heart rate threshold. In that way, it’ll be easier for you to figure out if you have a cardiac drift. The range of your heart rate drift will increase if you determine your threshold too low and vice-versa.
- On using both power and heart rate side by side, a disconnection arises between the two.
- This disconnect is unavoidable as keeping one metric steady will always force the other one to drift either higher or lower. This disconnect is known as aerobic decoupling.
- Through aerobic decoupling, your heart rate can rise with steady power or power may drop with a steady heart rate.
- No matter what, an excessive amount of decoupling is not at all healthy and indicates poor aerobic endurance.
It is true that with a good trainer and an appropriate training programmed, you can improve your performance using either power and heart rate. There are some distinct disadvantages of using heart rate, and you should be aware of all its downsides before you choose one over the other. Though both the methods have been scientifically proven to be healthy and useful, heart rate training has its shortcomings.
For example, multiple factors like temperature, fatigue, dehydration, excessive consumption of caffeine, lack of sleep, etc. affect your heart rate on a day to day basis. Therefore, 1bpm is not always 1bpm but 1 watt (measured in power) is always 1 watt.
Power meters first became available to us thirty years ago and ever since the popularity and demand have been increasing. With increasing popularity and demand, prices of power meters fell, new updated versions emerged. When SRM developed the first system in 1986, you had to pay almost a thousand pounds to buy one; now it is just a hundred pound. Power meters have increasingly large fan followers, and you can’t deny the reasons for its popularity.
This increasing popularity of power meters makes it obvious that they have been around for good reason. There are multiple advantages of using power meters to a heart rate monitor and that is exactly why power meters have also brought a new dimension in professional training.
Precisely, all that a power meter does is, it eliminates all the guesswork involved in estimating how much power you are putting out; or how well/badly you are riding. With a power meter on your cycle, you would have a screen display, providing the exact quantities number of the amount of power you are putting out.
Do not get confused between power meters and a heart rate monitor because they are basically telling you two different things altogether. Heart rate, on one hand, is a relative figure that draws an estimate of a body’s response to its effort or its inputs; whereas power on the other hand, instantly measures the body’s output and provides an absolute figure. Power meters do not take into account the efforts a body puts in to reach its output. Therefore, power meters cannot replace them calculate their data using different fields of survey.
To sum up, power meters are more definite and accurate as they do not take into account the efforts of the body (which is relative). For example external factors like fatigue, hydration and temperature can easily affect the heart rate and will give you an incorrect data of your output.
Working However, a Power Meter
In these thirty years of their lives, power meters have evolved to a great extent and are now available in the market at various prices, ranges and for various purposes (gym, cycling, etc). Most of these power meters use a device called strain gauge to measure and calculate the output of your performance.
A strain gauge is an electrical that measures the amount of your cycle wheel or pedal axel bends when you push them down. The strain gauge then converts it into an electrical resistance and calculates the amount of force being produced by based on the amount of electrical resistance. Thus, force that is produced in your cycle pedal is termed as Torque. Therefore, the power in watts that is displayed on your power meter screen us basically torque multiplied by cadence. To put it more simply, it multiplies how hard you are pushing the pedals with how fast you are pedaling.
It is necessary to research well on power meters or to get a first-hand guide before you get one for yourself because there is a huge variety of power meters available in the market and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. It is important to get the one that suits you best, or else a faulty power meter might have adverse effects on your health.
The odd part about power meters is that most of the time they are not cross-compatible. In fact, if you place two different power meters on your cycle, you’ll find both of them displaying two different results. Many times, it has been seen that, placing two different machines together, the results on one differs from the other by 20 watts. However, this is not much of a problem as long as the machine is accurate to itself, session after session. With an accurate power meter, 240 watts in today’s session will be equal at all times and that’s how it helps you compare accurately across all sessions.
Tip for Use
1. The Process of Resetting
Power meters are usually very sensitive to temperature changes. Therefore, every time you plan on using it, leaves your cycle outside for a few minutes, then before riding it, hit the reset button on your power meter. Thus process of resetting the power meter is known as manual zero.
Doing a manual zero before each ride is very necessary as it helps the power meter to adapt to the ambient temperature. However, there are power meters that do not have this option of manual zero. It is always advised to have a power meter which has the facility of resetting because the first thirty seconds that you spend right at the beginning of each ride, doing a manual zero makes the data more accurate and retains it throughout.
Fixing the Power Meter
Another important thing that you need to do right after fixing the power meter is to test the functional threshold power or FTP. FTP basically calculates the number of watts that you can sustain for an hour. You would need this primary number to be accurate so as to calculate your training zone appropriately. Now, how to perform an FTP test? Don’t worry; testing FTP is actually easier than it sounds. All you have to do is:
- Find an empty section that is twenty minutes long and can be travelled by a cycle.
- Conduct a little free hand exercise to warm your body up?
- Set off at a place where you can sustain for twenty minutes and try your best to hold this intensity for at least seventeen minutes and then give everything to last till the end.
- Record your average power for these twenty minutes.
- Take the power and multiply it with 0.95 and that would give you the exact figures of an hour’s effort.
Terms and Phrases
You would learn a lot of new terms and phrases as you start training with a power meter. Most terms are simple and self-explanatory. Normalized power is term used for the score that estimates the psychological efforts of a ride.
For example, take a 25-mile time travel and a criterion: ride as hard as possible, for roughly an hour in both the events. When you record your average heart rate for both the cases, they might seem to be similar. However, in reality, they are not.
- One hand, a time trail requires you to ride at a consistent power for the entire hour, whereas on the other hand, in a criterion the rider would occasionally sprint in and out of a corner, not pedal through certain corners, etc. Hence in case of a criterion, the output of the rider keeps varying from time to time. In fact, a rider may lose 30% of the time not pedaling, in the case of criterion and that would obviously bring down the rider’s average power.
- Therefore, no matter how similar they seem to be, the average power for the time trial is always much higher than the average power for the criterion. Even though you might feel that you had ridden equally hard, both the times.
- This is exactly where ‘normalized power’ comes as a useful tool. Normalized power is a formula to smooth out the peaks and troughs, so that the power output is taken as consistent throughout the period, instead of being uneven.
- This means a normalized power adjusts the sprints and troughs are such a way that the time spent not pedaling is cancelled out by the sprints you make. As a result, you receive a normalized power figure, which is very similar to FTP power.
- Therefore, just like it seemed to you, the normalized power for one-hour criterion would be very similar to an hour’s time trial. It shows the maximum power that you can sustain for an hour.
- A lot of people that normalized power entirely chucks out the times when you’re not putting any power or putting less power and therefore aren’t the accurate average power. But this conception is faulty as normalized power gives more weight to higher power outputs as higher power outputs require more effort to put out.
Heart Rate Monitor
Before going on to what a heart rate monitor is, the question arises why I would need it. So far we have seen that power meters are the new favorites for most athletes, then why are we even talking about heart rate monitors? The reason is, with new technology the heart rate monitors have become available for really cheap (as compared to power meters). Not only that, but it also eliminates the assumptions and guesswork that stop PE (perceived effort) from becoming a foolproof option. So if you want to train your body and teach it endurance, but fall short on cash, heart rate monitors could be your new best friend.
The working of an HRM is pretty simple. The chest strap contains electrodes which detect the contraction of the heart, initiated by electrical impulses, and transmits them to an ECG machine, which is the watch. This way you can figure out how hard the heart is working in order to pump oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. Heart rate monitors first emerged during the 1980s. Back then, they were not as compact, as accurate and as affordable as today’s heart rate monitors with new technological advancements their popularity increased.
However, your heart rate is relative and keeps changing with temperature, fatigue, less sleep and a number of other reasons. You might perceive an elevation in your heart rate if you’re tired from the previous day; or your heart rate might fall if you have been training yourself for weeks and feel a little exhausted. With increase in temperature, your heart rate also increases and vice-versa. Not only that, performance pressure, stress and even little things like having a heated conversation with your friend might get onto your nerves and fluctuate your heart rate.
Since it is very difficult but possible for us to get a constant heart rate, the calculations made by the HRM also get affected. In fact, if you workout for a long time, your heart rate does not stay constant throughout. Heart rate will tend to progressively rise to long hours of a workout due to cardiac drift.
- HR (MHR) and RHR can be measured accurately when under suitable conditions. This can be used to figure out the training zones that are best suited for you; this way you can be more specific about your training needs and make sure that the optimum effort is maintained.
- A heart rate monitor is more objective than using PE and therefore also works as a great motivation for young athletes.
- Usually during the longer races, the inexperienced start off too fast and eventually run out of energy. A heart rate monitor can be a valuable tool in this case as it ensures correct pacing.
- For regular jotting down of feedback and data, which can be analyzed, later on, HRM is the best and most affordable.
- Also, keep in mind, too much of effort exertion might lead to illness. Therefore, it becomes easier to find out if you are overdoing it by monitoring your RHR. If your HR fails to reach its normal level whilst training, know that you’ve gone too far and probably need a day off.
- As we already know, inconsistency is the biggest disadvantage of a heart rate monitor. Unlike a power meter, a lot of external factors affect the heart rate and refuses to provide a constant rate. This makes it really difficult to compare the data of one session with another. Altitude, temperature, hydration, fatigue or almost anything can bring about a fluctuation in your heart rate.
- There is a lag between the effort and the response of the heart rate. What I mean is, while working out with an HRM, the heart rate would get into the correct zone only when you are halfway through. As a result, if you hit the HR zone early in the interval, you either exhaust yourself before the end or keep working the wrong energy system. However, this problem can be avoided by being careful.
- To avoid distractions by fake data, you need to get a coded HRM for group riding.
- If you do not know how to analyze the data correctly, a complex HRM can cause a data overload. Since all that you need to know is your average and maximum heart rate, it would be best to go for the simple ones.
- Power meter is much more accurate and reliable than a heart rate monitor, though it is very expensive (compared to HRM)
Tips of Buying an HRM
- Heart rate monitors are now cheaper than ever. However it is always advised to go for a reputed brand, even if it costs more. As cheap monitors run the risk of poor syncing between the chest strap and the receiver, it is better to get hold of the ones that are reliable.
- In case, you do not already have a cycling computer which can monitor speed, distance, and cadence, go for something that would combine all these functions, rather than buy two different sets.
- Be careful of the gimmicky features that are provided by mostly cheap manufacturers in order to increase sale. Features like automatic zone calculators and fitness tests are not only unnecessary but also harmful for your health.
- Beware of the cheap heart rate monitors that have bulky chest straps and are really uncomfortable. Female riders need to be more careful about choosing the chest strap and should make sure the monitor is supplied with a soft fabric, as they need to wear it under the bra. To avoid complexities, wristband heart rate straps are also available.
Do not forget that your body is a biological system and not a machine, and therefore, your output is subject to change every day. Do not depend on standard heart rates because everybody’s heart rate is different from everybody else’s.
Do not make the mistake of counting your maximum heart rate as your measure of fitness. Worse still, do not unnecessarily push to increase your maximum heart rate because that’s the fitness formula; no it isn’t.
It is true that it’s very important to have a solid endurance base, in order to master the discipline of cycling. It is necessary to have a mindset of long and steady training hours.
It might get a little difficult to train yourself for long hours, apart from giving time to your family, work and other commitments. Combine long weekend rides (which are best for building endurance) with short mid-week workouts (which has a high intensity), in order to maximize your gains from whatever little time you manage to train.