Louisville Wheelmen Newsletter -- January-February 1995

Why You Need A Heart Rate Monitor

by Dave Spitler

Two years ago, heart rate monitors began to show up on the handlebars of the racing team. In 1994, they began to show up on tours as well. So what gives? Is a heart rate monitor a worthwhile investment, or is it just one more pricey toy to hang on your bike?

The short answer is that whether you need a heart rate monitor depends on your riding style and your goals. If your idea of a great ride is a peaceful roll through the countryside (and there is nothing wrong with that), if you are exactly where you want to be in terms of skills and if you wonder what people mean when you hear them discussing training programs but don't care enough to find out, a heart rate monitor is probably not for you. If you are not satisfied with your development and want to increase your speed and endurance in 1995, then a heart rate monitor may be just the ticket.

Your heart can work across a wide range of intensities when you ride and a heart rate monitor is a window to that process. If you ride too slowly, your heart rate may not even climb into the area where physiologists believe you benefit from your exercise. If you ride too fast, your heart rate will quickly rise to its maximum, making you feel weak in the legs and out of breath. In between too easy and too hard, the experts have mapped out five "intensity zones" and improvement comes from spending some training time in all five. These "intensity zones" are not the same for everyone. A sixteen year old with a maximum heart rate of 210 or 215 will have much higher zones than a fifty year old who has a max. heart rate of 170.

In "Serious Training For The Serious Athlete", Rob Sleamaker offers a chart with specific percentage values along with a formula for figuring those percentages properly. (The USCF percentages and formula are different, but the principal is the same.) Any member of the club coaching staff can also help you establish training zones which are correct for your age and gender.

Once you know your training zones, you can accomplish a lot with your heart rate monitor. The biggest problem most cyclists have is that they consistently ride too hard and they miss the considerable benefits of training at lower intensity. Sleamaker advises athletes to spend at least 60% of their total training time in zones 1 and 2: intensity zones so laid back that you may wonder if you are training at all! The balance of most training schedules is divided between zone 3 and zones 4 & 5 (the highest intensity). Riders who spend too much time in zones three and above limit their ability to improve and often feel tired and "burned out" long before the season ends. The current generation of heart rate monitors are wireless and feature filled. A chest belt transmits information to a receiver which is mounted on the handlebars or worn on the wrist.

Polar has the cutting edge technology and they have models for every pocketbook. If you plan to use your heart rate monitor for activities other than cycling, the Polar is your best bet. A practical alternative is the Vetta HR 1000 which has a bicycle computer and heart rate monitor built into the same body which helps keep your dashboard looking a bit cleaner.

If you want to learn more about how to use a heart rate monitor to make your cycling more enjoyable, make plans now to come to the 1995 performance training classes.

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