How to maximise gains when training without power
Before there were power meters, many cyclists and triathletes trained and competed quite successfully by using "tools" such as heart rate monitors and even the blissfully simple RPE or "Rate of Perceived Exertion" scale.
The explosion in the popularity of power meters has seen a decline in the use of heart rate as a way of regulating training intensity and exposed a few limitations with the use of heart rate. In fact, for many training systems and coaching platforms, the use of a power meter is now mandatory.
The reality is that many cyclists and triathletes do not own and do not want to own a power meter. So, I am going to show you a few super-effective ways to apply a combination of heart rate and RPE to your training. You can expect to achieve some great results using these tips, so please read on.
The first thing you need to do is establish your heart rate zones. The "old" way of doing this was to use a "generic chart" like the one above, but there is a much better way that will produce more accurate and personalised zones. Here's how;
HRR is also sometimes known as your "usable' heart rate, given you cannot ever go below rest or above max. You should also "re-set" your HRR every now and then, as your resting HR will drop as you become fitter.
Then use the HRR method to calculate your own zones in the same way as the table below. The formula is:
MAX HR - Rest HR = HRR, then
Multiply the HRR by the desired %. So, for 75% - HRR x 0.75 = 75% of HRR.
Then Add the Rest HR back on to this number.
Bingo! You are done. Repeat for the other %'s you wish to calculate.
Note the significant differences in the zones when comparing the two methods. For the cyclist used in this example, the HRR method proved very effective and produced almost identical training intensities when compared with his power zones.
Now for the training
Applying these numbers is relatively easy, doing your tempo work in Z3, endurance rides (mostly) in Z2, threshold work in Z4 etc. Of course training with interval work is not quite as simple as that, so I would advise doing some research or linking with a coach. Using HR for training efforts of more than three minutes can be very effective, but there are a few things to keep in mind
Here are a few tips for using your new HR numbers in training:
When using training efforts of less than three minutes (due to the time-lag in HR response) you are better off using the RPE scale to gauge effort / intensity. As these shorter training efforts will usually be quite intense, numbers 8-10 are most commonly applied in training sessions. It is however possible to use the RPE scale for all training as the ratings match up quite well with zones in the following way.
Whilst there is little doubt that using a power meter, particularly in conjunction with HR, is the most effective way to train for cycling / triathlon. It is entirely possible to plan and conduct highly effective training sessions using little or no technology. Not to mention w whole lot less expensive.
Enjoy the ride
If you would like any help with your cycling / triathlon, please feel free to get in touch HERE
Brian Bubba Cooke
Exercise Physiologist, coach & cycling tragic for 30 years. Love the freedom, reward and sense of achievement that one can only experience in our amazing sport.