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
I can hear the words as clearly today as when they were first spoken in 1985 (yes I am that old); "if you don't test the athlete prior to building the training progressions, you are wasting both your time and that of the athlete". I was in my first year of an Exercise Science degree and those wise words were delivered by the wonderful Professor Frank Pyke. Dr Pyke was an imposing character and carried a reputation in our field like few others. That strongly-delivered message from 32 years ago has been validated many times and shaped my approach to coaching ever since.
It may be stating the bleating obvious, but all of us humans are different and in so many ways. One of the "ways" is physiology and the response we are likely to have to any form of training. The fact is that no two cyclists respond in the same way (or at the same rate) to a block of training, this is the case even if both riders have exactly the same FTP. It is equally true that the ONLY way to even get close to predicting how a rider will respond to training and what type / amount of training to which he/she is best suited is to TEST. Which brings us back to Dr Pyke.
Testing is the cornerstone of any effective training plan and without testing, training sessions are based on a guess (an algorithm is just a fancy way to make an educated guess). Lack of testing is the main reason that some cyclists do well with certain types of training and others do not. Sports scientists test athletes before implementing training in order to both set a reference level for performance and to identify key elements of physiology on which the training is based. Different results yield different plans.
To get the most out of your training you (or your coach) will need:
Without these elements your training is based on a guess, no matter how educated that guess may feel.
Consider whether one, or more applies to you:
As the wonderful Professor Pyke (rest his soul) once said, "if you don't test, you are wasting both yours and the athlete's time".
Get tested now, be smart and stop trying to buy, or short cut, improvements in your riding performance.
Enjoy your ride
Reached that dreaded plateau? Might be time to change it up
You all know that feeling, the alarm goes off and you know you have to get up and ride...."gotta stay ahead of Wayno". But you also know that you are playing a bit of "Russian Roulette", just cannot predict how you are going to feel. "Felt awesome last Wednesday" but most days are a real struggle and it has been ages since you set that Strava PR on Springers.
So what's up? You are training hard right? Doing all the things you usually do and just 3 months ago, you were not only better than you are now, but almost every ride was great. So why are you no longer feeling the love and how can you get the mojo back?
One of the most common errors cyclists (and most endurance athletes) make is to do the same type of riding, week in / week out for long periods of time. To make things worse, this riding is almost always too hard. Now I have said this many times before, "riding at threshold is the LEAST effective way to boost threshold". In Exercise Science, the term "load cycling" is often used to explain the mysterious processes of "stimulus / stress / recovery". Essentially load cycling means that training loads (volume, frequency, intensity) are continuously varied to allow the body the best opportunity to regenerate. Too much load, not enough variation and nowhere near enough recovery will put any rider in a hole. Sound familiar?
We also know that no endurance athlete can perform at their best without a big aerobic capacity. The truth is, that riding at your limit erodes your aerobic system and the only way to build it back up (or slow the decline) is to do some riding with an aerobic load. Here is the crunch: if you almost always ride hard, you WILL reach a point where aerobic capacity is so poor that performance will actually start to decline and when this happens, there is no way back except to rest and then begin a block of pre-dominantly aerobic cycling. If your aerobic capacity has fallen to very low levels, this may mean riding VERY slowly, which most cyclists find it nearly impossible to do (especially blokes).
So we are back to load cycling (you knew we would come back) and if you are strategic about your training, you just may avoid falling into the pit. Be smart about your riding, race your buddies when it counts and pick your moments to go hard. But make sure you mix it up, cycle your loads, and you can look forward to consistent (upward trending) form. The MOJO is back!
If you would like to try some of these strategies with BBL coaching, we would love to hear from you.
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.