Cycling mimics life; being mindful of the amount of effort it takes to move from place to place, learn the next skill, further a relationship, earn the next dollar or build the next business is important. How much more do you have to do in order to accomplish how much is perception of effort. Perceived effort also matters in our previous conversation about power; how much more effort do you need to make in order to generate those 10 more watts, and is it worth it?
A simple measure of perceived effort is to break it down into three perceptions – comfortable, uncomfortable and breathless. Perception is the key word here as there is no independent basis to measure those three descriptions of effort; you simply know how you feel while riding a specific segment at a certain pace. You can gauge your improvement by riding the same segment over time and when what was causing you to become breathless is now only uncomfortable you know you have improved.
Measuring heart rate allows us to attach some data to those perceived feelings; we create ranges that mimic comfortable, uncomfortable and breathless. For example, if your heart rate remains at or below 70% of your theoretical max you are likely to be in the comfortable range; when your heart rate between 71% and 85% of your theoretical maximum is your uncomfortable range, and anything above 85% will likely cause you to feel a little (or a lot) breathless. Caution – these are ranges used for the purposes of this explanation and not exact; we normally do a simple physiological test in order to find the ranges that are more specific to the student/athlete. Training within specific zones will lead to specific results, for example if we are working with a new student/athlete whose main interest is to shed some extra weight and body fat we would do most of our training below the uncomfortable range in order to help build their basic cardiovascular system. If, on the other hand we were working with a cyclist interested in developing greater endurance and speed we would have them spend additional time in the “above 85%” category. Everyone has different starting points and goals; the idea is to do the work in the ranges that provide the most specific benefit. Using heart rate zones does now obviate the question “how are you feeling?”
Combing the question “how are you feeling” with the date from a heart rate monitor along with the data from a power meter is the best of all worlds. It allows us to ask the question “how are you feeling?”, measure it against what the heart rate monitor is telling us and compare it to the power output. We then go back and answer the original question which was “is the extra effort worth it”.
I can give you two specific examples related to my own cycling.
Example 1. I do not use a power meter on my road bike although I use a Garmin 1000, a heart rate strap and Strava. I know the power meter would be a benefit but the extra investment of money plus the extra analysis would take away some of the joy of riding outdoors therefore the answer to the question for me is “the extra effort is not worth it”. I do power vs. heart rate and speed analysis on my indoor rides at Gavia where the focus and specificity of the training helps me tremendously and the data is easily captured without changing the focus of my ride.
Example 2. As I trained for GFNY 2016 I analyzed my heart rate and perceived exertion vs. speed on the segment that drops us down into Haverstraw then along the water and back up to 9W. I know that I can keep my heart rate at 132 – 136 bpm riding into the wind and maintain a speed of 32kph (it is relatively flat); I know that if I try to increase my speed to more than 35kph my heart rate will increase to 150. Given that I need to conserve some energy for the upcoming climbs and the remaining 100km it doesn’t make sense to me to try to ride faster than 32 to 35kph at that point in the race, it isn’t worth the effort (actually I am not sure that I can ride faster!). Faced with a similar choice in the park on the return I would make the extra effort and suffer the consequences knowing that I was almost home; it would be worth it to finish the race with a better time.
I hope this series of blogposts has been helpful to you. Please feel free to visit gaviacycling.com to join our email list in order to continue receiving information designed to help you improve your cycling performance and enjoyment.
If you have any specific questions related to these blogposts and/or would like them all together in eBook format, or might be interested in a participating in a cycling coaching and training program specific to your needs and goals please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how I can help.
Thanks for reading!
Teaching is my life’s purpose. I have been teaching, coaching, training and inspiring cycling students of all levels since 2004. From 2004 to 2006 I taught indoor cycling (I certified as an RPM teacher in 2006) and in 2006 I decided that in order to be a better indoor teacher I ought to begin riding outdoors. That has been the most impactful, life-changing decision I have ever made. Cycling has provided me with just about all the meaningful relationships I have in my life (I actually met my wife through cycling!) and has provided me with THE platform that allows me to accomplish my objective as a teacher/coach – to effectuate positive change in people’s lives. I am one of the founders of Gavia Cycling, where I am involved in developing the coaching, training, classes and group rides we offer at our studio located in Englewood Cliffs as well as on the road. I have been a member of Gruppo Sportivo Gran Fondo New York since 2011.
Vito Valentini, Human Potential Catalyst – DeRosa I Gavia Cycling