For some unknown reason I’ve recently received the same basic question three times in emails this week. The question has to do with using a heart rate monitor to gauge intensity. The email senders don’t understand why it is becoming harder to get heart rates higher. I’m afraid we’ve come to assume that a high heart rate is a good thing. Sigh. Sometimes I wish that the heart rate monitor had never been invented. Lots of bad training decisions result from overinterpreting (is that a word?) the data. The latest question comes from a coach, who will remain anonymous, about one of his cycling clients.
Coach’s question: Currently, I am struggling to grasp a problem while training a very talented rider. He is not able to afford a power meter so we are limited to perceived effort, heart rate data and a number of other markers I’ve built into an Excel spreadsheet. I was wondering if you could help me understand the reason why he is struggling to get into zone 4 for 30-minute efforts, despite being well rested, and fully recovered. Early on it was no problem.
My reply: I’m assuming when you say “zone 4” you’re referring to heart rate. If that’s so then his low heart rate is actually a good sign. The more endurance fit one becomes the harder it is to elevate heart rate. That’s just one of the reasons why power meters are so helpful in training. In other words, if he had a power meter you’d probably see that at the same power output his heart rate is lower. That’s good. The opposite happens when losing fitness. Heart rate is high at the same power output. In fact, the easiest way to get heart rate higher is to simply lose endurance fitness. So an easily rising heart rate or high heart rate at any given power level is generally a bad sign. So I can probably assume from what you are saying that he is making good progress. Keep it going!