Q&A: How to improve using heart rate?

After doing a VO2max I know my zones and train on HR. However, I don’t really look at power, but I think it’s something I need to improve both for sprints and longer TTs. How should I be training (using only HR) to improve both top end power and 10/20 TT?
Jeff Lawrence

Jeff, more power is something we all desire but let’s start by looking at what kind of power you actually needing to improve.

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Sprint or ‘peak’ power is the maximum amount of watts that you can create in a short, maximal effort and is essential for things like track sprinting or the hard efforts you have to make at the end of road races. TT power, for 10s, 25s etc is called ‘critical’ power.

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Unlike sprint power this is not maximal, it’s the highest amount of power you can sustain for the duration of your given event; so for a one hour event like a 25mile TT you’re looking at sustaining ‘threshold’ power, and for shorter TT’s like 10s, because you’re riding for a shorter amount of time you’re looking to sustain an intensity slightly above threshold power.

So the type of training to increase power specific to these disciplines, sprint or endurance, is quite different. Track sprinters looking for high peak power will spend a lot of time in the gym whereas distance TT riders will need to spend more time on the bike doing ‘threshold’ intervals. Look at the training zones you got as a result of your V02 Max test and there will be a zone that represents your ‘threshold’ intensity.

If your events are TT focused then you don’t want to be spending much time worrying about your peak power as riding at peak power during a TT would quickly result in your pacing strategy going out the window and you’d blow up.

So your TT training needs to be focused more specifically on riding just below and just above this threshold intensity. If however you compete in road or track races as well as TTs, then you would benefit from including some shorter, more intense efforts aimed at increasing peak power, as well as spending some time working on strength and cadence.

The good news is that you can increase your power without a power meter by using your cadence as a benchmark. For example, if you ride for 1 minute at 90rpm in a given gear, you will be producing ‘x’ amount of watts. If you then ride for 1 minute at 90rpm in a slightly harder gear, you are producing slightly higher watts. The fact that you don’t know what the watts are is not important, as you are simply producing more power in the harder gear so long as you keep the cadence the same.

Knowing this you can work on increasing your power in both long and short interval sessions. By either gradually increasing the amount of time you spend in harder gears or increasing the cadence while staying in the same gear you are producing more power.

This article was first published in the March 7 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio, download from the Apple store and also through Kindle Fire.