Heart rate cycling training still matters: simple, cost effective and accurate - here's how to benefit

It might play second fiddle to power in the modern hierarchy of training metrics, but heart rate cycling training should not be overlooked...

Image shows a person training with heart rate for cycling gains
(Image credit: Future)

In recent years, the power meter has become the primary means of measuring performance for cyclists, even at the amateur level. This has meant that benchmarking fitness – FTP, watts per kilo, cycling training zones, etc – is easily accomplished and no longer requires an expensive trip to the science lab.

But is this widespread devotion to power distracting us from the importance of an older form of fitness measurement, the humble heart rate monitor? In this feature, I want to assess the ongoing relevance and usefulness of monitoring beats per minute. What insights into our performance are picked up in our heart rate traces while not registering on the best power meters for cycling?

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Heart rate training zones
HR intensity zone% of HR maxFeels like...
Moderate70-80Easy. You can converse freely: breathing is deeper than at rest but not laboured
Heavy80-90Comfortably hard. You have to take breaks in speech; breathing is faster now but not frantic.
Severe90-100Very hard. You can't say more than one or two words at a time; you're breathing hard, almost panting.

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