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Entrusting My Fate... To Heart Rate?


Hello again! 
With blizzards and temperatures dropping as low as -18 here there's really been no chance of getting out on the bike, so this week has been all about getting the most out of my indoor training on the Turbo.  Now.  Two weeks ago, these were my thoughts on turbos, but since then I've become a Turbo Aficionado Extraordinaire.  This entry will help explain why.
Now I should probably start by telling you that I've always been somewhat of an 'efficiency expert', which is to say, I like to do things in the most effective, time and energy efficient way.  Some people might brand this as laziness under a different term, but I insist that this is absolutely not the case as I always put in my maximum effort and am conscientious about the outcome. 

An example of this is having watched fellow students hysterically running around the library mid-exam time brandishing every book from Confucious to Poe in readiness for a Psychology exam, and been struck by the sheer lack of attention they give to the actual task in hand.  Where they would greet my nonchalance with scorn and assume I was doomed to failure, I would happily give myself over to endless games of pool in the pub safe in the knowledge that I'd already studied the past papers, drawn up frequency charts of the questions and topics covered, and figured out the most likely areas that I would need to study.  

Already not bad for someone with a natural aversion for numbers, but the fact was that it worked.  With Christmas on the way a more topical example of this behaviour (and a cautionary one for any parents out there) is that as a bright eyed, excited youngster wanting to know what 'Santa' had brought him in advance, I didn't give myself over to hunting through the garage, the attic or rifling through cupboards...  I went directly to the locus of where all financial minutae relating to household expendature was recorded.  Mummy's purse.  Therein was a veritably groaning repository of receipts where I was sure to find out exactly what I wanted to know.  Every year from the age of 10.  Mother, I'm sorry.... if its any consolation, at least it showed some kind of initiative.
SO.  Taking this aspect of my nature in to account, it is no surprise that as long as I need to devote a lot of my time to sweating it out on a turbo trainer, I have been scouring the information super highways for ways to make it as effective and efficient as possible.  After all, getting the most out of training isn't about the number of miles, how tired you feel or how much your legs hurt, its about how much you improve, isn't it?

To this end I made what is for me quite a large purchase of a second hand Garmin Edge 705 off of the evilBay, initially motivated by the knowledge that I had to be able to monitor times, speeds distances in order to monitor improvement.  At the point 'improvement' basically meant how fast I was going compared to before.  Which meant that as long as I was only concerned in 'monitoring' speed and distance travelled, no element of it was about how efficient I was compared to before.  So in getting to grips with the functionality of the Garmin I had almost over looked the heart rate monitor in favour of the GPS mapping, course planning etc...
Now the Modus Operandi of all my training, and something that has single handedly reformed my attitude to training in the space of a week-I kid you not.
This week I have been repeatedly measuring my maximum (194bpm) and base (a remarkably low 60bpm, which in view of how unfit I actually am, must be genetic) heartrates.  From these, I can now calculate my respective heart rate 'zones' which give me an idea of how my body is responding physically relative to the effort I'm putting in, and then allow me to plan different types of exercises on the turbo according to whether I want to develop economy and efficiency, aerobic capacity and endurance, lactate clearance, maximum power output and anaerobic threshold.  In short, I now have a clue what I'm up to instead of going through the motions of flogging myself blindly for 40 minutes before collapsing as I had been the previous week.  I think back now to rides this year where after going up the same hill on my usual ride I would get frustrated by my inability to get up it faster or feel 'fitter' doing it, and the resultingly poor performance I would give on the rest of the ride as, having failed to let my body recover, I would grind myself into the ground trying to 'improve' by flogging myself ever on.  Is it a surprise that I didn't improve much in either my climbing or flat performance?  In my head there is a small boy standing over a ransacked purse shaking his head at me despondently. 
The difference in my attitude to training is incredible (and I don't even have a cadence sensor yet!) and where to some this might equate to number crunching geekery, I can only insist that I am persuaded that it is the intelligent way to train, and from the tip of the iceberg of the literature on it that I've read, it makes perfect sense to me.  The ability to plan different types of sessions on the Turbo has given me a constructive, positive sense of achieving specific goals, which has made me much more enthused to actually do them, which so far has been a mix of high intensity Zone 3 to Zone 6 interval training to help burn off excess weight, and longer Zone 2 sessions to maintain a base level of endurance.  

Zone 2 you ask?  What is Zone 2 and what does it mean in terms of turning the cranks?  Essentially, Zone 2 (124-144bpm) for me is very slow.  It feels unnaturally slow, and in current condition I doubt I would finish the Etape in the alotted time were I to maintain it. For a Schleck on the other hand, Zone 2 is probably about 50kmh on the flat, but that's not important, as unless I train properly and allow my body to adapt and recover, I won't get up to 50kmh without blowing a gasket.

Whereas previously I had no idea as to the amount of effort I was putting in physically to achieve a certain speed I'm now seeing it takes much more discipline to force yourself to slow down and maintain a particular heart rate as it would to do an extra 10 miles in the belief that it will equate to ten miles extra endurance.  For someone with a naturally occurring willingness to punish percieved failures, it is actually easier to push myself to the point of implosion than it is to moderate my desire to push harder and force a slow pace in favour of long-term benefits. 

In this respect its going to be an even bigger challenge, but that's what doing the Etape's all about, so therein lies the actual hard work or developing an effective training plan and committing to it.  I still have moments of self-doubt or insecurity as to whether my work over the next few months will translate to a good performance on the day, but it has given me a degree of confidence that I have at least started unravelling the best way forward to achieving these aims.
In addition to my quasi-scientific training reforms, this werek I have scrapped the BBC i-Player in favour of watching old stages of the Tour de France.  Perhaps elemental in retrospect, but watching Menchov repeatedly slaughtering the field on climbs is much more inspiring that watching a bunch of people act like twats for the benefit of a vertically stunted despot on The Apprentice, but it's definitely true and has been very helpful in pushing me on harder or for longer.  Combined with the heart rate monitor I actually quite enjoy getting on the turbo now, something I would never have believed at the time of writing my last blog-post on the subject. 
So, when this snow eventually melts I am looking forward to getting out there and starting the long, slow, but precisely controlled slog to the Etape on roads proper, though with temperatures dipping to -7 again last night, I may be forced to put my new found love of the turbo to a more prolonged test.  In addition to this, it looks increasingly likely that I will be moving to London's famous London come the new year, an exciting if necessary prospect, which will bring a whole host of other lifestyle and training dilemmas (like where are the bloody hills!!!) so I want to make the most of my well trodden and much beloved local hills before I leave.
I don't think this year I'll be troubling myself with rifling through Mum's purse for evidence of an all-carbon bike this year though...

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kempo | 13 years ago

Great article! I've been trying to get on the turbo more recently - currently borrowing a friends one, but it's stuck on "extra hard". which is fine... but deeply knackering... so I've been using cadence, hear rate and perceived effort to try and vary the training. I've also discovered a great set of videos by a chap called thesufferfest ( Last night i did the Downward Spiral, which is a 2 x sets of descending intervals with clips of Paris-Roubaix...etc. Inspiring, if deeply challenging stuff and features slightly abusive messages throughout to help you "man-up".

antonio | 13 years ago

I have been using turbo and HR monitor since the long ago advent of the Polar Accurex monitor, inspired to do so by the Moser book on his hour record adventures. I was never going to be a top athlete but together with my HR monitors and my modified magnificent, (still) Cateye C1000 trainer I set out on a love hate relationship that has lasted twenty years or so. At the end of the day fitness and all that goes with it are attained by dedication to whatever you are aspiring to do. The HR monitor and turbo will do wonderful things for fitness and general well being but knowing ones self is perhaps the better side of it all. It is well documented that intervals, hard intervals, work wonders, together with the new power workouts a better insight to fitness is able to be formed, but it is only a part of the story. A winner is still a winner with more of everything we would all aspire to have, but to know that even if you will never be a winner you are a better and fitter person by your endeavors is inspirational in itself. I speak as a seventy three year old who still enjoys the local track league, not always finishing last, and still leading the club runs on a Sunday, from the front most of the day. I still enjoy my turbo and roller sessions, little home grown programmes keep me motivated and I have learned also when not to 'go for it', the old maxim of know thyself coming in very handy. I could tell you what my regular HR max is but that is likely to frighten some one to death, suffice to say it is usually reached when feeling very good. I hope this little insight of mine may be of some use to your regular posters.

markdkeeley | 13 years ago

I do like the efficient/lazy approach but always seem to end up doing too much hard work - I will start using my heart rate monitor now! and maybe invest in a turbo trainer.Thanks for the extra context Ciaran.  1

Ciaran Patrick | 13 years ago

Great Article. Although I find that heart rate training is usual taken out of context of all other aspects of training needs to improve function of a bike. My problem is that it is usually taken in a context that is isolated from any other physiological function of cycle training. How many of you have actually sat down and looked at how you ability physiologically and psychologically are developing and combining all elements and having a realistic appraisal of comparing these different elements say cadence skills and HR training or strength vs aerobic development. There is a concept memory in all os us called 'movement architecture'. This is primarily our practical muscle memory and it is the memory of our learnt physical skills that our bodies are prone to like doing. Development of our movement architecture is something that we are more predisposed to when we want to be active in later life. If we say cycle, we need a understand our own physical context in the act of cycling, ie our cadence, the way we ride the bike, our physical strength and ability on the bike not just what our HR is doing. Our Movement architecture involves our ability to understand physically and mentally what we are capable of doing on a bike and then developing or push the envelope of that understanding. This desire to improve our physical skill for an action is called training and must include all aspects. If you are blinkered by just say heart rate zoning and we the ignore the training development of technique, cadence, riding style etc then heart rate training alone will not be that effective. For heart rate training to be effective you need to understand and intergrate that in a development understanding of all areas of improvement to your what ever your goals are in relation to your training. Busting a gut on a turbo trainer may improve your ability to improve HR function specific to the turbo trainer but it will mean nothing if the skills on the bike are not there or neglected both mentally in our training.

Gregoire500 replied to Ciaran Patrick | 13 years ago

Thanks for the info Ciaran-will definitely look in to the movement architecture concept, sounds very interesting. Wholly agree about not focusing exclusively on one thing to the detriment of the whole-I'm just taking things as they come and trying to get a solid idea of their importance and how to apply this to training. I don't know where you are atm but I'm in rural Scotland and I'm pretty snowbound so its not been possible getting out on the bike so I've been forced to get to grips with as much of these ideas as possible on the turbo so far! Definitely looking forward to taking all I've been learning about over the last few weeks and putting together on the road.

thanks again for your comments and keep 'em coming!

Fish_n_Chips | 13 years ago

I enjoyed the article and I already have the sport science knowledge in my head it's just reading about someone doing it that motivates me-cheers. I shall blow dust off my turbo, dig out my HR pc and squeeze into my tight Lycra from too many pies lol

Agree with exams too, never studied and still passed easily!

Lazy bugger!  3

badbunny | 13 years ago

Excellent! as a technophobe and certainly unsure of what all these wattage thingamejigs are the only bit of kit I consistently use is my HRM. I've yet to venture putting my bike on the turbo - but given your article...I may give it a try  1

Gregoire500 replied to badbunny | 13 years ago

Well as a total noob I'm just getting into it but like I say above, it's a great tool for building workouts around! I see you rode the Etape Caledonia-how was it? I'm going to be riding it this year and am looking forward to it!

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