Heart Rate or Power?

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Heart Rate or Power?

There are many reasons why training with power is more effective than heart rate, first of all being the influences of other factors have on your heart rate. If you take daily medication which gives you an elevated heart rate and you wanted to measure your resting heart rate you would have to do it in the period right before you take the next daily dose of medication. This will already give an influenced result as, what most people will tell you, if you take heart rate in the evening you are taking into account a days’ worth of work, exercise and so on.

But if you don’t take medication that elevates your heart rate you’ll be ok? Well even if you can measure your resting heart rate you may have other influences that occur when you exercise. So you measure your heart rate to determine what zone you should train in. What about diet, amount of sleep, daily activity amount, stress, sickness, I could go on. If you work 9-5 Monday to Friday, in a high pressure job you may always get a reading higher than what would be considered normal for the time of day you check it. So if you use your heart rate to test, or check, which zone is appropriate for you to train in you may never get a reading that suggests that you are capable of training in a high heart rate zone.

Even if you don’t use your heart rate to determine what zone to train in, the factors that influence your heart rate, as mentioned above, will have the same affect when you begin to exercise. If you are stressed, tired, haven’t eaten enough, or eaten too much, have a lot on your mind, and so on your heart rate will be higher, and rise higher faster with exercise. This will mean you will find it difficult to train in lower zones, and analysis of your training will suggest you trained in a higher zone than you would be if you were rested.

Moving onto why training with power is superior. Firstly, power is not affected by the factors mentioned above. Your power output for any given session will be determined by testing some protocol included in my Coaching Packages. This will either rise or drop depending on how well you train and then perform in testing. For example, if your Maximum Minute Power (MMP) was 422 watts when last tested and you want to train in zone 5 you would need to be training between 317 and 359 watts. The coaches here now use the workout builder for all sessions within TrainingPeaks, this allows for an exact %FTP to be targeted, something that is only possible when you have a power meter. You can use %FTHR but you might struggle to hold that, due to any of the reasons mentioned above.

For those of you who don’t really know or understand what “Zones”, in terms of a training plan, are, they determine the intensity of your training session. To start with you find your maximum heart rate and/or maximum minute power. With this you then set the “Zones” as a set percentage of the maximum, based on basic training principles. You are then left with an amount which you aim to achieve or maintain throughout your session. For example, on a recovery day, you will only want to train in recovery, so if you take the example maximum minute power of 422 watts, during a recovery ride you will aim not to exceed 148 watts. If you wanted to train hard using fast short intervals you would use higher zones, and this is the basic principle of training plan zones. For more information check out my blog How to Train Using Zones.

When my athletes, who use power, train they’re not looking at heart rate therefore none of the outside influences are affecting their ability to train. I simply get them to conduct a series of intervals that will hit the desired power outputs required for the session to meet it’s goal. Job done, and with time, and adequate recovery, their performance will increase, which moves me on nicely to my final point.

Measuring and testing using heart rate is difficult. Not only are there the influences mentioned above to factor into fitness testing, but your maximum heart rate will fluctuate too. If it gets faster you might be fresher or more undertrained than your previous test. It can be difficult to tell as to how hard to push at any given time as when you are more trained, or even fatigued, the desired heart rate might be harder to achieve in high intensity interval sessions but does that mean the session isn’t giving the required effect on your body?  What you might be looking for, when testing using heart rate, is a higher quality or faster time or distance covered at your maximum heart rate. Confused? Well it gets worse as your heart rate will drop with age, any performance tests you do to measure improvement at your maximum heart rate will be off due to the fact you can no longer reach your previous maximum heart rate. There must be a simpler way?

Measuring and Testing using power is easy. For example, when I last tested ‘Athlete A’ they hit 466 watts for a 3′ Test. We I first tested ‘Athlete A’ they managed 402 watts, so in the time I have been coaching ‘Athlete A’ I have improved my MMP by 64 watts. This shows positive adaptation. What this means to me is I can change their training zones, re-estaimte FTP and then plan to move the athlete onto the next phase to account for the improvement we have made, thus maximising the effect of my training yet again. Power takes all the guess work away and provides you with a solid benchmark on which to gauge improvements against. If you want your training to really benefit you I’d recommend investing in a power meter.


Ready to upgrade to power? Checkout any of the Quarq or PowerTap models on CyclePowerMeters. Come back to me to order, I will place the order through CPM for you and give you £50.00 to spend on my coaching services. Same price, same great service, with added coaching!