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Ask the Experts: Do I need a heart rate monitor?

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Article posted: 19/02/2014

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British Cycling Member Bob e-mailed in the following:

“Your training plans would be quite helpful, but they assume that I have a heart rate monitor. I am training, or will be when I have a plan, for a British Heart Foundation London-Brighton ride.

Having done well on a hybrid I have just shelled out on a road bike. I don't have a heart strap and not likely to get one in the near future. Maybe in a few months.

Do you have any version of your training plans for such as me?”

It is of course possible to train on feel and use the various scales of perceived exertion and cyclists fared perfectly well in the days before heart rate monitors. However that’s no real reason not to get one and, with reliable heart rate monitors now available for under £30, you’ll really be doing yourself a big disservice by attempting to follow a structured training plan without one. Without a monitor to objectively and accurately monitor intensity, most riders make the mistake of riding too hard when they should be taking it easy and going too slow when they should be making big efforts. They end up riding the majority of the time at a “No-Man’s Land intensity” that results in poor performance gains and unnecessary fatigue. People also argue that they’re not a professional rider and therefore using a heart rate monitor is just taking things too seriously. 

However a heart rate monitor helps to ensure that you’re maximising the effectiveness of your training and, for time constrained amateur riders, this is essential. The British Cycling Training Plans use heart rate and cadence to ensure that you’re getting the most from every pedal stroke you make. If you’re going to be investing significant amounts of your precious time training, surely a device that optimises that time for a minimal financial outlay is a no-brainer?

As we’ve already said a heart rate monitor doesn’t need to be expensive and, if you’re a technophobe, doesn’t need to be complicated either. Look for a monitor that allows you to custom set at least one training zone, recall time spent in, above and below that zone and, important for threshold testing, also recalls average heart rate.

We can’t force you to get a heart rate monitor but with the benefits it has to your training, we’re struggling to find a reason why you wouldn’t.

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