Interval training and performing high intensity workouts have become much simpler for cyclists of all abilities with the proliferation of power-meter technology.
However, despite the availability of cost-effective power-based training solutions, many Athletes still rely-on, and benefit from, training exclusively with a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM).
Although it is true that power-meters allow for the prescription of more complex and challenging workout protocols, every Athlete can benefit from having a deeper understanding of the ways in which Heart Rate and Rate of Perceived Exertion influence workout quality.
In order to help Athletes using HRM’s get the most from their training, as well as aide power-meter users in the event that they must rely on Heart Rate data to train, we have compiled three-tips to make your next interval session more focused, potent, and effective.
Stay focused on the workout and don't rush to get your H.R. in the 'zone' during a steady-state interval, let Perceived Exertion be your guide at the start. Photo Credit: Doug Earnest, Inland Sports Photography
#1: Let Your Heart Rate Build Gradually
Because Heart Rate Values do not immediately respond to our physical output, as there is a lag of up to 15-30sec. (or more in well-trained Athletes), it is best to start any steady-state interval using the Perceived Exertion Scale.
An easy tip is to begin each interval by applying the power output (pressure on the pedals) that will raise your H.R. to the prescribed level, not more.
Although it is easy to do so, do not fall into the trap of increasing the intensity excessively in order to elevate your H.R. to the prescribed level. Your H.R. will get ‘in the zone’ in due time.
Instead place your emphasis on developing the self-awareness to gauge the appropriate output that matches the prescribed effort. Don’t make the interval session harder than it should be, just to get your Heart Rate ‘in the zone’.
Remember, each interval starts and ends with your legs, not when your H.R.M. reads the entry and exit of the prescribed zone.
Note: For those unfamiliar, the Perceived Exertion Scale is a 1-10 scale that utilizes our own self-awareness. Level 1 is equal to minimal output, while Level 10 is akin to a maximal output for the prescribed duration.
#2: Aim For A Consistent Effort & Even Output
Executing successful steady-state intervals using Heart Rate and Perceived Exertion requires consistent pressure be applied to the pedals.
This requires the Athlete to shift to harder and easier gears during an interval as the terrain undulates.
Shifting regularly will allow you to both maintain the steady-state effort and better accomplish pedal cadence targets that may be prescribed in a particular workout protocol.
This technique will become increasingly important as fatigue sets-in during long intervals or when you begin to tire through repeated interval work.
One way to make a steady-state interval easier is to select a portion of road that is as even and consistent as possible.
By selecting steady roads and shifting regularly, an Athlete can modulate their output to create properly executed intervals without a power-meter.
The R.P.E. 1-10 Scale is adapted from the Borg 6-20 scale and is similar to the "pain tolerance scale" which is used in Emergency Rooms across the United States. Photo Credit: KeyWordSuggest.org
#3: Breath Deeply & Purposefully
Heart Rate Values are heavily influenced by a myriad of outside factors, which can make it difficult to compare the sensations of the same workout performed varying conditions.
The common influencing factors for Endurance Athletes include, but are not limited to, caffeine consumption, fatigue, hydration-levels, and even breathing rate.
Of all these factors, the most easily controlled while executing an interval, is breathing rate.
In order to execute consistent steady-state Heart Rate-based intervals, it is best to utilize deep ‘belly breaths’ focusing on prolonged exhales, rather than shallow "staccato" breaths that characterize breathing from the upper chest.
At Big Wheel Coaching, we think of this deep breathing work as, ‘purposeful breathing’.
For those that are familiar with yoga, the method of “Ujjayi” breathing is a useful comparison (Note: "ujjayi" is pronounced oo-jaa-ee).
Although “ujjayi” breathing in yoga is performed primarily using nose-breathing, Endurance Athletes should mimic this same focused deep breathing technique using both the mouth and nasal passages.
By taking full, consistently deep-breaths during an interval you will reduce erratic H.R. values and most-likely increase the velocity achieved on each interval too!
Bonus Tip: Don’t Judge The Day On Your First Effort
Whether starting your interval session as part of an early morning workout or after a long-day at work, it is important to keep in mind that the first interval is often perceived to be the hardest.
Although subsequent intervals won’t get easier (much to the contrary in many cases), the initial discomfort of interval training is most intense when the body has not fully 'warmed-up' for the effort.
This is especially true for those Athletes squeezing in a quick workout on a busy day, efforts performed with an insufficient warm-up, or any session that was not preceded by a rest-day.
Although this knowledge won’t make any interval-day easier to execute, it most certainly should give you confidence knowing that completing the first interval inherently makes subsequent efforts easier to conquer.
Simply put, if you get through the first interval, subsequent intervals are doable!a
Selecting a steady road is key to properly executing intervals, broken, cracked, or consistently undulating roads can add unnecessary stress to a workout. Photo Credit: Brian McCulloch
Although power-meters are making it easier to prescribe, evaluate, and perform interval training sessions, understanding Heart Rate training principles and how to use our own self-awareness (Perceived Exertion) to execute proper steady-state workouts cannot be undervalued.
This knowledge must be reinforced through personal experience and can go a long way to boosting training adaptation while minimizing the risk of over-training.
If you have questions about Heart Rate Training, the Perceived Exertion Scale, and how knowledge of each topic can help you achieve your best fitness, contact us to schedule a coaching consultation.
We would be glad to detail each topic as it applies to your fitness and training environment.
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian and Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching