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What Is a Heart Rate Monitor?

From the name, as you can imagine, it’s fairly self-explanatory: it’s a device that is used to monitor your heart rate, in terms of beats per minute (BPM). Typically, these will be a small ANT+ or Bluetooth enabled device attached to a strap you wear on your chest; wrist-based monitors are also popular but are less common among cyclists. The data can then be displayed live via a bike computer (such as a Garmin) or kept for post-workout/race analysis on software like Garmin Connect, Strava, or TrainerRoad.

What a Heart Rate Monitor Is Not

Although these devices have come a long way in terms of the accuracy of the data, it’s important to bear in mind they should not be used as a diagnostic, medical tool. Your HRM might give you an indication of something not being right, but you should see a doctor or medical relevant professional if you have a concern about the data you’re seeing. This equipment isn’t perfect; your wildly escalating heart, reach over 220 BPM, could be indicative of a catastrophic issue or it could simply be that your device needs a new battery.

Training With a Heart Rate Monitor

Until fairly recently, HRMs were the key training aid for the aspiring and professional cyclist. Only in the last few years or so have power meters become the key device for training. However, there’s no denying, even if the costs have decreased since they were introduced, that power meters are expensive. When you’re starting out cycling and want to work in some structure to your training then a heart rate monitor is an excellent tool for this.

Having an understanding of your heart’s maximum output and rate at certain intensities, will help you to set zones for your training. This means that when you’re out doing your winter base miles the intensity isn’t too high, and then when it comes to more intense intervals you are able to work in the desired zone.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

There are some things to consider training according to your heart rate, particularly when compared with power meters. The main problem is that your heart rate can fluctuate on any given day, for a myriad of reasons. Caffeine intake, tiredness, temperature, fatigue, freshness, are just some of the factors that can have an impact on the readings. This can lead you to training either too hard or too easy depending on what’s happening that day.

That being said, as long as you take some time learn about training to heart rate, it can be a valuable tool. Many a champion, in years gone by, has trained solely to this metric.