For my cyclists that have power meters, I like to use a combination of heart rate and power numbers for some workouts. One reason I do this is to flush out fitness data that would otherwise be hidden. Let me give you an example.
If the assignment is to ride at Zone 2 heart rate (the biological response), the athlete does that workout without regard to power output or speed. This kind of workout has its place in training and I do use it.
If the assignment is to produce Zone 2 power, the athlete completes the workout and typically comments in the feedback section. A comment might be, “Heart rate high (or low) for Zone 2 power.” Or they might comment, “Workout went well.” In any case I do get information from this workout – and the workout has its place in my mix of workouts.
Sometimes, I use a combination of heart rate and power so the athlete can drive the highest power possible on that day, while limiting the biological cost. Below is a sample workout for an athlete with a current Zone 2 top-end wattage of 135 and top-end Zone 2 heart rate of 136. I wanted an aerobic workout that produced the highest possible power during specific intervals.
Do a 10-minute warm-up.
The entire workout is 4 repeats of the following:
5 minutes at ~135 watts (Keeping heart rate 136 or below. If you can push higher watts than 135 for a cost of 136 heart rate – do it.)
5 minutes at 120 watts or less (Zone 1 heart rate)
End with easy spinning at Zone 1 heart rate
One of my athletes (power and heart rate data used in the sample above) recently returned from a ski trip in Switzerland. He skied for six days at an altitude of 3000 to 4000 meters. He lives at sea level. Though he was only at altitude for a week, his results for the workout I describe above showed a marked change. He was able to push wattages much greater than 135 while keeping heart rate low. Important to note, his low heart rate felt low and the effort felt easy. (Sometimes athletes note that a low heart rate feels really hard – i.e. Zone 2 heart rate feels like Zone 3.)
You can see his graph below.
(You can select the graph to make it larger.)
Did his time at altitude change his ability to push higher wattage for a low - aerobic - cost? Is this result just part of his increased fitness due to the training mix? (It’s important to note I’ve worked with this person for a few years.) Or, was this workout a performance fluke? (He was able to produce more wattage than what is normal, given this heart rate.)
The questions are reasonable and I’ll continue to monitor his performance to see if it is time to make an adjustment to training zones.
If you are a self-coached athlete, it is important to cross-reference training zone data from time to time to be sure you are getting the most benefit from the workouts. You can get some of this data from testing – but – I believe it is important to sample workout data as well.
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