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Heart rate monitors may look intimating, but it isn’t rocket science learning how to use one. These simple little gadgets can help you boost your cycling in a big way – and the cost and effort involved is minimal. You need to find certain parameters to learn your ideal heart rate level – and even though you think a fast-beating hard burns more calories, you are far from the truth.

Resting Heart Rate Matters

The best way to get your resting heart rate is to take it first thing in the morning every day for a week and work out the average. Make sure you’re well rested and not ill or under any stress. Put your HR strap on and just lie there for a couple of minutes, trying to relax as much as possible. Note the lowest figure you see and repeat the procedure the following day. Keep a log daily – at the end of a week you should average this to learn your average resting heart rate.

Your Maximum Heart Rate Calculations May Be Off

Many believe that you can calculate your maximum heart rate by using the formula of 220 minus your age. For some people this may be accurate, but for many it will be way off. The only way to get an accurate maximum heart rate figure is with a physiological test at a sport science center (or a really good doctor’s office), but you can get a reasonable estimate by doing your own maximum heart rate test. Only undertake this test if you are fit and exercise regularly, though. To complete the test, warm up thoroughly for at least 15 minutes. On a long, steady hill, start off fairly briskly and increase your effort every minute. Do this seated for at least five minutes until you can’t go any faster while seated. At this point, get out of the saddle and sprint as hard as you can for 15 seconds. Then, immediately check your heart rate reading or, after the ride, download your data and look for the highest HR number. This is your maximum heart rate.

Learn Your Training Zones

Having established your resting and maximum heart rate numbers, you’re now ready to work out your training zones. While many people use five training zones,  the Association of British Cycling Coaches recommends a six-zone system:

  • Zone 1 (60-65% of maximum heart rate): For long, easy rides, to improve the combustion of fats.
  • Zone 2 (65-75% of MHR): The basic base training zone. Longish rides of medium stress.
  • Zone 3 (75-82% of MHR): For development of aerobic capacity and endurance with moderate volume at very controlled intensity.
  • Zone 4 (82-89% of MHR): For simulating pace when tapering for a race.
  • Zone 5 (89-94% of MHR): For raising anaerobic threshold. Good sessions for 10- and 25-mile time-trials.
  • Zone 6 (94-100% of MHR): For high-intensity interval training to increase maximum power and speed