The Bicycling Guide to Training Metrics
Some tips help you track your effort—and how much you’re improving
Want to get faster? These numbers will help you achieve your goals.
The first rule of training is that you need to have measurable goals. In order to track your improvement, you also need to have a way to quantify your effort. Numerous methods exist for measuring and tracking; which one is right for you depends on your goals (and partially your budget).
Ways to Evaluate Your Effort
First, let’s look at the tools and scales you can use to measure, rate, and evaluate how easy or hard you’re working at any given moment.
RPE (Your Breath Analyzer): It doesn’t get any more basic than RPE, your rating of perceived exertion. Put more simply, it’s a measure of how hard you feel like you’re going. On a 1 to 10 scale, 1 is coasting along on a flat road with a tailwind, and 10 is full gas, willing yourself not to vomit.
Some coaches recommend monitoring your breathing to rate your efforts. Your muscles use more oxygen the harder you push, so breathing rate is a direct indication of work. If you’re able to sing and recite poetry, you’re not working very hard. If you’re gasping uncontrollably, you are maxed out. Research shows RPE works just as well as any scientific equipment for measuring your actual effort at any given time, but it doesn’t tell you much more. For instance, you may be huffing and puffing and battling burning legs, but barely producing any power; or you could be feeling chainless while cranking out major wattage. For training purposes, that’s okay, since you’re training by feel. But it makes it tricky to measure progress if you have no other metrics to pair it with. Another potential downside is that you also have to remain tuned in, and it’s all too easy to slack off when you should be pushing, or push too hard on a recovery day. So RPE is a good tool, but if you’re serious about tracking progress, you’ll want to use more than one metric.
Heart Rate Monitoring (Your Effort in BPM): As your effort increases, your heart pumps more oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to fuel your muscles. The result: Your heart rate goes up. Monitoring your heartbeats per minute (BPM) with a heart rate monitor will tell you just how hard you’re working.
Getting in the Zone
All this measuring and monitoring doesn’t do much good unless you apply it to specific training purposes—that is, training at different effort levels to build specific types of fitness. That’s where training zones come in. Different coaches break down training zones differently, but in general you’ll see effort levels spread out over five to seven zones that range from recovery to max effort.
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