I have been using the Digifit iCardio App for Android to track my heart rate on my mountain bike rides.  The last peak I was shooting for a personal record up the last blacktop in Sycamore Canyon.

I’ve been using a heart rate monitor for years now, but should you?  What does a heart rate number mean, and how can you use your heart rate monitor effectively to get you in better shape?  

These are great questions and my goal is to help you understand the answers.  In this post I’ll attempt to point you in the right direction.  You see, as I set out to answer these questions the more I’ve realized just how complicated of a subject it is, which is why there is so much confusion over the purpose of tracking heart rate. PhD's are in labs intensely studying this subject right now!  Just like anything complicated it is easy to get traveling down niche roads and in the case of heart rate training those roads lead to very specialized applications for elite athletes of all sports.  So, you need to determine for yourself what are your goals with your training program.  

Since Heart Rate Training is a complicated subject as I said before, I’m going to point you to the right direction so you can use these resources to see what makes sense for You.  Here’s the basics -

1. First, Identify Your Heart Rate Zones -

2. Next, You can use a Heart Rate monitor to track your recovery rate as a fitness test.

3. Understand what Lactic Acid is, how it is produced and cleared in your system.  This is fundamental to understanding what your body is doing at different intensities.  

4. Now that you understand Lactic Acid, how can you use Lactate Threshold Training (LTHR) to improve your aerobic performance.

There are many uses for training with a heart rate monitor depending on your goals.  If you are looking to lose weight, you can use a heart rate monitor to track calorie burn and to assure you are working hard enough if that is your issue.  You can also use it for interval training and avoid constant intensity workouts.  

For more serious athletes, it can help you design an interval training workout with the goal of high intensity work and building up lactic acid in the muscles, then reducing the intensity to allow your system to clear it out of the muscles.  By doing this over and over again it will increase your Lactate Threshold, VO2Max, and aerobic performance.   

How do you use your heart rate monitor?  Personally I use mine to slow me down!  My tendency is to push too hard and overcook it on the mountain bike, and that hinders my longevity on the rides.  I watch my heartrate with the intention of keeping me mellow.  It works… sometimes (I like to pass people)!  I like to do intervals and my hill climbing has drastically improved over the past few years.  If you are using apps like Strava you can track your personal records and see how fast you compare on certain segments of your training rides and watch your heart rate during those segments.  You should see your heart rate decrease or stay the same and your speed increase over time.  I’ll leave you with an applicable quote from cycling great Greg Lemond “It never gets easier, you just go faster.”  So true.