Training using a heart monitor

Early last July I bought a Polar FT7 heart monitor. I’d never used one of these before but apparently they have revolutionised training since my racing days. I decided to buy one because, being very unfit and over weight, I thought it might help me not over do things and do any damage. But I only unpacked it and started to experiment with it last week.  I have discovered that the monitor calculates and records maximum and minimum heart rate (HR) for each training session, the calories burnt, session length and how many minutes in the fitness (cardio) range and in the fat burning range. Since losing weight is my priority at the moment I have decided to try and do most of my training in the fat burning range. Obviously I want to get stronger and fitter and exercising to lose weight will still contribute to this but concentrating on losing weight would be of more immediate benefit. Even at my current fitness level and strength I would get up the hills I’m struggling on a lot easier and faster if I had a stone or two less to lug up them. All the  formulae for calculating the various exercise zones require a maximum heart rate figure. Some also require a resting heart rate figure as well. Using my HRM my pulse at rest is about 50 and in one strenuous effort on the turbo I saw a 167 maximum. However most of the formulae for maximum heart rate give a figure between 155 and 164 for my age so 160 looks like about right. Using the formulae from Heart rate monitor training for cyclists (a very entertaining article as well as informative) my training zones are as follows:

  • Zone 1 (60-65% of maximum heart rate): For long, easy rides, to improve the combustion and storage of fats. (102-110)
  • Zone 2 (65-75% of MHR): The basic base training zone. Longish rides of medium stress. (110-128)
  • Zone 3 (75-82% of MHR): For development of aerobic capacity and endurance with moderate volume at very controlled intensity. (128-140)
  • Zone 4 (82-89% of MHR): For simulating pace when tapering for a race. (140-151)
  • Zone 5 (89-94% of MHR): For raising anaerobic threshold. Good sessions for 10- and 25-mile time-trials. (151-160)
  • Zone 6 (94-100% of MHR): For high-intensity interval training to increase maximum power and speed (160-170)

A good article from suggests a variety of turbo sessions for different objectives including one on fat burning: Turbo trainer workouts for all seasons

Alternative sites give slightly different figures e.g. Heart Rate Training Zones or Javascript Heart Rate Training Zone Calculator. According to this last one my fat burning zone is 96-104 which the results below show might be more accurate than 102-110 which, according to my HRM give me no fat burning time. Results so far:

Tuesday 30th October: turbo 20 mins using HRM [242 calories, fitness 19.26, fat burn 4.58, max 162, av. 120] But the first 5 minutes where with the HR monitor running before I got on the bike so, in the light of the next 2 results, I suspect the 4.58 fat burn minutes were before I got on the turbo!

Wednesday 31st October: 25 min turbo [tried to stay in fat burning HR zone 102-110 with a burst at the end after 20 mins, but: 210 calories, fitness 21.50, fat burn 3.06, max 154, av. 112 which compares unfavourably with yesterday].

Thursday 1st November: 25 mins turbo [first 20 mins 110-128, 100 revs sprint at end and recovery, 270 cals, fitness 24.25, fat burn 0.34, max HR 164, av HR 127, clearly my fat burn HR range is well under 100!] According to this chart my fat burning bps range is 93 to 109

Update: Friday 2nd November. Today I wore the HRM to work and kept it running for about 4 hours. My HR varied between 58 and 108 (with 123 going up stairs) and it seems I spent at least half the time in my fat burning zone. If this is so it looks like I don’t need to train on the turbo for fat burning as my current state of fitness means I just need move about a bit!

Progress report – 2 months in

I thought it would be useful (bearing in mind whatever else this blog is for it’s to help keep me motivated) to summarise progress so far. The main objective of all this is to get healthy and fit enough to enjoy a long active retirement. Getting back on the bike is the way I will achieve this but also an important objective in its own right as hopefully it will be one of the major activities of my retirement, for leisure and as a mode of transport. Apart from exercise the other key component of the get fit and live for ever plan is weight loss through changing my eating habits and dietary regime. This amounts to cutting back a bit on alcohol and reducing my calorie intake by an average of 500 a day. This, combined with moderate exercise, should mean I lose between 1 and 2 lb per week. I started this in September, about 8 weeks ago, and I’m down to 16 stone 3 lb from 17 stone 5 lb, a loss of 16 lbs or 2 lbs per week, so this seems to be working OK so far.

My exercise/training regime started at the beginning of September. I got my old turbo rollers out of the garage, unused for over 30 years, and started doing 10 minutes steady pedalling, about 70-75 rpm, two or three times a week. I also devised an as flat as possible  short road circuit I could ride regularly straight from home. Living where I do it is impossible to avoid the hills. The flattest I could find starts with a 1.5 mile uphill drag followed by undulating roads and a steeper half mile climb towards the end. The total distance is 6.5 miles which I did once a week in September and got the time down from 42 to 36 minutes. From the beginning of this month, October, I have extended the circuit , first to 7.5 miles and now to 10 miles. I’m averaging about 11 mph at the moment, an improvement on my initial speed of 9 mph that included a couple of stops on the hills to get my breathing back under control. Not very fast but it is hilly!

Also this month I have increased the turbo roller sessions to 20 minutes per session and to 3 times a week. I find this rather boring and, inspired by Richard Hall who I hope to do some riding with next year, I will be putting an interval training programme together that will help me extend the turbo sessions to 30 minutes alleviated by some variety and goals. I have a heart rate monitor and, if I can understand the instructions and set it up properly, I will be able to measure any progress I am making in terms of maximum BPS and recovery between intervals. Hopefully this will figure in a later progress report.

In addition to all this, I have been going on the Leeds Cycle Action Group’s (LCAG) social rides on Saturday mornings, starting on the 8th September. To date I have been on six rides. These tend to be between 12 and 15 miles. These run all through the year and I intend to go on as many as I can through the winter as the weather and other commitments allow.

As for the future, I hope to be able to join the LCAG’s fortnightly intermediate Sunday morning rides (30 to 35 miles) when they start again next March with a view to eventually being able to do the longer rides, 50 – 70 miles, on the alternate Sundays. I also want to set myself specific targets by choosing and registering for some Sportive events. I may be restricted in my choice for next year as these tend to be quite long and hilly. Another possibility is the annual London to Brighton Heart Foundation event. My old heavy hybrid bike would not be entirely suitable for this so as a further incentive I have promised myself a new road bike before spring next year, perhaps the beginning of March when I should be down to 15 stones if I’m on target. Who knows, I may even do the odd club time trial. And what better way to celebrate my 70th birthday in 2016 than ride La Marmotte!