80:20 training rideLearning about heart rate variability

I started cycling in April 2012, and quickly found out about the ithlete heart rate variability (HRV) app in July. Up until that point I didn’t really train as such, but simply went out for a ride. I did a sportive in July and found myself wanting on the climbs, doing the walk of shame.

As a result I started to research training methods that were meant for recreational athletes, based on the fact that I had around 5 to 7 hours of riding time each week. During this search I found the ithlete site. I bought the app and started recording my HRV readings on a daily basis. At the same time, I learnt about Phil Maffetone and bought his book, and in this it mentions the ithlete HRV app. As a result I spent the last 3 months of 2012 specifically training in my MAFF heart rate reading of 127bpm. The result? A gradual decline in my HRV reading as shown by the graph below!

80:20 training HRV chart 1

Is this working for me?

I’m one of those people who needs to know that what I am doing is working, or not, hence the reason for keeping records. As you can see the decline in my average HRV reading was definate. At this point I wondered if it was due to the fact that my total training hours per week were not high enough to elicit an increase in HRV using the MAFF technique alone. Unlike the pro’s who have the time to spend hours each day training at low zones in order to get faster in the same low zone.

Introducing 80:20 training

I should add that those 3 months saw 90% of my training time on the turbo, due to a new- born, plus not being able to get out cycling during the week due to work and family commitments. My reasoning was, compared to my HRV readings in July/August, that the element that was missing was the road itself, with the natural intervals caused by inclines. Therefore in January, still using the turbo, I started to add intervals into my training, a bit ad-hoc to be fair. Not long after this, I came across Simon’s article on the Polarised 80:20 training method. I took this on board into what was now ‘on the road’ training and longer rides/sportives, and started to log my specific aerobic test rides (making sure I was hitting the same average heart rate), to see how the 80:20 training affected my aerobic fitness. Below is a table of these test rides over the course of 2013. You can see the improvement in my performance since I started the 80:20 training.

date time Av speed/pace Av heart rate
June 26th 2013 1:05:18 14.65/4:02 135
June 8th 2013 1:11:52 4:23 pace 136
April 6th 2013 1:13:02 13.30/4.31 140
March 31st 2013 1:17:26 12.52/4.48 135
Feb 17th 2013 1:21:26 11.91/5.02 135
Jan 1st 2013 1:30 (0n a MTB) 10.95/5.29 140

Below is an updated table of my HRV readings;

80:20 training HRV chart 2

HRV improvement from 80:20 training

There is a dip end February into March due to a severe bout of sinusitus that took around 6 weeks to shift, but before this, there were signs of an increase over January and then over April when the sinusitus had cleared up.  My readings stayed stable over May due to being on holiday for 2 weeks and not doing any training. The most interesting thing here is that the heart rate variability and heart rate value readings are coming together, whereas previously they were seperated – a sign of improved fitness. Ideally I need to get the HRV readings above the HR readings consistently.

ithlete: a great feedback tool

I realise that to experienced riders, the interval training compared to MAFF training might be obvious. But being new to this, I wanted to test what actually worked rather than reading it in a book or on the internet. After all, what works for some doesn’t necessarily work for others. That’s the beauty of HRV, we have a tool that can give us that essential feedback on how hard we need to train to elicit a training response, and when to ease off to allow that response to be absorbed by the body, to come back that little bit fitter and stronger.

The plus side to 80:20 training is that it also helps to increase your leg strength, using maybe a 34/18 or 16 on a compact, as you need at least this to get the heart rate up to the high zone on the climbs, sprinting up them. I have been getting to 90 to 95% of my max heart rate for the intervals, and then backing off to around 65% in-between. I have tried to stay in the high zone for at least 3 to 5 mins on each interval, with around the same time in the low zone, repeated 3 or 4 times in a one hour period. The rest of the training ride is warm up and warm down, therefore hitting the 80:20 ratio. On longer rides of around 3 hours, I have also managed to keep to this ratio.

Comparing performance

Below is the detail from 2 rides using the same course, in April, just 3 weeks apart, using the same average heart rate reading, I managed to knock 8 and half minutes off the time! Plus on the second run, put a bit more time into zone 1 which ultimately meant less time in the higher zones;

80:20 training ride 180:20 training ride 2

I’d recommend collecting data…

Hopefully this helps anyone who is starting out or has only been riding for a short while. However I would suggest everyone logs their own data to see for themselves how they are responding. It is only your own accountability that can lead to improvements, rather than leaving it to chance.