Heart Rate Vs Perceived Exertion in Cyclists

In cycling there are several ways to gauge how hard you are working. The first and most common method is heart rate monitoring. The second, less common but just as effective, is perceived exertion. There is also a third called power monitoring but most cyclists do not have access to this kind of sophisticated equipment.

What many cyclists don’t know is that heart rate isn’t as accurate a gauge as many people would like to think. In this post we will discuss why this is so as well as why perceived exertion, in many instances, can actually prove to be a more accurate gauge.

Heart rate monitoring tells you just that, how fast your heart is pumping. If you take a sedentary person off of the couch, put them on a bike and tell them to go at a decent clip for five minutes, by the end their heart rate will have raised drastically, even though they may not be working that hard. On the other hand you can take a very fit athlete and have him pedal at 120 RPMs for five minutes at a decent resistance and his heart rate only increase slightly, even though he is putting forth a great effort. To overcome this discrepancy many elite cyclists prefer to use perceived exertion in conjunction with heart rate.

Level Effort

1 Very Light

2 Light

3 Moderate

4 Hard

5 Very Hard

6 Maximal

A common way to judge perceived exertion is by creating a chart using the numbers of perceived exertion. Each time you workout you want to give the session a number coinciding with an exertion level from the chart. It takes a few weeks of various exercises to get the feel of each level, but once you get a general idea the chart will become an invaluable training tool.

For example, when you write up your weekly training schedule instead of putting just 1 hour Tuesday, 5 hours Wednesday etc. you can put 1 hours Tuesday at level 4, 5 hours Wednesday at level 3. This method is a lot easier than monitoring heart rate but just as effective in training.