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heart zones cycling - the avid cyclist's guide to riding faster and farther. velopress 276pp softcover $19.95 amazon.co.uk 9.74


heart zones cycling

interesting how these things happen. i received a press release a few months ago from dave trendler at velopress about their then latest book 'training and racing with a power meter', by hunter allen and andrew coggan. i replied to dave that a book such as this would be well outside my experience and that of the post, since i was having a hard time using my heart rate monitor properly.

so a few weeks later 'heart zones cycling - the avid cyclist's guide to riding faster and farther' by sally edwards and sally reed and published by velopress, arrived through the post from boulder colorado. the authors are certainly well qualified in this field of information and writing - edwards is ceo of heart zones and reed appears to be one of their qualified trainers, so it seems that if you are serious about training to the tune of your hrm, then this may be the book for you. well, maybe.

this is not, however, the kind of book you read for half an hour before going to sleep at night, because it's quite heavy going - even more so when you're the kind of cyclist who goes out on the bike, well... because you like going out on the bike. this i have done for years and although summertime and the attendant increase in mileage has always had a positive effect on speed and fitness, it always tops out at around a 33kph average before descending into embarrassing numbers as the days get shorter and the weather less dependable.

this may well be the result of the onset of age, but it could also just as likely be because there is no structure whatsoever to the daily cycle. and if simply going out for a fast pedal with the lads is all you want to do, then go for it. but if you'd like to transcend that, structured training might be just what the doctor ordered.

oh, if only it were that simple. in much the same way that faces glaze over when i propound on the intricacies of cascading style sheets, many of the concepts in this book are somewhat alien to the previously recreational cyclist.(me)

in the interests of research, i attempted to integrate at least a part of the philosophy into my last few weeks of cycling to see if there was any substance to the contents of 'heart zones cycling'. you see, if you go to the relevant section of your local bookstore or amazon, you'll find endless numbers of books that exhort the efficacies of this diet or that diet, all purporting to be the only one for you. since sally edwards at least, has a vested interest in your submitting yourself to the care of her heart zones company and trainers, it seemed prudent to treat the book's content with at least a modest degree of circumspect. (certain parts of this book read like a commercial for heart zones - there are short bios of folks who have gone from bottom to top by allying themselves with heart zones and have now become this level or that level of trainer within the programme).

this sort of commercial evangelism may have less effect in the uk, since very few of us are likely to 'Invite a certified trainer from Heart Zones to lead a workshop, seminar, or event in your home town and we will invite you to do the same - to take a ride with Sally Edwards. however, this cannot and does not necessarily devalue the material contained within.

the training regimes are defined by periodization. this is further sub divided into macrocycles, meso cycles and microcycles, each being a subset of the previous. very basically, if i've understood this properly, if you will be training for an event in several months, that's your macrocycle. mesocycles are smaller parts of that defined by initial preparation, stage two preparation, event preparation and transition period between the first macrocycle and the next. yep, confused the heck out of me too, but lets see if i can simplify.

you're going to train for an event in twenty weeks (macrocycle) and you're going to spend six weeks gaining base fitness (mesocycle one) then six weeks training at a steady rate (mesocycle two) followed by eight weeks alternating between riding yourself senseless and backing off for a cream cake and an espresso every few days (mesocycle three).

just in case you thought you were almost there, these six week periods need to be broken down into just exactly what you're going to be doing each day of those six weeks at which point we arrive at the microcycle. it's all fairly logical in its own way but you can see how far removed we already are from 'i think i'll go for a blast out to ardbeg for some clootie dumpling'.

so where does the heart rate feature in all this. well, that's how you structure your training. you either figure out your maximum heart rate or your threshold heart rate (you'll have to read the book for this, i can see i'm losing readers already) then base each training run on a percentage of either. since i found it easier to discover my maximum heart rate (191bpm if you must know) this is what i have used for the basis of my attempt to follow the training information in the book.

training levels are split into five zones calculated on percentages of the maximum heart rate. for example zone one is 50 to 60 percent of maximum, in my case 95-114bpm (which is disturbingly hard to adhere to. at that level it's very likely i'd fall off my bike because i'm going so slowly). zone two is a little more practical (114-133) but hit a headwind or a steady incline and zone two is history.

reading further into this zoning system, it seems that i have been guilty of adhering to the upper zones too often at the expense of these lower zones. apparently each zone offers its own benefits which are not shared by the other zones - an hour at zone three is not worth two hours at zone two.

after this it just becomes more complicated. edwards and reed have made every effort to take the newbie by the hand through the whole process, but i'm not sure they've succeeded as well as they might. we've all seen movies that could have been shortened by an hour or so without affecting the outcome, and while at 276 pages this book is not overly long, a bit less faff might have got us there sooner. the authors may well be aware of this since chapter four commences thus: after all the methodological, philosophical, goal-setting, commandment- pronouncing, in-your-head, off-the-bike conceptualizing in previous chapters... i want to get on the bike! unfortunately, they don't always take their own advice.

so how did the practical research go? i'm not sufficiently stupid to think that the few weeks that i spent attempting to incorporate as much of this training information as i could into my regular cycling were likely to turn me into michael rasmussen, but i was rather surprised by the modest improvement. i have tried to spend more hours or kilometres at lower heart rates, since every other ride was usually based on gaining the highest average speed for a given route. i find it very difficult to adhere to certain of the lower zones. yes, my polar can be set to beep loudly if i transgress the upper limit of my chosen zone, but sometimes things are just going so well that the beep gets ignored.

however, even though i cannot say i am a true convert, my average speed has indeed gone up by around 1.5kph consistently, something that has not occurred in previous years (and bear in mind that i'm not getting any younger). i also have no desire or opportunity to compete at anything above fun level.

there are a few bits of this book that i did not get on with, but i think that may just be a culture thing. it worries me greatly that certain training zone rides are named 'turtle rock' and 'sign here, press hard'. we ain't that kind of dude in velo club d'ardbeg.

i think also a personal trainer would make all the difference, and i think that's what niggles me about the book - there's enough information to take the keen cyclist to several levels above their current state, but it would all be a lot easier with a trainer to hand. and that might just be what the sallys had in mind, bearing in mind they are admirably placed to satisfy this need. still, if you're persistent and methodical about your training, this could be a very handy manual to have in the musette.

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this website is named after graeme obree's championship winning 'old faithful' built using bits from a defunct washing machine

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as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.

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