Low-Tech Training Tools to Help Cyclists Get Faster

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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Low-Tech Training Tools to Help Cyclists Get Faster

Power meters, GPS computers, heart rate monitors and other cycling technology can be useful tools to fine-tune your training and work smarter instead of harder. On the downside, keeping up with the latest and greatest products can be expensive, and it can be easy to get too wrapped up in metrics instead of listening to your body.

Whether you’re on a budget or just want to take a few steps back from having your cycling workouts turn into a math equation, here’s how you can learn to train based on how you feel rather than relying on technology to simplify your cycling and still get faster in the process.

While it might be old-school for some, you can log your training on your computer at home or in a notebook. Start by jotting down your workouts and goals for the week, including your planned interval sessions, long rides, strength training and recovery days. Since you won’t have any heart rate or power metrics to study post-ride, also jot down how you felt during your ride and other notes that could be useful later when you need to make adjustments to your training plan.

If you’re going without a cycling computer, you won’t have maps or GPS to help you if you don’t know which road to turn on. While you can definitely use your smartphone in a pinch, you can also print out step-by-step directions for which roads to turn on before you leave the house. Tape these on your water bottle and you’re all set. You can also carry a map in your back pocket when you feel like exploring away from your predetermined route.

One of the trickiest parts of training without a power meter or heart rate monitor is knowing how to gauge your efforts and stay in the correct training zone. While it might be difficult at first if you aren’t used to it, perceived rate of exertion can still be an effective way of training.

You’ll need to get good at recognizing the intensity you need to be riding at and how to vary this intensity from ride to ride to accomplish workout goals without looking at a computer. Below is a basic guide to help you get started.

  • 10-Max Effort: This is the absolute hardest you can ride for the duration of your interval. These are sprinting-type efforts that can usually only be maintained for a short period of time, usually not more than 1 or 2 minutes.
  • 8/9-Sub Max: Interval sessions that end in failure, meaning you can’t ride any harder at the end of the interval, are usually ridden in the 8/9 perceived rate of exertion. These efforts usually last no longer than 5–10 minutes before a recovery period is needed.
  • 6/7-Lactate Threshold/Functional Threshold Power: Otherwise known as a time trial effort, is the maximum effort you can sustain for 1-hour on the bike. This is also the pace you would train at on long, sustained climbs or 40km time trials.
  • 4/5-Sweet Spot: These are your endurance sessions or your cruising speed. You’ll be tired by the end of the workout, but it is a pace you can sustain for 2 hours or more.
  • 2/3-Conversational Pace: At a 2–3 perceived rate of exertion, you can have a conversation during your ride without struggling for a breath. This is usually an ideal pace for extremely long rides or training rides when you should be recovering from the previous day’s effort.
  • 1-Recreation: This pace is as easy as you can go on the bike. Short rides around the neighborhood are examples of this minimal-type effort.

Knowing how to judge the type of fatigue you have on the bike is crucial to getting better and staying injury-free. During and after your rides, there are two types of fatigue you may experience. The first is the good type of fatigue, where your legs hurt and the efforts are difficult but you can still progress and finish your workouts as you normally would.

The second type of fatigue occurs when the body has been completely overworked. You may have a hard time completing an interval session or workout while you’re on the bike, and your body may feel exhausted the day after your ride, too. This is your body signaling the need for a break, and that rest may be needed instead of pushing on with your prescribed training plan.

However you choose to train, it’s best to always do what’s best for you. Just because your training partners choose to equip their bikes with power meters doesn’t mean you must. If you find you enjoy your rides more without heart rate monitors and computers and would rather just use a wrist watch for duration, it’s totally possible to get faster.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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