How to track your cycling training and optimise your progress: a comparative analysis


Tracking your cycling training can be as intricate or straightforward as you want it to be. Whether you aim to ride your first 100km, hit a new personal best, or lose weight, the key is to systematically chart your progress. The complexity comes in choosing the right tools and methods to measure your performance and stay aligned with your goals. Let’s delve into the three most prevalent approaches: Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), Heart Rate Monitor, and Power Meter.

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

How it Works: RPE is the most rudimentary form of tracking. Riders evaluate their effort on a scale of 1 to 10 and adjust their intensity based on this self-perceived rating.

Pros: The most significant advantage of RPE is its cost-effectiveness— it’s free. It also adapts to the fluctuations in your physical and mental state, allowing for flexibility.

Cons: The subjective nature of RPE can be its Achilles’ heel. It relies heavily on self-assessment, which may be skewed by your mood or external factors.

Heart Rate Monitor

How it Works: Heart rate monitors are relatively straightforward. Worn on the body, they measure beats per minute (BPM), offering insights into the effort your body is expending.

Pros: They are affordable and offer a more precise quantification of your exertion than RPE. Monitoring your heart rate can also serve as an early warning sign for fatigue or illness.

Cons: External factors like temperature and stress can affect heart rate data. Moreover, heart rate monitors are less effective for tracking short intervals, as it takes time for the heart rate to adjust to the exertion levels.

Power Meter

How it Works: The power meter is considered the gold standard in tracking cycling efforts. It measures the force you’re generating in real time, offering immediate and accurate data. Knowing your power meter zones can help you hone in on specific areas of your training.

Pros: Power meters are highly accurate and provide immediate feedback, unaffected by environmental variables like weather. They also offer multiple metrics, such as Training Stress Score (TSS), helping you determine the required recovery time.

Cons: The biggest downside is the cost, often approaching £500-800 for a high-end dual-sided power meter. Learning to interpret the data can also have a steep learning curve.

The Verdict

  1. For Distance-Oriented Goals: RPE is a good starting point, especially if you’re new to cycling or don’t want to invest in gadgets initially.
  2. For Speed-Oriented Goals: Heart rate monitors provide an accessible and more precise way to track your training sessions, especially if you’re attempting to improve your speed over a set distance.
  3. For Weight Loss: Power meters offer a granular look into your performance, helping you effectively mix high and low-intensity sessions for optimal weight loss.

Choosing between these methods isn’t an either-or situation. Many professional cyclists use a combination to gain a more rounded understanding of their performance metrics.

In an age where “data is king,” it’s tempting to attribute all your progress to numbers on a screen. But remember, successful training is the sum of not just precise metrics but also consistent effort, mental fortitude, and an intelligently designed plan. The best method, ultimately, is the one that keeps you in the saddle, pushing towards your goals.

Subscribe to receive posts from