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Top 5 metrics for improving cycling training and monitoring health

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

How to improve cycling power

Training hours are often the easiest part of being an athlete, at any level. Whether you are a full-time rider or a weekend warrior, training is normally your thing, you're raison d'etre. The other hours of the day and peripheral factors are often what we don't pay enough attention to. Metrics and daily readings are our method of recording and monitoring how our bodies are reacting and adapting to those fun hours spent training.

We've compiled our top 5 metrics that we believe can help improve your riding.

Resting heart rate

A valuable metric to not only determine your fitness level but also your cardiovascular health. It's the first thing they check when you go into a triage clinic, and for good reason!

Your resting heart rate gives a quick and easy way to capture where your health is comparable to a baseline. After strenuous sessions, your metabolism and heart are working harder than normal to repair and return your body to homeostasis and normal functioning.

A consequence of this can be an elevated RHR of 5-10 beats per minute above your normal baseline.

Monitor RHR on waking by taking a measurement and recording it in your training log to find a normal rested baseline. You can then use this baseline to identify impending sickness or incomplete recovery.

Aerobic coupling

Analysis of post-ride data allows us to see how our heart rate tracked that of our power.

Riding in our low-intensity aerobic zones we would expect to see power and heart rate become relatively aligned for a period of anything up to 3 hours. When the two significantly separate due to fatigue we say that it has 'decoupled'.

A simple method to find out how long you were coupled in a steady-state ride is to follow along your heart rate line and find the deflection point where it rises and does not return.

Training Peaks offer a decoupling feature which gives a ratio of PO-Hr and can be used to track improvements.

Aerobic coupling can be used as a performance metric to gauge how well trained your aerobic systems are.

It is important to remember that with all things heart rate, this metric is susceptible to inaccuracies from excessive heat and a lack of proper hydration.

Heart rate variability

If you haven't heard of HRV, you may be missing out on a powerful tool for predicting recovery from workouts, and day-to-day stresses of life.

HRV is the variation in time between beats of your heart, primarily taken at rest. Our hearts are not swiss watches they are way more precious and better timekeepers!

When our heart rate is at say 60bpm, it is not beating once per second as you may expect. Some are fractions of a second faster and some slower. This variation measured in milliseconds is then averaged out to give a figure we can track.

Heart rate variability. Athletic health

HRV is affected by a lot of what we do and consume but generally, this variation is lower when our body is in a state of repair and our parasympathetic nervous system is more dominant. And, conversely, it is higher when we are primed and ready and our sympathetic nervous system is more dominant.

The use of an optical pick-up like those found on a Garmin or Apple watch allows us to capture HRV, identify trends and interpret our training for refinements to our plan.


The risks to an athlete from a lack of hydration are huge, with the possibility of heat exhaustion and impaired cognitive function being the most severe.

Correct hydration maintains your blood volume high enough to allow circulation to go to your working muscles as well as keeping your skin cool while riding, so you don’t overheat.

In terms of performance, any reduction in blood volume will reduce not only the capacity to do work but also the force with which you can do it. The biggest single factor in maximal aerobic power (V02 Max) is your maximal cardiac output, which is directly affected by blood volume. In short, less blood means less oxygen to the muscles.

So, not keeping an eye on hydration is an amateur play!

Smartwatches and scales using bio-impedance methods are on the market and give a measure of hydration but I much prefer the good old 'morning pee' check. On waking in the morning is the best time to check as this is when you get a true reflection of your bodies state. The darker the pee - the less hydrated you are. The aim is for clear or only just yellowing urine.

If you regularly wake to find 'wee' like a pint of stout, or Dandelion and Burdock (for any Northerner readers), you possibly need to increase your water intake.

Urine colour checks - hydration science

Time in Slow Wave Sleep

Wrist-worn sleep monitors which record and breakdown our sleep cycles are a great metric provider for any serious athlete.

SWS is thought, by some investigators, to play an important role in the recovery of the brain as we sleep. No other sleep phase is believed to replenish to the same levels. It is of vital importance for athletes as this is the phase of sleep where our bodies produce most of our supply of growth hormones.

You may have noticed how well you sleep after a weight training session or a sprint workout? It’s no coincidence: your body is screaming for growth hormone to repair itself.

Sleep-deprived parents of newly-borns might benefit from weighted lunges before bed... unless it's their night on duty!

Keeping a close eye on your SWS metric will ensure you don't slide into a perpetual state of sleep deprivation which can halt your performance gains.

Make sure to train hard but recover harder!


If you would like our help at Elevation Coaching to formulate a progressive training plan to smash your goals and keep the fun in cycling get in touch at

We offer a range of bespoke plans ranging from £75.

Go straight to our homepage to learn more

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