Building Endurance With a Heart Rate Monitor


Before starting any exercise program consult your physician

If you are anything like us, when you go riding, you want to be able to ride as fast as you like for as long as you like. It’s what riding is all about, getting out and roosting. All too often we see riders who exhaust themselves long before the day is over. There may be many reasons for this, not enough sleep, no energy food before the ride, poor fitness level or even lifting too much heavy weights at the gym. The list goes on and on.

There are some things you can do to avoid early fatigue or blow-up. One good approach is to warm up before going at it full bore. Start slowly, give yourself 5 – 10 minutes to find your pace, then go out and rip. The worst thing you can do is get all excited, rush into your riding gear and go out as hard as you can for as long as you can. If you do this right out of the gate you’ll likely com back to the pits tired and exhausted. We call these riders “threefers” because they haul, but they are only good “fer” three laps, they have no endurance. Are you one of them?

Besides getting a good night of sleep, having food in your belly and a reasonable level of fitness you have something else going on inside your chest, your heart. When you exercise moderately, you are participating in “aerobic activity”. An effective aerobic exercise should involve 5-10 minutes of warming up at an intensity of 50-60% of maximum heart rate, followed by at least 20 minutes of exercise at an intensity of 70-80% of maximum heart rate, ending with 5-10 minutes of cooling down at an intensity of 50-60% of maximum heart rate. Your maximum heart rate is determined by subtracting your age from 220, thus a 30 year old would have a heart rate maximum of 190.

A bit of history on aerobic exercise, the term and the exercise method were developed by Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., an exercise physiologist of the U.S. Air Force. Dr. Cooper was puzzled about why some people with excellent muscular strength are still prone to poor performance at tasks such as long-distance running, swimming and bicycling. He began measuring systematic human performance using a bicycle ergo meter, and began measuring sustained performance in terms of the ability to utilize oxygen. Cooper’s data provided the scientific baseline for almost all modern aerobics programs, most of which are based on oxygen-consumption equivalency.

In order to stay within your maximum beat per minute range you will need a device to display your Heart Rate. We suggest using the Garmin Forerunner 301 because of the features it has that apply so well to off-road motorcycling. In addition to all the features typically available on a Heart Rate Monitor it has a large display, enabling you to read it when mounted to your bar pad.

It has a built-in GPS which, via satellite, allows you to record your laps (up to 5000). Plus it has an “auto pause” feature so it stops the lap timer when you slow to a certain (programmable) speed. All information is stored on the device which can then be downloaded to your computer. You can plan, analyze and store data from your workouts using the included Garmin Training Center software, which lets you store and analyze data with interactive graphs that chart your pace, time, distance and heart rate.

Another feature of note, you can overlay your route on a map to pinpoint specific areas and see how elevation and other factors affect your performance. Or, you can upload your data to, Garmin’s web-based application that provides in-depth analysis of your workouts, online mapping and route sharing
that will take your training to the next level. Endurance athletes can also use the Forerunner with, an easy-to-use web based training system designed to help athletes train for any event.

Having the ability to compare lap times with your HR for each lap is an eye opening training tool. For example, our test rider rode three laps as fast as he could, which put his Heart Rate through the roof, his average lap time, 1:50 but his max heart rate was 187 and he came back to the pits breathing heavily. As a comparison, he ran the same number of laps trying to keep his max heart rate to 175.

His lap times were slower, he averaged 1:55 but his breathing was less intense and he didn’t feel like he was going to burst. He also made less mistakes and was riding smoother. This kind of information and knowledge allows a rider to choose to ride at or near 100 percent without going past it. In this example our tester may be losing 5 seconds but he makes up heaps in his endurance. He would not be able to run 30 laps with a max HR of 185 but could easily do so with a max HR of 175.

Plus he would have a reserve for the end of the race if he needed to charge the last lap to gain a position. The trick is finding your max HR sweet spot. Each person has their own individual max BPM. Experiment by turning some laps to find it.

You’ve heard riders who, when interviewed after a race, talk about “riding their own race”. This is what they are referring to, riding where they are smoothest and making the least mistakes. It is riding at a level that is as close to 100% as you can get but leaving just a little for reserve, think of the story of the tortoise and the hare. When you ride at your maximum output, you dip into that reserve, leaving nothing left for times when you really need it.
If you do this, you will have a tendency to wear out quickly which leaves room for error, mistakes. Keeping a solid consistent pace will better enable you to run more consistent, fast laps.

If you race, chances are you want to win. As Will Farrell says in Talladega Nights “second place is the first loser”.


This chart shows our test riders’ average heart rate for 10 laps. We have also included his lap times. Consistency is the key to winning.