As I get ready for the hardest ride I've ever done (the first day of the 2012 Arizona Bike MS 150 is 105 miles with significant climbing), I realized that just hopping on my bike and riding progressively longer distances might not be the best training regimen. Therefore, I decided I needed to get smarter about training so I can complete my first century.
I've always used a heart rate monitor during training (I've got an ancient Polar S210), but never with any specific targets or anything. Mostly I used to to get a feel for how many calories I burned. However, doing a little research online it became clear that I was barely scratching the surface in how I can use my HRM to help me get stronger and more fit. I kept hearing about Joe Friel and his approach to training with an HRM, so I bought his book, Total Heart Rate Training: Customize and Maximize Your Workout Using a Heart Rate Monitor.
I have learned a lot from reading this book. Most importantly, I learned that a lot of my training was good for burning calories and taking off weight, but probably not the best for improving my performance or making me a better cyclist. Now that's not to say there's no fitness benefit to just getting on your bike and riding, but if you only have a certain amount of time to ride and a certain amount of weeks to train for a specific event, you can tailor your workouts so they help get you better prepared.
With this book, I have found good estimate for my lactate threshhold (LT, which Joe maintains is the key measurement for training using an HRM) and can now use it to create workouts that improve my performance. This is all stuff that I had heard of but didn't fully understand. I'll give one example: in the book, Joe recommends doing cruise intervals (6 to 12 minutes with shorter recovery intervals) at just below your LT as a good way to improve your endurance. He states that going harder than this does not significantly increase the fitness benefit, but does require significantly longer to recover after the workout. I had never really thought about long intervals like these. My concept of intervals was going really hard for 30 to 60 seconds or so. While these are a type of interval that can be useful for some athletes, they really don't help someone just trying to ride long distances.
Anyway, this book is very in-depth, in some cases too in-depth (at least for me), and I am pretty sure it will pay off as I begin training in earnest for the Bike MS.