Are you using a heart rate monitor during your indoor cycling workout? It’s easy and convenient now, thanks to exercise bike models with sensors and various external devices available. However, it’s not enough to wear one while pedalling.

You should wear a heart rate monitor properly and charge it to ensure nearly accurate readings. More importantly, you should know your target heart rate zone and what it means to your cycling workout.

Here’s a guide to help you maximise this handy fitness accessory.

Know Your Target Heart Rate Zone

What are heart rate zones? These represent the exercise intensity based on your maximum heart rate.

Indoor cycling within a particular heart rate zone ensures that you make the most of your workout. It also lets you objectively balance body stress and recovery.

It’s a helpful guide to keep your body challenged without putting it at risk of overtraining, pain, or injury.

Here are the different heart rate zones, their max heart rate percentage, and suggested durations. The description of each zone follows.

1Active recovery0-68%N/A
2Endurance69-83%3+ hours
3Tempo84-94%20 minutes to 1 hour
4Threshold95-105%10-30 minutes
5VO2 maxMore than 106%3-8 minutes
  • Active recovery. This easy or quiet heart rate zone requires minimal indoor cycling pressure. You can still speak and breathe while pedalling. This level is best for warm-ups, cool-downs, and recovery rides.
  • Endurance. The light zone is ideal for extended cycling, endurance training, and muscle toning. You can still speak at this level, but your breathing may be slightly heavy.
  • Tempo. The moderate zone focuses on general fitness improvement, aerobic capacity build-up, and weight loss. Speaking and breathing are noticeably harder at this point.
  • Threshold. This heavy zone may feel slightly uncomfortable. It typically involves short intervals of work and recovery. Similar to Tempo, Threshold workouts are for general fitness and weight loss, only more intense.
  • VO2 max. The maximum zone is best for improving athletic performance, speed, or anaerobic capacity. Workouts at this level are usually short as they are tiring and hard to sustain for long.
Built-In Pulse Sensor of an Exercise Bike

Calculate Your Heart Rate Measurements

To use the heart rate zone table above, determine your maximum heart rate and other relevant metrics. You can do that by following these steps:

  1. Subtract your age from 220. For example, if you are age 35, the equation is 220 minus 35, giving you a 185 maximum heart rate.
  2. Determine your resting heart rate. This number represents your heartbeat per minute at rest, usually between 60 and 100. You can manually count or use a pulse monitor for this. For computation purposes, let’s say you got 80 beats per minute.
  3. Compute your heart rate reserve. Subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate (80 – 185 = 105).
  4. Identify your ideal heart rate for your chosen zone. Let’s say you can allocate 30 minutes of indoor cycling session today. That means a Tempo (Zone 3) workout at 84-94% max heart rate. To compute, multiply your heart rate reserve by 84-94%, then add your resting heart rate, or 105 x 0.84 + 80 = 168. Your monitor should show 168 beats per minute during your Zone 3 heart rate training.

Wear Your Heart Rate Tracker Properly

Proper wearing of heart rate monitors is essential for workout comfort and good tracking.

There are several devices to choose from for your indoor cycling. Here’s how to wear them the right way:

  • Built-in pulse sensors. These are silver metallic sensors you see on the handlebars of some exercise bikes. The sensors detect pulse signals through your hands, turning them into estimated heartbeats per minute. To use them, grab the metal sensors and cover them entirely with your hands. Make sure your hands are not too dry or wet.
  • Wrist wearable or smartwatch. This optical sensor monitors your heart rate through the skin. During exercise, wear it about two-finger distance away from the wrist bone. This position ensures the sensor stays in contact with your skin. Adjust the strap for a snug fit.
  • Chest strap. This electronic sensor is ideal for precise readings. Some find it slightly uncomfortable, especially during intense workouts or movements. To wear it, wrap the strap around your chest right-side up and below the breasts. The sensor should be at the centre. It should feel snug but not so tight that it interferes with proper breathing.
Woman Adjusting Her Chest Strap

Check the Battery Charge and Interference Sources

Your heart rate monitor should work without disruptions throughout your indoor cycling session.

So, before or after your workout, check its battery level.

If it’s running low, replace or charge it in time for your session.

Most monitoring devices have a light indicator or warning signal for low battery, though.

Still, it’s best to habitually check it yourself, especially if you often do long workouts.

Note potential sources of electromagnetic interference (EMI) as well.

Heart rate monitors typically react with other electronics, like wireless earphones or smartphones, affecting their operation and accuracy.

So, keep electronic devices at least 10 cm away from your heart rate monitoring device to avoid EMI issues.

If you work out with your smartphone, use a device holder or armband for it instead of holding it in your hand.

Practice Habits That Enhance Heart Rate Monitoring Accuracy

While a heart rate monitor boosts your indoor cycling workout efficacy, it is not 100% accurate. Several factors can affect this device.

So, aside from proper use, wearing, and zone training with your tracker, keep the following reminders in mind for more reliable readings:

  • Pay attention to your body and environment. Stress, caffeine, fatigue, hydration level, or hot weather can make your heart beat faster than usual. Exercising when tired or cold can lower your heart rate, too. So, adjust your exercise schedule or workout area when needed to ensure ideal workout conditions.
  • Keep your monitoring device clean. Dirt build-up can affect how the sensors function. So, before your workout, wipe down the built-in monitors of your exercise bike or wash the strap of your external device. Follow the cleaning instructions of your specific tracker.
  • Match your fitness tracker with your training intensity. Movements can potentially disrupt how your monitoring device captures pulse data. Although indoor cycling does not involve significant body actions, choose a chest strap for your intense sessions. On the other hand, wrist-worn trackers and built-in sensors are more suitable for steady-state indoor cycling.

You can also check the American Heart Association (AHA) for more helpful info.

Woman Indoor Cycling with Various Heart Rate Monitors

Final Thoughts

Indoor cycling with a heart rate monitor is an excellent combo for purposeful and effective workouts.

With heart rate monitoring, you can custom-fit your cycling programs based on your current fitness capacity and, in turn, gain optimum workout benefits.

So, follow the guidelines mentioned in this post to make the most of this fitness accessory.

Check out our list of top exercise bike accessories to learn how else to enhance your cycling sessions.

FAQs About Heart Rate Monitoring During Indoor Cycling

1. Are built-in sensors on exercise bikes better than external heart rate monitors?

External heart rate monitors are generally better than built-in pulse sensors in terms of accuracy and ease of use. However, the choice also depends on your workout type and preference. For example, a chest strap is better for intense exercises. Electrical-based trackers are ideal for more accurate readings. On the other hand, wrist-worn trackers that double as a smartwatch offer better value for money.

2. Is heart rate zone-based indoor cycling training good for weight loss?

Heart rate zone-based indoor cycling training is good for weight loss. Ideally, focus more on the Tempo and Threshold zone levels as these burn lots of calories. Also, cycling workouts within these zones are typically short. This aspect helps you stick to a consistent workout routine and avoid fatigue – both are crucial to weight loss success.