Wednesday, 10 June 2015

How to set up a Polar heart rate training plan


In preparation for the upcoming coast to coast to coast ride I am aiming to complete, I decided to use my Polar RC3 GPS training watch to set up a dedicated training program. Some might say that this is taking it too seriously, but as I've never ridden more than 100Km before, I think that preparation is key. Plus, when I ran the Great North Run in 2013 and 2014, I trained with the same monitor and a program and found it to be very beneficial.


This post is going to be fairly specific, as it applies to to a particular manufacturer of heart rate monitor (referred to as HRM). The principles will be the same, in that you ride specific durations at different intensities and (hopefully) your performance will improve.

With that being said, as I use a Polar HRM, my training program is set up on the free training website, (referred to as A compatible HRM will also be needed; Polar offer RCX5, RCX3 and RC3 GPS, F55, FT60 and FT80 models that are compatible with the various training programs.

Training Programs

To set up any kind of program, you need the following information:
  • Number of activities per week
  • Average duration
  • Average intensity 

For my needs, I was able to look back through my training history in and drill down into the relevant sessions. To do this, I either best-guess and jot the figures down or alternatively, head to the "Progress" tab of and see exactly what you have been up to. I use my HRM for every session, whether it's a cycle commute, a 5Km parkrun or a day out around a forest trail centre somewhere.

Determining your activity level

When in the progress tab, select "All Training Sessions":

Select "All Training Sessions"

Next, you must specify your training sessions. Here you will see that I have picked all of my road and commute cycling activities. I have also selected mountain biking, because despite that kind of riding is not typically relevant to the coast to coast, the rides I have done this year have been more cross country.

Defining which activities are to be scrutinised

Now that the correct activity type has selected, it's time to refine the dates. I decided to start at the beginning of 2015 up until the present day (it was a couple of weeks ago that I set up this program). As you need the figures per week, use the drop down to group by week.

Selecting time period, and seeing total sessions and total duration, as well as sessions and duration per week

From this view, you can now see your average sessions per week (blue) and average weekly duration (orange). The next figure you will need is intensity. This is a tricky figure to see with the information has stored. One way is to select "training load" from the available curves and see how strenuous the weeks' activities were. Training load is a value Polar calculate based on a number of factors including age, weight, time spent in specific zones etc. The other method, less likely to lead to confusion, is to wait for the training program questions as they offer more descriptive answers to how intense your activities were.

The higher the black peaks, the harder you worked that week

Setting up the program

Now you have all of the required information, the next step is to move to the training programs tab in and select the required program.

Select the type of program you require

Endurance programs are programs that gradually ramp up the intensity every 4 weeks and are designed to improve your endurance, unsurprisingly. The cycling programs (highlighted in green above) are for dedicated events in the future. When the sessions have been completed, the program ends too.

As always, there is a disclaimer so that you are responsible for your own health and not Polar. Tick the box and sign your life away! This is why checking the historical data described above is necessary.

The steps shown above should ensure that the questions are accurately answered

The next step is to enter the figures we found earlier:

The intensity question is easier to answer at this stage. Training load should have jogged your memory

The figures highlighted in blue are pulled in from your profile, which should be kept up to date. Some watches, such as the RC3 GPS, have a feature called "fitness test". This results in the Polar equivalent to VO2 Max, which is an indication of how many millilitres of oxygen your body is able to transport and use per each kilogram of your body weight in one minute. Resting heart rate is easy to determine with your HRM - just put it on and sit or lie down without moving for five minutes.

The next step is to determine your target. I found the descriptions are a bit vague, but the date should be set in stone.

Select your event target and set the date

For clarity, I set up a one-day event program, recorded the sessions and then deleted it, and then set up a stage event. As I'm riding over 180Km on two consecutive days, I anticipated that a stage event would be preferred. However, there was no discernible difference in the program details, (as shown in the table below), so I decided to follow the stage program.

Program typeOne-day eventStage event
Program duration6 weeks
6 weeks
Weekly training sessions4-54-5
Event date04/07/201504/07/2015
Program end date04/07/201504/07/2015
DescriptionThis training program is for preparing for a 180 km ride. The training program is specifically designed for cycling and includes instructions to build up your aerobic condition. The training sessions also include instructions for cadence. Cadence is the speed at which you turn the cranks, measured in revolutions per minute (rpm). Cadence can be measured with a Polar Cadence Sensor, although this is not mandatory for completing the program.This training program is to prepare for a stage event of 4-7 days with a 150 km ride per day. The training program is specifically designed for cycling and includes instructions to prepare for participating and finishing strongly. The training sessions also include instructions for cadence. Cadence is the speed at which you turn the cranks, measured in revolutions per minute (rpm). Cadence can be measured with a Polar Cadence Sensor, although this is not mandatory for completing the program.
Number of sessions2727
Types of sessions
Easy ride - 6
Uphill intervals - 5
Spinning intervals - 6
Long ride - 5
Interval ride - 5
Rest days - 14
Easy ride - 6
Uphill intervals - 5
Spinning intervals - 6
Long ride - 5
Interval ride - 5
Rest days - 14

When you have set the date and type of event, you are presented with a summary. At this point you can still go back to amend the program.

The event date is set and the number of weekly sessions correspond to your previous weekly demand

When the training program is confirmed, the following message is displayed:

Congratulations on successfully creating a training plan!

The finished program

You can now head to the training tab in to see the training sessions in the diary view. Now is a good opportunity to drag and drop any sessions around the calendar to suit your schedule. It is a good idea to try and keep the sessions as the program has set out, with rest days in place. I found that I would prefer to do my longer rides on a Saturday or Sunday, so a little bit of tweaking may be required, You will see the event on the pre-set day. You can now synchronise the program to the watch.

A daunting-looking schedule

Training load

As I briefly mentioned above, Polar estimate how your training sessions will stack up, affecting your ability to perform, Clicking on to the training load tab will bring up your scheduled training load, which is a good indication of how the program ramps up and tapers towards the event date.

Grey bars show the tapering of the program towards the event date

The red bars are actual sessions - where the corresponding red curve rests in the horizontal coloured bands tells you how you should proceed. Above you can see a big effort at the far left, which left me in yellow - this means I need to take it easy and not over do things. The following spike leaves takes me into red again, but I then rested and found myself in green, meaning I'm recovered and ready to get stuck into the program. Training load can be really useful in monitoring performance.

The sessions

Below you will see the entire stage event training schedule and some examples of the different types of sessions.

Entire schedule
Example session - easy ride
Example session - uphill intervals
Example session - spinning intervals
Example session - long ride
Example session - interval ride

Notice all sessions contain detailed information in the training notes. These instructions are what needs to be carefully followed to get the best out of the session.


If you have made it to here, thank you for sticking with me! I hope you found this post if you are contemplating on setting up a HRM training program for the first time or coming back to it after a while away.

In the coming days and weeks, I'll be posting about my progess.

Have you ever trained using heart rate programs before? Let's hear your thoughts, comments and experiences in the comments below.

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