Unicycling and heart rate

I’ve seen this issue talked about in a couple old threads but wanted to bring it up again. I recently got a heart monitor and connected it with Strava to see what information it could give me about my unicycle rides. I wanted to compare differences over time, I wondered how my rides alone compared to rides with other people, and I wanted to see the effects of different strategies I employ. For example, there’s a ride that I do that has a climb I cannot complete without stopping to rest. Sometimes I walk through the steeper parts when I need to catch my breath and sometimes I stop completely and wait until I catch my breath to go on. I’m not sure which method is better in terms of conditioning.

At 44, my maximum heart rate (MHR) using the simplest formula (220-Age) is 176 (and is not much different for the other formulas I found). I’ve used the monitor on a week’s worth of rides. I would say that I’m in average shape. I ride 6-7 days a week mixing more intense muni rides with easier road rides, sports, and other practice. On my last muni ride during a long climb I rode at MHR or higher for about four and a half minutes. On a particularly steep climb I made it ten points past MHR (186). At that point I had to stop to rest even though I was not at the top. Does this mean I should consider 186 to be my MHR? Has anyone else been using a heart monitor while unicycling and can share their experience? I’m particularly interested how it compares to cycling vs. running. My sense is that the profile of muni is more like running than cycling.

In races I sometimes go over my MHR on steep hills. HMR does not say, that your heart is not able to pump faster, but it’s the point where you should normally stop.
That said, the nearer it comes to my MHR, the less I can concentrate myself and the more I UPD.

Highly dependent on where you’re riding, and your experience level. Muni used to be hard, but I can ride very comfortably offroad for miles without ever taking a break. You just get more efficient.

I don’t really focus on heart rate… I just ride just under as hard as I can usually. : )

Very surprising that you are not in far above average shape with he amount and types of riding you describe. :thinking:

Some people tend to be modest.

Unicycling is a fantastic way to get and stay fit. If a person is riding almost 7 days a week at even moderate intensity, you are going to be in better shape than the average person. Nothing wrong with touting the great benefits of the sport, and being proud of the result. It’s a great way to promote the sport and inspire others to take it up. Most of the uni community are walking billboards for the sport that we love. :slight_smile:

Well, I should probably have clarified that but that’s kind of my point for originally posting. I’m not sure what’s average for the community of unicyclists. I wasn’t thinking in terms of the whole population but more compared to the people I see on trails and other unicyclists I’ve ridden with which is more fit group to start with. I’m a good 15-20 pounds overweight and am usually the lagger in group rides. I’ve made progress since last Unicon and CA Muni Weekend 2014 but I’m still well in the last third of those groupings. I finished 6th in my age group in Muni Downhill Beginner Muni at Unicon 17 (although I was riding a freewheel unicycle). There are climbs on regular rides that I cannot do (even on a 24" wheel) and I figure there’s plenty of room for improvement.



MHR is just that: it’s the max that YOUR heart can pump. Note that while there is the 220 minus age formula, this is only the average and it can vary a lot: e.g. my brother in law has a max of about 220 and he’s 35! Basically, you will (probably) never actually see your MHR; it’s the theoretical limit, i.e. maximum. There’s a grueling test that athletes sometimes do, but it you have to be well-rested and on your best day, and then you push yourself so hard that you almost puke… But this isn’t so important to get it exact.

Yes, or rather, that your MHR is at least 186.

Well, I haven’t been using mine for unicycling so I can’t really comment there, but I trained for many years for both cycling and running with a HRM. In general, your heart rate while running is a fair bit higher than for cycling. Supposedly this is because in running you use a larger number of muscles as well as also have to support your full body weight. Using this same reasoning, then unicycling should be in between but probably closer to running: you use more muscles than bicylcing (stomach, back, shoulders, hips) and maybe even more than running, plus you have to support more of you weight than cycling as you don’t put as much weight on either the seat or handlebars as when cycling.

If you’re really interesting in training well with a HRM, the really important number is you lactic threshold or anaerobic threshold (mostly cited as “AT”). This is the level below which your body is primarily operating in an aerobic manner (i.e. burning energy that can be replenished as long as you have and/or continue to receive food and oxygen and the energy is released from both and it “long-term replenishable”, meaning you can go for many hours, e.g. a marathon) and above which is primarily anaerobic (without oxygen) meaning that you are using other short-term energy sources that also result in biproducts (lactic acid) that then have to be removed from your system by the body and limit your work afterwards. Within minutes above your AT, lactic acid builds up in your system and greatly reduces your potential: e.g. jelly-legs. Plus these energy sources are depleted in minutes and then take hours or days to rebuild. Think of a 100m dash and why you cannot sustain this pace for 10km or more: in running the 100m dash at full speed you are almost fully anaerobic so it is unsustainable. Running a 10K or a marathon is a totally different thing as it must be done predominantly aerobically (or else you won’t even finish).

Note that AT is also sport-specific: e.g. is usually a little higher for running than cycling as well as being higher for sports in which you train a lot (as your body adapts from training to be better at that sport).

There are a few lab/studio-type tests to determine you AT-Threshold and a few formulas, although these are very dependent on your level of training. A few years ago when I was around 30, I had a MHR of low 190s and an AT-threshold for cycling of 165, an AT for running of about 170. My most significant measure for my workout intensity as well as needed rest for the following days was: Training time over AT: for an aerobic workout I would have 0-1 minute over AT; a moderate workout 1-5 minutes over AT; and >10 minutes over AT meant that I was totally worked and would need 1-3 rest and recovery days.

You can also roughly estimate your AT by yourself while training with a HRM, as it corresponds to the max HR level at which you can still comfortable hold a conversation (as above this you are literally using all the oxygen you can get and don’t have any extra for talking).

The other huge training indicator (of both your general fitness as well as overtraining/recovery) is resting pulse: 1) the lower your resting pulse, especially in ratio to your max, the more fit you are (my brother-in-law has a low-40s resting pulse and a max of 220: that’s some range!), 2) an elevated resting pulse indicates that your body is stressed and/or recovering from hard training. I measured my resting HR every morning upon waking and tracked it for about 5 years. I could tell just from this number how well I would do in a race that day: i.e. if my HR was sub-40 I knew I was fit AND rested and could do anything; if my resting HR was high 40s or (oh no! >50) then I was going to get dropped and should take it easy.

Of course, resting HR also really helps to prevent overtraining.

OK, that’s probably more than you wanted…

It’s because the heart is pumping blood vertically.

For reference, I’m 54, slightly overweight (200, I should probably be 180), and moderately athletic; also the slow guy when I ride with others, but they’re all in their 20s/30s. My peak HR in the gym is 185, rest is about 45. I haven’t tried a HRM while riding, but I’m sure I regularly spike near peak on climbs, and average, I’d guess, is in the 150s.

I’ve found my peak to be surprisingly consistant over the years. I can hit it by doing 3-4 1 min sprints at max pace, with 2 min intervals at a a lower pace between them. An exception was last week when I hit 201BPM! I hadn’t exercised in a couple of weeks which might have been a factor, but I felt the same as I always do, so I’m attributing it to a problem with the equipment until I see that happen again.

The hot thing to talk about in my gym these days is recover rate - how fast your HR drops when you stop exercising. I guess a minimum of 30bpm after a minute of rest is “healthy”; more is better. I’m right around there.

Were you coasting for most of the downhill? That’s pretty amazing what you’ve done with the freewheel, and being able to maintain balance on trails would seem many factors harder than on a smooth road. But as for your fitness level, I’m guessing that you are in much better shape than you were before taking up unicycling.

I don’t know for the OP but I found it very interesting. Thanks for sharing :slight_smile:

Such a lot of great information! Thanks! I bumped up my MHR and adjusted my “zones” accordingly.

Very interesting information! Thanks for posting! I’ll start paying attention to recovery rate, too.

The course was short but steep and bumpy without being too technical. I didn’t do any pure coasting but did maybe half of it brake-coasting. Mt Tremblant had some nice trails that were perfect for freewheeling (the circle ones) and it was fun to coast and brake-coast over such long stretches. I rode a freewheel down part of Mt Wilson at CA Muni Weekend but got two flats and ended up walking the last two thirds. I’m definitely in better shape since I’ve been unicycling.

I don’t have a monitor, but hopping up the stairs gets your HR pretty high. It’s a bit like skipping rope with the added weight of a uni, plus doing a double jump every so often. Skill does make a huge difference in how tiring it is, though, as you can eventually eliminate most of the small balancing hops and just do the bigger ones.

A lot of people have been saying that climbs peak their heartrate. While in many cases this is true, it depends on the climb, a short but steep effort may not have as large of an effect as a longer climb, because your body has to have time to react. Some of this comes from the heartrate monitor itself as in this picture from DC Rainmaker

+1 good info by MUCFreerider

Not quite sure if it’s been said, but it’s generally accepted that formula is only suitable for the sedentary - for those who exercise regularly the MHR drop off is far less than 1BMP per year. There are some far better formulae which take account of that for people who do a lot of exercise.

I’m 45 and would be surprised if my MHR wasn’t a lot higher than that - can still manage 170+ for an hour and haven’t lost that much top end (I’m nowhere near as aerobically fit as I was, but that’s another matter and down to lack of training rather than age).

Beautiful post. Some really good information.

I have seen more recently that though lactic acid appears as you start to get the nauseous feeling/jellylegs etc it doesn’t actually cause it.

Increased hyrdogen ions in the blood result in higher blood acidity and blood lactate appearing is a consequence of a method the body used to buffer the hydrogen ions.

So lactate is effectively a good thing as it is a by product of your body reducing your blood acidity, but you see if when you have acidic blood so it was thought to cause it.

All this talk about Maximum Heart Rate… I have a story about the other end of the scale.

Last year I went to the hospital with chest pains (I think I had badly strained my inter-costal muscles breathing hard on a Muni ride). I was tied to a heart monitor, and I was left to read a book while the staff went about their more urgent business. After a while the monitor started beeping. A nurse flew in to check me as I was happily catching up on my reading. But she checked the wiring, banged the monitor hard and asked if I was OK. Same thing happened again. After a few false alarms, they just left me and the beeping monitor. It appears that the alarm goes if your heart rate drops below 42bpm. With careful relaxation and breathing, I could get it down to about 38bpm.

“Don’t worry about the monitor, it’s just that fit unicycle guy!”


The only time I was on something like that when I was really fit my HR was running at ~70. I had to point out to them that whilst that might be “normal” on their charts, it was far from normal for me and I was quite ill (RHR ~40 at the time).