Most of the athletes I coach train and race with a Power Meter. For those that don't have a Power Meter- I coach by Heart Rate. Although as not as good a tool as a Power Meter, a Heart Rate Monitor is nonetheless a good tool, and DEFINITELY better than training by Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). In fact, if any athletes are still training by RPE..they're not training SMART. And, I will NOT coach anyone by RPE. I just don't believe in it.
I'm often asked which HR monitor is a good one to buy..and often my reply is "doesn't really matter" since most HR montitors pretty much offer the same features for the same price. That is- up until now. Timex just introduced a HR monitor with a USB data exchanger that allows you to upload your workouts into the FREE Training Peaks software which will allow you to log your workouts. More importantly, it will allow your coach to monitor your workouts and chart your Training Stress. Additionally, it will help your coach monitor your prescribed interval workouts- without being there..to see that they're being performed correctly. This HR Monitor is called the "Timex Ironman Race Trainer Kit". It retails for $200 and comes in two sizes- large and medium. Just make sure you get the kit that includes the USB data exchanger. And, the software works on both PC and Mac.
Before you buy/use the HR monitor you want to get performance tested using either a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) Test or a Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP) Test protocol. These tests are performed on the athletes own bike utilizing a cycling ergometer/power meter such as Racermate's Computrainer or Cycleops Power Beam Pro. An FTP test is nothing more than a 20 min. Time Trial which estimates your Lactate Threshold Power and LT Heart Rate. The MAP test is a ramp-up test where wattage is increased every minute until the athlete can no longer sustain the given wattage. The MAP test will estimate Lactate Threshold Power/Heart Rate as well as maximum Heart Rate. Regardless of which test you choose, each will provide data to establish your Heart Rate Training Zones. (BTW, I perform these tests w/ Todd Wiley Sports for $80) In addition to providing HR Training Zones, these tests give me (the coach) good baseline performance data on each athlete.
So, now what? You bought your Timex HR monitor and you've been tested. The next thing you need to do is to determine your goals/objectives. From there, your coach (if you have one) will be able to put you on an Annual Training Plan (ATP) to help you meet your goals/objectives.