January 22, 2018

Why Train With Heart Rate Monitor?

Jarrett Pflieger

A heart rate monitor is a great tool that can make your training more efficient and increase performance, but many athletes out there haven’t taken the step to start using one. Heart rate monitors are easy to use, fairly inexpensive, and provide one of the largest bangs for your buck in terms of performance gains. Why so many continue to train without one is baffling, but hopefully this article will help some of you take that next step.

So why is a heart rate monitor so useful anyways? For one, it gives you a relatively accurate picture of what is going on in your body during training. You may think you are able to sustain a certain pace because you feel good, but a few minutes later you have to slow down or stop altogether. Heart rate monitors can prevent you from going out too hard and not finishing strong in training or races. On the other hand, they can also make sure you aren’t going too easy on yourself. Once you establish your personal heart rate training zones, you will know approximately what heart rate range you should try to sustain for different distances. Knowing your zones will help you pace yourself better, making your training more efficient and ensuring you give your all in races.

So how does one establish their heart rate zones? Well, each individual’s zones are different and vary from sport to sport (swim, bike, run, etc). That is why equations to determine your max heart rate like “220-age” are complete nonsense. There are some 50 year olds out there with higher heart rates than some 20 year olds. Max heart rate mostly depends on genetics. There are several methods to find your max heart rate in a sport.

Personally, I like to do a graded test where I start at a certain pace and keep increasing it every minute or so until I can’t go anymore. This gives a fairly accurate measure of your max heart rate, but it can also be very dangerous if you have any kind of health issues, some you may not even be aware of. The safest method would be to do the same test but stop short of maximum (8-9 out of 10 on the perceived exertion scale, 10 being absolute maximum). You can then estimate your max heart rate to be a few beats above that. Please consult a professional before performing a max heart rate test.

Once you know your max heart rate, you can then break it down into training zones. I like to use five zones, zone one being 50-60% of your max heart rate and zone five being 90-100% of your max heart rate. Then I experiment to see what my pace is at certain zones, and how long I can stay in the zones.

Another helpful number to know it your anaerobic threshold which is the point which your body produces more lactic acid than it can use, causing the burn in the muscles and eventual fatigue. This usually occurs around 65-95% max heart rate depending on the individual. The most successful athletes know what their AT is and can hold close to that pace throughout a race. Most of your training will be below this intensity, but it is still good to know. You can determine your AT by doing a 30-45 minute time trial since most athletes can sustain their AT for around that amount of time. Make sure the time trial is hard and you leave no juice in the tank. After the test, your average heart rate and average pace would be a good estimate of your AT.

Although you can’t really train to increase your max heart rate, you can train to increase your AT. When your AT increases, you are able to maintain a faster pace with less pain and fatigue. This, of course, translates into faster race times. Without a heart rate monitor, none of this type of training is available to you. It is best to not purely rely on the monitor, but also go from how your body is feeling. Once you can use the two in unison, you will be well on your way to setting new personal records.

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