Train Properly with a Heart Rate Monitor, by Jacquie Barry

Train Properly with a Heart Rate Monitor

Using a Heart Rate Monitor takes the guesswork out of your runs. A heart rate monitor not only gives you permission to run slower, but also tells you when you are not running hard enough. Runners - it's time to banish that old belief “training faster is better;” get rid of the guilt when your training run wasn't quite as fast as what you would have liked. What we now know is that to reach your running goals you must train at the right intensity. To enable us to train at the right intensity, we need to know what our heart rate is and follow a proper training program with a mix of speed or interval workouts, tempo runs, recovery runs and longer runs all done in your target heart rate zone. How do we know what our target heart rate zone is? Well since it is directly related to your maximum heart rate, first, we need to have a look at determining your maximum heart rate.

The first, most important piece of the puzzle, is finding your maximum heart rate. There are many schools of thought on this one and probably the one that we hear about most and that has been around for years is:

Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) = 220 – “your age” (for a 40 year old this would be 220 – 40 = 180, making 180 beats per minute your MHR)

However, Runner's World has developed a more reliable method, which seems to be more accurate for most runners. It is:

For runners under 40: MHR = 208 – (.7 x your age)
For runners 40 and over MHR = 205 – (.5 x your age)

You could also use the field test which is probably the most accurate indication of your MHR. Wearing a heart rate monitor, and making sure that you are well hydrated, first do a proper warm up run. Then at a track or a fairly steep hill run hard for 2-3 minutes. Repeat this 2 more times trying to push yourself harder each time. On the third and last repeat, push yourself like you are going for the gold. Immediately after the last repeat, check your heart rate and this number should be a good indication of your maximum heart rate.

With this information, you can now figure out what your target heart rate should be for your desired workout. The heart rate zones that you want to run in will be dependent on the intensity of the workout that you are trying to achieve. Familiar workouts and their target heart rate zones are:

Recovery, Long or Easy Runs65%-75%
Tempo runs87%-92%
Interval Repeats (shorter bursts of speed during your run)95%-100%

These are percentages of your MHR. You could also construct different target zones depending on the workout that you are trying to achieve.

A measurable advantage of training with a heart rate monitor is the ability to track your improvement. If you consistently run a 9 minute mile with an average heart rate of 145 beats per minute, as you improve, your heart rate will lower for that same 9 minute mile. So instead of training at a pace of 9 minutes per mile, instead you train at an average of 145 beats per minute. You will then constantly be working your aerobic ability and will eventually be training at a faster pace then a 9 minute mile

Another useful piece of information that your heart rate monitor can provide is your resting heart rate (RHR). This is much easier to figure out than your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). All you need to do is remember to leave your heart monitor on your night stand before you go to bed and then first thing in the morning, without moving around too much, put it on and you have your RHR. Do this for a week or so to get a good indication of your true RHR. As you monitor your RHR, you will probably see days that your heart rate is higher than normal. This can be a result of many things, one of which is over-training. This is useful information because then you would know to back off your workout and take a rest day or workout in your recovery zone instead of doing intervals or pushing yourself too hard.

For those that are new to heart monitors, it is a good idea to have an observation period, where you just monitor your runs, how you feel and what your heart rate is, also taking into consideration what your RHR was that morning. Pay attention to your body, set realistic goals and heart rate monitors can be the greatest asset to any athlete's training schedule.

Jacquie Barry is a successful freelance writer who has enjoyed running and triathlons for the past 20 years. Jacquie provides tips and advice for runners on topics such as Nike Sneakers, heart rate monitors, and running nutrition.