Heart rate training isn’t a running fad. It’s an objective, reproducible way to gauge training sessions and view improvements. Training with a heart rate monitor for running isn’t too complicated, either. You just need to know some basics to get started.
As it turns out, your running watch comes with a heart rate monitor for a reason. Who would have thought? Unfortunately, it’s a piece of technology that is highly overlooked and stuffed away in some old gym bag or at the back of a sock drawer. I’m talking about your heart rate monitor (HRM).
Not to knock on the old-timers who have been at this running thing forever, but the as Bob Dylan once wrote, “the times, they are a-changin’.” These ‘fancy contraptions’ have tremendous benefit when used appropriately, keyword—appropriately.
Your heart is a magnificent machine, a super muscle. The heart is immune, thankfully, to lactic acid and hydrogen ions. The bad boys of the sport performance world that cause muscles to burn up and shut down during bouts of intense effort. This Clark Kent of a muscle shunts blood to muscles in dire need of oxygen to keep them operating. As you need more, it pumps harder. In fact your body is so elaborate it can divert blood away from undesirable areas, an ultimate sacrifice to your work horse, the legs. Monitoring your heart rate during exercise and at rest is important (keep reading).
Your heart rate can relay messages of over-training, over-reaching (short term over-training), and breakdown. It’s affected by heat, stress, drugs, and just about everything else under the sun… well including the sun, actually. The heart can be a direct indicator of how much effort you’re putting forth and be a source of direct feedback if you’re working too hard, too easy, or are in need of a rest day.
Your heart rate can relay messages of over-training, over-reaching (short term over-training), and breakdown.
Your heart rate (measured in beats per minute) has a maximum and minimum. The latter of the two can be affected with improving fitness, while maximum heart rate is a predetermined ceiling. It has actually been shown that a max heart rate diminish at the rate of roughly 1% a year.
Certain percentages, called heart rate zones, of the max number are associated with different effort levels. There are a few different ‘zone scales’ out there, but let’s use the widely used Zone 1-4 as a starter. See below for the zones and an example.
Heart Rate Max: 184
Endurance Zone 1: <75% – 138
Stamina: Zone 2: 75-80% – 138-156
Economy: Zone 3: 85-95% – 156-175
Speed: Zone 4: 95-100%- 175-184
Each zone is associated with different benefits in training and should occur at a particular time in your training. These zones, again, are based off a max heart rate. Determining your max is tricky and, quite frankly, can be dangerous. A quick Google search may tell you to subtract your age from 220 (220-age=Max HR); however, research has found this over utilized method to accurate roughly 50% of the time.
Your true max is the point where you’re completely maxed in effort. Graphically, your heart rate will refuse to climb. In fact, it might actually deflect downward as you struggle to sustain effort. We don’t suggest performing a max heart rate test unless medically supervised.
At this point, don’t worry about your zones. Instead, start playing statistician. Wear your HRM for your runs and observe the numbers and relate them back pace and perceived effort. You will become accustomed to what a specific heart rate feels like, as well as how your body reacts to external factors (temperature, terrain, etc). Spend a few weeks looking back at averages during intervals, recoveries, easy days, and hard days—doing so will allow you to track your progress in the future.
This is the single best way to show performance improvement, plateau, or decline. Performing two identical runs, in nearly identical conditions, should show a declining average heart rate if you are improving. Here are two examples to show improvement:
|Run 1: 5 miles
Avg HR: 156
|Run 2: 5 milesPace: 7:30/mile
Avg HR: 150
|Run 1: 3×1000 Repeats with 4 minutes rest1000 HR: 160Recovery HR: 1301000 HR: 165Recovery HR: 1351000 HR: 172Recovery HR: 140||Run 2: 3×1000 Repeats with 4 minutes rest1000 HR: 155Recovery HR: 1251000 HR: 160Recovery HR: 1301000 HR: 165Recovery HR: 135|
Workout 1 displays a decreased heart rate (effort) for the same velocity (pace), where workout 2 shows both decreased heart rate for the interval and rest period (improved recovery).
So for the next few weeks get used to the uncomfortable strap pasted to your chest. It can take some time, but know it’s worth it.
Second, start noting your resting heart rate each and every morning. Your resting heart rate can improve with increasing fitness. As the super muscle becomes stronger, it can pump more blood with every beat, which in turn lowers your heart rate. Resting heart is a number that can be an early indicator of overtraining or fatigue. After strenuous workouts or work days/weeks you will notice an upward deflection in your resting rate (even as slight as 2-3 beats). Slight deviations can be an early warning signal and an indication that a recovery day is needed.
[This graph shows resting heart rate over a 30 day period, the red lines are indications of the beginning of harder training efforts, lasting either a few days or a single workout (the last one). These are only spikes of 2-4 beats & are an early indication that some rest or recovery is in order.]
Download the Instant Heart Rate App (by Azumio), which will actually tell you your resting rate, all awhile storing it on your phone (NEAT..yeah I know!).
Start plotting your data and tracking your number, and yes, that means you may need to create a spreadsheet. If you’re truly an old timer, consider a legal pad.
Future posts will regard forming your heart rate zones and which each zone means… so for now.. happy statistician-ing!