This is not a sales pitch. I am not trying to get you to buy a heart rate monitor. I wrote this long ago for a presentation I gave in front of a Running Room Learn to Run Clinic.
What Is a Heart Rate Monitor Good For?
1-Heart rate monitors are excellent biofeedback tools. Biofeedback is a technique where people are trained to gain voluntary control over certain physiological conditions such as muscle tension and heart rate.
2-Through biofeedback, heart rate monitors can help you learn to run with relaxed form. Here are some examples:
3-Squinting Eyes: an increase of 2 to 3 heart beats per minute (bpm). Lesson: Wear a hat and/or sunglasses and resist the urge to squint.
4-Tight fists: an increase of 2 to 3 bpm. Lesson: Relax your fists!
5-Tight shoulders: an increase of 2 to 3 bpm. Lesson: Relax them shoulders.
6-Shallow breathing: equals a higher heart rate. Lesson: Focus on deep belly breathing.
7-If your maximum heart rate is 200 bpm and you were to run with squinted eyes, tight fists and shoulders, it would amount to a total increase of 9 bpm or about 5%. That?s a LOT of wasted energy. Theoretically, 10% wasted over the course of a four-hour/240 minute marathon could cost a runner 12 minutes.
8-HR monitors are terrific training tools because they allow a runner to compare heart rate with the intensity of a workout and perceived effort, and then to evaluate these things over a period of time (e.g. from start to finish within a training program).
A Heart Rate Monitor is Like a Car RPM Gauge
9 – Think of your heart as an engine driving a car in terms of how energy is expended. A heart rate monitor will help you see this relationship:
10 – A sudden increase in speed will cause your heart rate to rise dramatically thereby also causing a spike in fuel consumption. In a distance run or race, this is not a good thing! Lesson: Go out slow and increase speed gradually.
11 – Once you have reached maximum speed, your heart rate will level off just like a car engine levels off once it is in cruise control. At that point, energy consumption decreases. Lesson: Try to run at a consistent effort and, or pace.
Other Factors Affecting Heart Rate and How Efficiently Your Body Can Run
12 – Poor hydration = an increase of up to 10 bpm. Lesson: Drink water!
13 – Drinking caffeinated beverages = an increase of 5 or more bpm. Lesson: Avoid caffeine for at least a couple of hours before running.
14 – Poor sleep = up to 10 bpm. Lesson: Rest well. If you have small children, you may have to medicate them!
Heart Rates & Training Zones
15-Resting heart rate is the number of beats per minute your heart produces when you are at a state of rest and is considered a good indicator of base fitness level. RHR can decrease with training and can be affected by: Stress, illness, overtraining, medication, time of day, food and drink (e.g. caffeine), altitude, temperature and hydration level. Lesson: Record RHR when you begin training and monitor it as you progress. When you notice your RHR rising, figure out why and react accordingly.
16-Maximum heart rate (MHR) is the highest number of beats your heart is capable of producing in a minute. To get the best use out of your heart rate monitor, you must know your MHR.
17-The formula for calculating maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age so, the MHR for a person who is 35 years of age is: 220 ? 35 = 185.
18-This formula is often highly inaccurate! In my case, if I took that formula as gold, I’d be under-training by 15 beats per minute! Lesson: Go to a professional or establish MHR yourself with some balls-out running – but be careful!
19-Once you know your MHR, you can set up a training program that tells you what range your heart rate should be in for any given run. This can help you make sure you are getting the most out of your workouts and not overtraining.
20 – Without further adu, the heart rate training zones are:
Zone 1: 50% to 60% of MHR (light intensity) for warm-ups & recover running
Zone 2: 60% to 70% (light to moderate intensity) for building endurance (e.g. the long slow run)
Zone 3: 70% to 85% (moderate to heavy intensity) to improve aerobic (V02 Max) fitness
Zone 4: 85% to 100% (heavy to maximal intensity) to improve anaerobic/lactate threshold (e.g. tempo runs and interval training)
21-Using a heart rate monitor will help you learn what these different training zones feel like and alert you from going outside a training zone boundary (i.e. running too fast) and over-training.
What to Look For in a Heart Rate Monitor
22-Sturdy construction. Make sure the plastic/rubber of the band and watch case are of very good quality. I?ve had good experience with Polar. Remember that you will sweat a lot when wearing these and sweat (especially mine!) can be hard on plastic.
23-Fabric chest straps are great! The plastic ones can crack, can be uncomfortable + some people find they move more causing signal interruption.
24-Some heart rate monitors cross-talk, which simply means that if there is another heart rate monitor nearby, you may get poor or even no readings. Lesson: Think about if this will be an issue before you buy one. Does someone you regularly train with use a monitor that will cross-talk with the model you are buying?
25-Look for one that displays and records average and maximum heart rate. Minimum heart rate is not so important.
26-For the ultimate training tool, consider getting one that measures speed and distance.
27-Something you might not read anywhere else but that I’ve learned from experience is that heart rate monitors can be affected by static electricity. Lesson: If your shirt has static on it, dampen it before you run, or your monitor may give erratic readings or may not read at all.
28-This website has some good information on heart rate monitors and heart rate training zones.
29-Make sure you buy your HRM from a reputable place with a good return policy. The Running Room is one place I recommend. I returned two monitors before I got one I was happy with. They took those returns with a smile.
30-Heart rate monitors are loads of fun! I?ve named mine ?Gretchen? (she’s shown below) and even though she?s a tough-as-nails coach, I love her.