Have you ever wondered why someone might want to use a heart rate monitor? Besides being stylish, what possible benefit could it provide?
Truthfully, there are both pluses and minuses to using heart rate monitors. For me, and I suspect most people, the true benefit is knowing whether I am dogging it or not. Some days it is harder then others to get yourself mentally ready to work out. On those days some intensities feel harder then they actually are, by using a heart rate monitor you can take the guess work out of the equation and see exactly how hard you are working.
Finding your Max Heart Rate
The key is to know what your max heart rate is. Then you can alter your training around it. There are many ways to “calculate” your maximum heart rate. There is the old 220 minus your age technique. But, I can tell you from personal experience that this is just a guess. One of my training partners is my age and weight and still regularly clocks 20-30bpm more then I do. So, one of the best ways is to go to the track wearing your heart rate monitor. After a nice warm up, go full out for a few minutes or kilometres . The key is to make sure you are pushing the limits. Now, use whatever the highest number your monitor records as your max.
Know your training zones
According to some experts there are different training zones. Fat burning zone ( doesn’t that sound nice ) is between 50 and 75 percent of your max. While aerobic is between 75 and 85. What’s over 85? Probably a trip to the emergency room…
Back to the zones, why is this important? Well mostly in the type of fuel that you burn. Despite what you might think, fat burning zone will not necessarily get you ripped. Instead your body stores fuel in two different sources, carbohydrates and fats. When working hard, the body will burn carbohydrates. This is all fine and dandy and works great for awhile, but the problem is that your body can only store so many carbohydrates. In fact, you are most likely to burn through all available carbohydrate fuel in the first hour or two. This is where you bonk. Now the flip side is to train easier (read go slower) and burn fat instead. Since our body store way more fat fuel then carbohydrate fuel, plus we are burning this fuel at a slower rate, we are able to keep going way longer on fat. The problem is knowing which fuel you are burning, the easiest way is to know your Beats per Minute (BPM).
Obviously fuel sources is much more complex then I am laying out and might be a good topic for me to post on in the future.
Besides the 3 key runs needed every week. Using a heart rate monitor can help you recover. Active recovery is where you actually use exercise to help the muscles recover and to flush toxins. The problem with active recovery, is that very few of us can swallow our ego for it and we end up training too hard. This is where a heart rate monitor can keep you honest. Paired with a smart phone or watch and you can set up alarms whenever you go OVER your recovery heart rate.
Gaging your effort
For long efforts it is always best to know you are not working too hard too soon. Without a heart rate monitor I find this difficult. Sure I can use a GPS watch to get my pace, but sometimes pace can be misleading. By using a watch, I know exactly what my efforts are and how long I can sustain them.
Know when it is time to get moving again
Whether you are into the HIIT workouts, or you like to hit the hills hard there are going to be times that you need a breather. That is totally fine, what isn’t fine is extending the rest too long. By monitoring your heart rate, the guessing is gone. For me, once I hit a certain BPM ( usually 120 ) I know it is time to get moving again.
In the end
I do recommend using a heart rate monitor. They are not that expensive and I think the pros outweigh the cons, if you have anything to add on the topic I would love to hear about it in the comments.