Finding Your Own Zone—Training Smarter Not Harder...

Having a heart rate monitor will make measuring your heart rate more convenient, may allow you to better record your training and help achieve more consistency in working out, but it should not fundamentally change your training. Just as it is important to take advantage of the information the heart rate monitor provides, it is equally crucial to keep in mind the inherent limitations of that information. Your heart rate monitor is a tool to help you fine-tune your workouts:

  • Remember the limitations of the age-predicted maximum heart rate formula. “220 minus (your age)” provides a good ballpark figure, but may vary by 10 to 12 beats (or more) in either direction. While some people’s true maximum heart rates will be close to that predicted by the formula, many individuals may have maximum heart rates substantially higher or lower than the equation predicts. Therefore, even though your heart rate monitor can help ensure you are within your calculated range, it is important to know whether this is an appropriate range for you. Using Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) in conjunction with your heart rate monitor can help you fine-tune your heart rate ranges appropriately. Borg’s RPE scale of 1 to 10 is widely used in conjunction with your HR monitor.
  • Be sure to use an appropriate range for training. Setting your heart rate monitor to beep every time your heart rate dips below 174 BPM or above 176 BPM will lead to a very frustrating session, with more time spent adjusting your speed than concentrating on getting a good workout. On the other hand, if you set the alarms at 55 percent and 85 percent of your age-predicted maximum heart rate, that range is so wide that you’re not likely to get a warning when you need it. One useful strategy is to think of the training range as being divided into easy (55 percent to 65 percent), moderate (65 percent to 75 percent) and challenging (75 percent to 85 percent) levels. Choose the intensity you want for a given workout, and set your heart rate monitor appropriately
  • Use your monitor for fine-tuning your heart rate ranges. When you first start using your heart rate monitor, train as you normally do and use the data you gather to help determine appropriate training ranges. Make notes about the heart rates you achieve during a “typical” workout and use this information (coupled with your perceived exertion) to help set your training heart rate ranges for future workouts
  • Listen to your body as well as your monitor. Many factors besides exercise intensity alone can affect heart rate. These include general health status, hydration and environmental factors. Be sure to modify your exercise regimen appropriately (and postpone it if you need to) in order to ensure a safe as well as effective workout. An exaggerated heart rate response to exercise, for example, could signal dehydration, heat stress, impending illness or over training. Be alert to these warning signs and adjust your workout accordingly.
  • Remember that heart rate is only an accurate indicator of aerobic exercise intensity. It can also be beneficial to wear your HR monitor during a circuit-training workout, although changes in heart rate during resistance training are not directly linked to exercise intensity as they are with aerobic exercise. The anaerobic systems do not depend on oxygen, so increasing the heart rate to increase oxygen delivery will not affect their performance but the HR monitor can still detect when your HR has recovered to a certain set number when you can start your second set.
  • Using a HR monitor to measure recovery rate. Start to take note how many beats per minute your HR goes down after 1 minute, 5, minutes and 10 minutes after your finish your training session. Do not include cool down or stretch, time measured should be at total rest
  • Use a HR monitor to find out your true resting plus first thing when you wake up in the morning. Take your heart rate for 5 mornings in a row to get a mean resting HR. Try not to do any thing too strenuous the night before so you can be as relaxed as possible when taking your heart rate.
  • HR monitors now come with a wide variety of functions including automatically detected Safe Training Zones with alarm functions, calorie expenditure, tracking calories and exercise time. There is also average HR, maximum HR, % of HR max, lap times with stop watch functions as well as complete PC compatibility for pre programming and post training analysis.
  • Your monitor can also be a relaxation device. Consider using your HR monitor during stretching or relaxing activities. Whether you use the HR beep for biofeedback or just to track your heart rate over time, the monitor can be a tool for helping you achieve deeper relaxation. Focus on taking deeper breathes during this time with complete exhalations.

A heart rate monitor will enhance your workout if used smartly, but a successful workout is more than a given heart rate achieved for a set period of time. Your heart rate monitor can help you maintain consistency in your workouts and allow you to document trends in your training, but it cannot take the place of good common sense and intelligent fitness planning. Understanding its benefits and limitations will help you use the heart rate monitor to your best advantage and help you achieve your fitness goals. Train Smarter not Harder!


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