Heart rate monitor training provides a significant competitive edge to runners and cyclists by providing the feedback that allows them to craft training regimens that work effectively to increase stamina and speed. Monitors were once the exclusive province of only the highest echelon of professional athletes, but are now readily available offering many important features at a rate to suit any athlete’s budget.
No matter what level of runner or cyclist you are, monitoring your heart rate will help you improve your performance and provides a safety cushion so you do not over-train. There is a fine line between training at peak efficiency and training too much and monitoring helps you make the distinction. This may be especially important for beginners.
To make effective use of the device, it is first necessary for an athlete to determine his or her maximum heart rate. This is a constant figure that will only change with age. It cannot be increased through training and may vary greatly among individuals. Once you have determined your maximum rate, if you ever see a higher rate on your monitor, then you have incorrectly diagnosed your maximum heart rate and should supply the new figure into your equations.
How to Determine Maximum Heart Rate
You can determine your rate by personal testing, lab testing or by using a formula. The best method is to calculate your maximum heart rate (MHR) yourself. Try interval training on a hill by racing uphill and jogging back down for your resting interval. Repeat several times and you will probably be approaching your own maximum rate of heartbeats per minute. The figure may vary anywhere from 160 to well over 200 for some athletes. Professional lab testing will cost about $150 or more but may be advisable if you have been sedentary for a long period of time or have a heart condition because medical personnel will be available. You can also calculate your MHR using a formula where you subtracting your age from the number 220 for men or 226 for women. This formula only provides an approximation and updated information should be used when it becomes available.
The next step is to determine your resting heart rate (RHR). Strap on your heart monitor in the morning while in bed and lie calmly for several minutes and you will probably get an accurate number. Unlike MHR, your RHR should change as you train and become lower. This is because your circulatory system has become more efficient and the heart pumps more blood with each stroke.
Calculate Your Training Zones
If you do not calculate your training zones accurately, you won’t get the full benefits of heart monitoring. The numbers are easy to calculate or you can go to MarathonGuide.com Simple Heart Zones Calculator. Create a chart in 5% increments according to this formula: ((MHR-RHR) x Percent level) + RHR). This will give you heart rate numbers for different percentages of effort. For example, if your maximum heart rate is 200 and your rest rate is 70, your chart might look like this:
95% — 194
90% — 187
85% — 181
50% — 135
When your heart rate is 135, you are putting out a 50% effort. If you require an 85% effort, you must increase your heart rate to 181. Make a chart for all 5% intervals between 50% and 100%. Your MHR is 100% effort, at the top of the list. You should never train long at this level because it can be dangerous to your health, but can be used for short bursts of speed to win races.
Improve Your Cycling or Running with Monitoring
You should divide your training sessions into easy days and intense effort days to get the best results. Muscles need time to relax, rebuild and restore glycogen. Proper nutrition is also a key element of your training regimen. On easy days you should maintain a heart rate that is in the 60-70% range of maximum potential effort.
You will reach the aerobic zone when you train at the 70-80% level. Training at this level of capacity will improve your cardiovascular system and develop muscles and aerobic endurance. When you train in the 80-90% zone, you reach the anaerobic zone. At this level of training, your body ceases to burn fat and relies on glycogen from muscles. As the body metabolizes glycogen, lactic acid is produced.
Eventually you build up more lactic acid than your body can effectively handle and must drop back to an easier pace. The goal of training is to increase the amount of time your body can operate in the anaerobic zone. The red zone is 90-100% and should only be attempted by the most conditioned athletes. This is the zone that wins races with that final burst of speed for cyclists or runners. Your zones may vary from sport to sport.
Your monitor can record your rates and the time you spend in each zone and help you effectively develop a training regimen that takes all of the important factors into account. If training for an important race, you should make your plans to reach peak efficiency right at the time of the race. Early in the season you should train at a slower pace. As race day approaches, start to increase your level of lactic acid tolerance by training in the anaerobic zone.
Heart monitors should be used as a guide, but should not replace your instinct. It is necessary to challenge your system to achieve the best performance, but if maintaining a training level is too difficult, drop back and take longer to strengthen your capacity until you feel you are ready to meet the challenge. In each training zone there are subtle physiological changes that training in them provides, and it may be necessary to achieve results at a lower level before you can make a breakthrough.
When you are actually in a race, your monitor can be an important tool that allows you to attain breakthroughs in speed. You may reach a point where you feel you should drop back, but a quick look at the monitor may show you are safe, so you can continue. You may also find that you are capable of adding a burst of speed that will elevate your standing in the results.
Heart monitors are the only way you can chart your progress throughout an entire workout or race and get all the data to study from start to finish. Cardiovascular fitness is the most important factor in determining how fast you run or cycle, and developing your aerobic endurance is the key to strengthening your capability. Accurate monitoring lets you know when you must pull back for health and safety.
Choosing a Brand of Monitor
There are many brands and models from which to choose and they have an array of features that you may find beneficial for your training efforts. Most attach to the chest and send signals to a wristwatch. There are also some models that you wear on your finger like a ring. You can check out the best heart rate monitor in a variety of categories here on my site.
There are many features to look for when shopping for a monitor, but the essential function is the accuracy of the heartbeat monitoring. The size of the display is also significant since you must be able to read your results easily while cycling or running. You can find models with computer connectivity to download results for study or you can choose models that have greater memory capacity. Some models may estimate the calories you are burning and there are many other features from which to choose.