4 Reasons to Embrace Heart Rate training

4 Reasons to Embrace Heart Rate training

The beat goes on…

I thought it would be appropriate to do a bit of explanation about heart rate training.  I have thrown around phrases like ‘Zone 4’ and ‘max heart rate’ without really defining them or explaining why they are useful.

Heart rate training is using your heart rate as a measurement of effort.  When you are out running or biking you might have a training schedule and a training plan and instead of being based on pace or speed or perceived effort it will be based on heart rate.

Why is this useful?

  1. Heart rate is a relative measure of effort and fitness.

Your pace and perceived effort can change on a day by day basis as a natural outcome of your basic body cycles.  Heart rate allows you a way to measure effort independently of performance.

You will have days where you are sick or tired or jet-lagged and your pace and perceived effort will not be useful measurements when completing a planned workout.  Heart rate is going to be a more consistent measurement and therefore allow you to get the most out of your workouts regardless of your body cycles and circumstance.

  1. Heart rate measures effort consistently as you get older.

When I was younger I knew what my paces were for different workouts.  I knew my speed pace, my tempo pace and my long run pace.  I did not measure my heart rate.  As I’ve gotten older I can’t count on my pace being a consistent measurement, but regardless of the pace, my heart rate is going to be a more true measurement of effort.

I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even have pace displayed on my Garmin.  Pace is a distraction for me now.  All I really need to know is that I am executing the workout in the best effort level zone to maximize benefit.  Pace will follow, whatever it is.

  1. Heart rate training allows you to find zone 2.

There are 5 heart rate zones and most of us only use one or two of them.  I would never have discovered the benefit of training at a low heart rate level if I hadn’t started measuring it.  Most of the ‘normal pace’ training runs that you do are in zone 3.  By measuring heart rate I was able to slow it down and practice running efficiently at a low effort level.

This practice taught me things about my form and efficiency that I would have otherwise never learned.  It also built a new form of base fitness that allowed me to race much more efficiently.  It’s hard work to run slow well.  Unless you use heart rate you can’t get there.

  1. Heart rate training helps you to focus on your mechanics and form.

When you know that you are in the appropriate effort zone, based on heart rate, you can stop worrying about pace and focus on your mechanics.  You learn how to hold the effort level steady while improving the turnover, form and efficiency. This, in turn, quickens the pace.

If you focused on pace you would have to back into the form and efficiency.  By using heart rate you can build form and efficiency first then ratchet up to get the speed you need.

Hope that helps.

About Chris Russell

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Chris Russell lives and trains in suburban Massachusetts with his family and Border collie Buddy.  Chris is the author of “The Mid-Packer’s Lament”, and “The Mid-Packer’s Guide to the Galaxy”, short stories on running, racing, and the human comedy of the mid-pack.  Chris writes the Runnerati Blog at www.runnerati.com.  Chris’ Podcast, RunRunLive is available on iTunes and at www.runrunlive.com. Chris also writes for CoolRunning.com (Active.com) and is a member of the Squannacook River Runners and the Goon Squad.

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  • Paula Kiger

    Reply Reply January 4, 2013

    GREAT explanation and I completely agree, “It’s hard work to run slow well.” I just forwarded this to a Daily Mile acquaintance who asked for help on HR training so this’ll be a fantastic addition to his readings I think.

  • Bill

    Reply Reply January 4, 2013

    Interesting, but what are the 5 zones in terms of HR?

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