How to Run with a Heart Rate Monitor
When I joined Team USA Minnesota, I was surprised to learn that coach Barker had a lot of his athletes training using a heart rate monitor. To tell you the truth, at first I did not buy into the heart rate training system.
I often found the pace I thought I should be running, and the pace my heart rate monitor told me I should be running, did not correlate with one another. I was either running to slow on my tempo runs or too fast on my easy days. I was often frustrated and decided to ditch the heart rate monitor and go it alone.
Over the course of a year and a half I had less than stellar results.
Once I finally bought into the system and trained 100% off of heart rate, my training and racing started to change. My easy runs started becoming super easy; running at 8:30 pace for an easy 10 mile run was not uncommon.
As my easy runs became easier my speed and tempo runs started getting faster. Suddenly I was running paces I never thought possible. I attribute this to allowing my body to fully recover between workouts.
After a full year of training with a heart rate monitor, I had my most successful year of racing! I won the US Half Marathon Championship in a new half-marathon PR of 61:54, a 12th place finish at The Boston Marathon (a PR of 2:13) and won the USATF athlete of the year.
While your results will vary, I think everyone, from elites to beginners, can benefit from heart rate monitor training.
What is Heart Rate Monitor Training?
Training with a heart rate monitor can be a useful tool. The basics behind this type of training is that you disregard what pace you are running, and focus on keeping your heart rate between a set range.
These ranges are known as training zones, based off percentages of your heart rate reserve (see below for how to calculate your heart rate reserve). The benefits of training with a heart rate monitor is that you will get a better picture of what your actual effort is during a given training run.
Who Might Benefit?
Everyone has the potential to benefit from training with a heart rate monitor. The biggest benefit to training by heart rate is avoiding the dreaded gray area of training; where you are not running hard enough for the run to be considered a workout, but not slow enough to allow your body to recover.
The important thing to keep in mind when training by heart rate, is to use it more as a guide to your training paces. Heart rate naturally fluctuates, depending on:
There will be days you might be higher than your prescribed training zones. Since your heart rate fluctuates on a day by day basis, I tell the athletes I work with that if they are feeling really strong during a given workout but their heart rate is not lining up with the given effort, feel free to keep going at that pace.
How do you Set it Up?
Here are a couple of things that you will need to know before you can start training by heart rate. You will need to find your max heart rate and resting heart rate.
The best time to find your resting heart rate is when you first wake up in the morning. I recommend on a weekend when you are not woken up by an alarm clock. Simply lay in bed, take your pulse, and count the number of beats for an entire minute.
There are several ways to find your max heart rate. You can go the ultra scientific route and get a V02max test, or you can do it the old fashion way. I prefer the old fashion way, which is simply wearing a heart rate monitor and running a 5k race as fast as you can.
The added benefit of being in a race atmosphere, will allow you to push a little harder than what you would typically be able to do during a stand alone time trial. The highest heart rate that you hit during your 5k will be your max heart rate.
Calculating your Target Heart Rate Training Zones
Now that you have both your max heart rate and resting heart rate, it is time to do a little math to figure out your proper training zones. I use the Karvonen formula also known as heart rate reserve to calculate training zones.
To Calculate your Heart Rate Reserve
Take your max heart rate and subtract your resting heart rate. This will give you your heart rate reserve. For example:
190 (max Heart Rate) – 50 (resting heart rate) = 140 (heart rate reserve)
To Find Training Zones
Take your heart rate reserve multiplied by your desired training zone percentile and add your resting heart rate. For example, to find the zone you should be running your tempos runs at;
140 (heart rate reserve) X 70%(training zone percentile) + 50 (resting heart rate)= 155 bpm
Below you will find the breakdown of each training zone that is recommend based off of your heart rate reserve.
- Recovery Zone – 40-60% this would be any of your easy runs and active recovery type running
- Sub Threshold – 60-70% marathon pace
- Aerobic Zone – 70-80% tempo runs or steady state running
- Anaerobic Zone – 80-90% speed work or fast hill running
- Racing Zone – 90% and up would be a race type effort and should only be used for a small portion of your training.
Best gear for Heart rate Training
The great part about training by heart rate is that there is not a lot of gear required. The initial investment can be relatively inexpensive. Depending on the type of heart rate monitor you buy, they range from $35 all the way up to $300 and more. This will depend on how many bells and whistles you are looking for.
The heart rate monitors that come with a GPS such as the Garmin brand are going to run a little more than just a standalone heart rate monitor and watch.
When I was training by heart rate I bought mine for $40. This was just a heart rate monitor and stopwatch. I found that by not investing in a GPS watch with the heart rate monitor, I was able to focus more on what my heart rate was opposed to how fast I was running.
Your Heart Rate Experience
Most runners are surprised by how simple heart rate training is once you set it up. By keeping you in the right intensity level, you’ll maximize your training, and possibly hit those goals you’ve be struggling to reach. It can be hard to go back to the days of just running by feel.
I would love to chat more if you have specific questions about this.
What are your experiences with training by heart rate?