We have so many tools at our disposal to help us train, but one of the most useful ones is the heart rate monitor.
Knowing what your heart rate is, not only during training but throughout the day and when you’re at rest, can reveal a lot about your health and fitness. Your heart rate tells you if you’re working too hard, just right or not hard enough.
A typical heart rate monitor consists of a chest strap with a sensor and snap-on transmitter that sends the electrical signal from your heart to a receiver (mobile device or fitness device such as a GPS watch). Although wrist-mounted optical heart rate monitors are becoming more popular, the traditional chest-strap monitors are generally more accurate. The complexity of heart rate monitors varies too, ranging from simple ones (that only show your heart rate at a given time) to more elaborate versions (that also track time, calculate average and maximum heart rate for an exercise period, and alert you when you reach or exceed a pre-determined target heart zone).
Regardless of what type of heart rate monitor you use, here are four reasons why you should use one when training:
1. Provides you objective data to show how intensely (or not) you’re training.
One of the first things you will need to do when you start using a heart rate monitor is determine your max heart rate, resting heart rate and training zones. Each person’s numbers will differ depending on their age and fitness level. During any given workout, you typically target certain zones and fortunately, numbers don’t lie. If you’re supposed to work in a specific zone or keep your heart rate at a certain level, the numbers on your monitor will guide your efforts toward getting in the right target zone.
2. Gives you indications of possible overtraining.
If your heart rate is unusually high during an easy recovery run or in the morning when you get out of bed, it could be a sign that you’re overtraining and need to back off for a few days, or at least give yourself some additional recovery time.
3. Helps you prevent overtraining.
One of the temptations many runners fall prey to is running their “easy” runs too hard; but if you’re running with a heart rate monitor, you’ll be more likely to hold yourself back because you’re trying to stay within the right “recovery” zone. In short, the monitor will keep you in check so you don’t run faster than you should.
4. Develops improved self-awareness.
Knowing your specific zones and numbers can be incredibly insightful and help you become more in tune with your body. You’ll know when you’re having a good day or a bad day. You’ll be able to tell if something is off (for example, you’re trending toward overtraining). This self-awareness can take months to develop; but ultimately over the course of your training, you’ll be able to see how your fitness level is improving because your numbers and zones will change as your heart gets more efficient at pumping blood and oxygen throughout your body.
The heart rate monitor is a great training tool that will help you train smarter. It will give you direct, reliable feedback that enables you to measure your performance. You’ll have targets to aim for, recognizing that harder is not always better. Used in conjunction with other training tools and methods, such as your GPS watch and running by feel/perceived effort, the heart rate monitor can help you reach your fitness goals in a healthy way.