Q: What are some of the benefits of heart rate training and what devices do you recommend (strap or watch) ~ Brenda
A: Heart-rate monitors are a valuable tool for training for performance and fitness. They give you instant biofeedback in the moment about how your body is responding to the workout, which allows you to train in the optimal zone based on the purpose of the workout.
It is also called effort-based training because it is all about tuning into your body, monitoring your heart rate, and adjusting the training load based on how your body feels and responds in the moment.
For example, if your training plan calls for an easy thirty minute run and you head out and run at what your normal easy run pace is, but it is significantly warmer outside. Running in the heat places more stress on the body and turns your normal easy run pace into a hard pace. Running hard on your easy days doesn’t allow your body time to recover from the harder workouts and eventually you can end up in a state of chronic fatigue where every workout is hard and you hit a plateau.
If however, you head out for the same thirty minute run at an easy effort and this time use a heart rate monitor, your heart rate will be elevated due to the heat and require you to slow down to stay in the easy effort zone. The instant heart rate information guides you like a coach in making sure you’re always training in the optimal zone on the given day. It guides you to running truly easy on your easy days, and pushes you on your hard days.
Track your progress
Tracking your resting heart rate regularly is a great way to see your progress and setbacks. As you gain fitness, your resting heart rate will lower as the heart gets stronger. If you begin to see elevated resting heart rates (higher than your normal), it can mean you’re over training and need some rest or on the edge of getting sick. It’s best to measure your resting heart rate at the most restful time of the day. For many, this is first thing in the morning.
One of the greatest benefits of heart rate training is the motivation it provides when you are able to run or perform your favorite sport at faster speeds and with lower heart rates. You will see and feel the difference right before your eyes and it’s a game changer.
Chest straps vs. wrist-based trackers
There are two types of heart rate measuring devices, one that measures your heart rate with a chest strap, and the other measures it on your wrist. Although chest straps have been more accurate in the past, wrist-based heart rate monitors are improving in quality and accuracy.
Many chest strap monitors come with a sports watch to track your time, heart rate, speed, distance and more stats on the run. There are also chest straps like TICKR that are Bluetooth and ANT+ enabled and work with GPS devices, smartphones and over 50 iPhone and Android apps. All you need is the app and the TICKR to track your heart rate, duration, calories and more.
If you’re looking for more guidance with your heart rate monitor, consider the Pear Sports kit that comes with a heart rate monitor and app that provides a heart rate assessment and automatically calculates your optimal training zones for you. From there, you can use the coach workouts that will guide you based on your heart rate.
Wrist-based heart monitors can be found in devices like Apple’s Watch and Fitbit’s Charge. I’ve been testing these against my chest straps and although they are close, they are still a bit off from the accuracy of a chest strap. They can be good for measuring resting heart rates and an occasional heart rate during the day, but in my experience so far, they lag a little behind on the accuracy.
There are more opportunities than ever before to train using the benefits of heart rate training. Find a monitor that is best for your needs, set yourself up with a plan and you’ll be on your way to progress in a few short workouts.