Using heart rate monitors

Can someone here tell me (or point me to a website/article that will) why and how you should use a heart rate monitoring in your running training? I see them get mentioned a bit on some running sites but I can't seem to find a dummies guide to using them for training...




  • Not for dummies but there is

    Heart rate training for compleat idiots by John L Parker jnr. - it suits me.
  • You can't just leave him dangling in the air like that sfh legs! At least explain briefly about the importance of knowing your proper max.

    (dig the pic btw)
  • best advice for using an HRM -

    find a nice dry drawer somewhere, lock the offending article inside and preferably lose the key.
  • Quite agree Achilles, run how you feel!
  • I tried an HR monitor and my heart rate was consistently up at danger levels, like 85% of my max even when I was jogging really slowly, and as I didn't keel over with severe palpitations I gave up the HR monitor and kept on running! Also they're massively uncomfortable round the chest and get all sweaty - ugh. When someone invents one that can be worn on the wrist without the chest strap that doesn't cost the earth, I may try again.....
  • This is too much. At this rate I may have to point Daniel to the Sean Fishpool's Guide to HR training in Simple English. (Parker's book is really easy to read too)

    I'm trying my best to stay in denial about the fact that two of the above dissenters have a sub3 marathon time and a prize for 2nd lady between them!
  • Noooooooooooooo Laura, don't mention that thread. (PS I can't manage a sub3 marathon but I'm prepared to have a go at a second lady.)
  • DanielB

    Don't be put off by all you see and read here. I have no problem with comfort and have found the HRM useful. BUT you could get misled quite easily. So my advice is start by training as you have done , wear the HRM and note what results you get. Only then begin to think about modifying training.

    FANY, I don't believ you're in any danger from what the little numbers are on your wrist, but if you feel faint/dizzy/suffer palpitations - best stop - but you would anyway eh?
  • I think I will wait a bit before I get one and if I do go to buy one I will try one out first to see if its something I would use.

  • Daniel, sorry maybe your question got lost in the For/Against camp debate there.

    For what it's worth, I've found training with an HRM really useful. When I got one I was running regularly, but without structure, and the hrm told me I was running practically all my runs at the same effort - the effort normally reserved for so called recovery days, or long slow runs.
    It was absolutely brilliant for mapping out the actual efforts spend during a run. I live in a hilly area, have no access to track etc so I run lots of different routes and my pace reflects that.

    During my first marathon training I used it to work out what my target marathon pace was as a % of my hr, and I used it to pace myself in my first marathon to good effect.

    I'm sure some people can achieve the same with only their stop watch, but it's certainly been well worthwhile for me personally. I would say you need to buy your own, establish your individual training zones, try it out for a few weeks on different runs to gather some 'base data'. Just using it once or twice is unlikely to tell you much of use.

    It's been said before but I'll say it again, it's imperative you work out what your personal max heart rate is and don't rely on the formulae which are notoriously inaccurate judging by the number of queries about this!

    You could get Parker's book that sfh legs recommended, and see whether you're convinced it would be a worthwhile buy or not.
  • Just like to raise two points:

    1. Anyone who dismisses HR based training is missing a fundamental oppurtunity to objectively train for (and achieve) long term performance goals - if used properly it works. Period.

    2. Laura is absolutely correct in stating that the first mistake most people make is to estimate max HR based on age adjusted formulae - this is a fundamental error resulting in subsequent inaccurate training zone calculation and wasted training time/effort. The most accurate method is the tried and tested maximal treadmill test - maximum heartrate recorded during the 2nd 3 minute effort will be close enough to your true max to be effective for subsequent calculation purposes.

  • I think Laura's summary is spot on, especially the part about gathering data about your own performance over a period of time. also I'll admit that when I'm obliged to train away from my normal measured routes, and especially over hills, that I dig the beast out of the drawer and useit as a rough guide to effort. and using the HRM to make you run faster is great - most people seem to use them to learn to run slower which seems to me to be pointless and counter-productive.

    however, I would much rather train to pace wherever possible. if I'm training to run a 1/2M in 79 minutes, I want to train at 6:00 mile pace and frankly I don't care what my HR is doing. I don't want to be running slower one day or faster another simply because that's the HRM says. furthermore, I think regular use of the HRM probably ends up making you a poorer judge of pace and this is clearly a bad thing.

    but then I'm obviously a Luddite, so I'll shut up.
  • Achilles

    Your comment about training 'to pace wherever possible' illustrates another widely held misconception regarding HR training. The purpose of HR training is not to let you to run quickly during all your training runs (why would you want to? - I want to run fast when I compete) but to allow you to train objectively for a future goal or target by developing ALL the systems you will need to call on during a race or event (aerobic, anerobic, lactate threshold, pure speed etc)

    And you also may well be perfectly capable of running a 79 minute 1/2 using your current pacing method - this however does not mean that it's the best you can do or you can't improve - have you ever thought what you may be capable of if you were to develop all your systems to thier maximum potential (and peak at the right time) - that's what I'd be interested in and that's why I'm VERY interested in what my HR is doing during training

    I do agree that people can become slaves to thier monitors and this is definately a bad thing - but using them to ensure that you combine the right basic proportion of recovery, aerobic, anerobic and speed training during a training cycle (coupled with enough rest) is the best guide to long term improvement

    Happy running to all
  • David -

    yes, but I'd claim that I do "combine the right basic proportion of recovery, aerobic, anerobic and speed training" and I do it by running (strictly and scientifically) to specific paces. I'm not sure there's a huge difference (inasmuch as HR is a factor of pace) except that pace is what actually matters in competition not the value of your heart rate. simply put, you can more accurately and relevantly achieve all the specificity of training you are talking about by running to pace.

    my concern is HRM frequently seems geared to making you run slower than you need to or should be doing, most particularly on recovery runs.

    if I thought I was missing out on achieving my peak potential I'd definitely go back to using mine, but I honestly don't see the benefit, despite having dredged through all the literature and using them regularly for some time.
  • Achilles

    I must have misread your previous meassage as I'd assumed from the content that you were training at the same pace continuously (re 'if I'm training to run a 1/2M in 79 minutes, I want to train at 6:00 mile pace')

    I would also say that pace combined with HR is what matters in competition - you still need to know the effort of the pace you are maintaining in relation to the distance you hope to complete. All my most successful efforts have come from being able to increase my effort in the 2nd half of the event and effectively 'speed up' - it's also a huge physicological plus to be able to overtake and 'pick people off' during the 2nd half of a long event (1/2 or Marathon for example) and this is always a good guide that you've judged both your pace and effort correctly - negative split running is also another sure sign of good pace and effort judgement

    HRM training (if applied properly) ensures that you spend sensible amounts of time in each of your 4 key training zones - once you have scientifically established your max HR (I can't stress enough how key this is to successful HR training - without it everything else is a waste of time )
  • David -

    yes, you're right, I didn't make that at all clear. sorry.

    I'd also agree that negative splits are the best pacing, but surely one is able to do that without an HRM?

    re: using HRM's in racing, I have this feeling that it's always going to make you tend to run more conservatively than you would if you were just trying to run to pace and listening to your body (NB. this is not an idle phrase). the many factors that come into play on race day mean that one is often able to perform above one's ability - listening to your body enables you to achieve that bit extra, which reading numbers off your wrist might well deter you or at least impede you from doing.

    and re: your last point, HRM training zones relate fairly directly to your various race/training paces which have their own inbuilt physiological benefits.

    perhaps HRM's are specifically useful to runners who are not yet used to training at a range of paces and who might not yet know their different race paces.

    I don't know really - you must excuse me, I'm just playing devil's advocate here. ;-)
  • which is to say, I'm waiting for you or someone else to tell me that really good argument for HRM's that I haven't heard before. :-)
  • Achilles

    I don't disagree (essentially) with a lot of what you're saying - I would agree that as a race develops you should rely (much) less on the HRM and almost exclusively on how you feel - but in my experience I have found that this only comes into play during the second half of the race (I'm talking 1/2 marathons + here) - I certainly wouldn't advocate slavish addition to HRM data particularly during racing as (you quite correctly state) there are various other factors at play

    But crucially by the same token there are a vastly higher number of factors over a much longer period of time during training that come into play which affect your perception of effort during each session - this is where sensible HR training removes ambiguity allowing you to train scientifically in the right zone therefore giving you the maximum chance of appearing at the start line in the best shape possible (not under or overtrained)

    I also disagree about people relying on HRMs due to not being used to pace training. I started running in 1978 and feel that my pace judgement is quite good - I'm also sure elite athletes who train based on HRM principles could bang out repetitive miles within +/- a second at will - doesn't deter them though

    All the best with your running in 2003 and beyond
  • David -

    like I say, just playing devil's advocate here. it obviously works for you and for a lot of other experienced and talented runners, so I'll shut up.

    have a great new year of running.
  • One benefit of a heart rate monitor that I particularly appreciate is that it can tell you when you are really ready to increase your goal pace for various distances. When I started using it, I found that my competitiveness lead me to try to beat my PB on almost each training run, but that though my times were coming down fast, it wasn't just that I was getting fitter. Actually I was mainly just trying harder. This showed clearly as my average HR climbed from about 140 to towards 160. I was developing a tolerance for pain ( or denial ) faster that my physical systems for running. I could also see that when my actual work rate as measured by heart rate, not pace, was relatively constant, my times were better.
    I know that this knowledge would probably have come with experience, without a heart monitor, but I might not have escaped injury, or burnout.
  • OK, folks, here's a question that I've never understood the answer to and I'm sure you can help -

    if my HR is higher than I'd have expected to for a known pace and I'm working in a higher heart rate zone (e.g. typically on a recovery run where I'm running in the anaerobic rather than the aerobic zone), because of: dehydration, glycogen depletion, caffeine intake, overtraining, heat or cold, headwind, hills, etc. - does that mean that I'm reaping the benefit of training in a higher heart rate zone and if not why not?
  • PS. I forgot to include cardiac drift in the list of variables.

    my point being, why do all the experts tell you to slow down when you move upwards into a higher zone, when it might have nothing to do with the pace you're running at?
  • Achilles, it is this sort of persistence that has you achieving great things I'm sure! But just to pick away at this particular scab one final time before I sign off tonight.
    I've never interpreted the advice as being to slow down, in fact quite the opposite, it makes me speed up as in 'oops,supposed to be threshold tempo session and here I am running at 70%'.
    If you are supposed to be sticking below a certain level (and this, I think, is the idea you keep coming back to as being unhelpful) isn't the concept that your heart rate reflects how your body's responding to the effort you're putting in under those particular conditions? Therefore it is the most objective guide to a subjective human body?
    Oh, hell I don't know, need a cup of tea!
  • Thats a good question, although I don't think you can treat all the factors you mention in the same way.

    I think you should take out the headwind and hills, at least, because those are obviously variables similar to pace. I mean that a 7 minute pace(say) up a hill can be similar in effort to a 6 minute pace down it. Ignoring for now the difference in the specific muscle training effect at the same effort because of differences in muscles used.
    The same can be said for running into the wind versus with it. You have to adjust your "known pace" to keep the effort the same.

    The other factors don't seem so clear, I hope you get some answers on them.

    BTW, when you say you never understood the answer to this question, does that mean that you have had an answer, if so what was it?
  • In echoing Laura's earlier comment about not wanting to bang on about this I'll just sum up as follows:

    When training to a HR based programme, during the HR sessions, the fixation with 'pace' must be dropped. Pace is a subjective thing and cannot be scientifically gauged. HR is objective (whatever variables may be affecting it) and therefore is a better indicator of effort applied. For example consider a point to point route of x miles. On one day you may have the benifit of a tailwind whilst the next day you find you're running into a headwind. Attempting to run at the same pace on both days would result in totally different training effects for the sessions (ie one would require considerably less effort than the other.) A HRM removes this ambiguity and allows you to train at a known effort for whatever session you are attempting to complete.

    I would also say that if anyone is finding that thier HR training programme is yielding too much 'slow' running this is probably down to one of two factors (or a combination of both)

    1. Incorrect initial calculation of Individidual max HR (see earlier postings) prior to calculation of training zones

    2. An incorrect balance of training efforts in the training schedule (typically too much recovery running)

    If Individual max HR is accuately established and the subsequent training plan includes the right balance of tempo and speed sessions (as well as recovery and aerobic) you should have plenty of oppurtunity to run 'quickly' (ie above desired 'target' pace for whatever event you may be training for)
  • and there endeth the lesson!!
  • sorry David and Laura - apologies for being a pain. I should have remembered how passionate these discussions can become. (why is that? it's only a fancy wrist watch.)

    I don't disagree with anything either of you have said, and certainly could never accuse you Laura of not training hard enough. ;-)

    I won't prolong this because it's obviously vexatious (and I really don't mean to be - I just wanted to pick your brains).

    but at the risk of being even more of a pain, let me just say that I was actually making a new point, though I made the mistake of repeating the one about running too slow.

    (I'm only fixated on this one at the moment because every other thread on the forum seems to be a discussion of running slow and how an HRM will help you to do it.)

    my new question was simply that if factors other than the effort of pace cause your HR to shift into a higher zone (e.g. cardiac drift), are you reaping any benefit from that? and if not why not? I'm not being provocative and I would like to know the answer.

    David - did you really mean that "Pace is a subjective thing and cannot be scientifically gauged"? surely if I've run from point A to point B in X seconds and I know the value of X and the distance that A is from B, I can validly not merely gauge but calculate the pace I've run? I think the essence of my problem is that such hard and fast objective tests are harder to come by for HRM data, into which many variables (imponderables?) tend to have to be introduced.

    I think there is a lot of talk that suggests that HR has a one-to-one correspondence with effort and this appears to me at least to be misleading.

    and no Juggler - I've never read an answer to this question, I just can't write English very well. ;-)

  • Achilles

    I think you're confusing review of post run data with setting of pre run objectives

    When I stated that 'pace is objective' I was referring to using pace as a pre run gauge of intended effort (ie I want an anerobic run so I'm going to run at x minutes/mile)

    Of course pace can be calculated after the event if both time taken and distance covered are known - but you can't use this information when you set out and then relate it to the effort you want to apply

    I would agree that HR does not give a direct one-one correspondance with effort, however it does give a better indication than anythng else that's currently available
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