The people that use them won’t train without them, and those that don’t either don’t care or are under the impression that they are of little use as a tool to improve your training. The truth is they can be both, it depends on the person using it and what they understand about Heart Rate Monitors and training.
A heart rate monitor does just that, it tells you what your pulse rate is. If you don’t understand what to do with that information then it won’t be much use as a training aid. If you understand how your body works and what the data a heart rate monitor is telling you, and what you can do with that information, then a heart rate monitor becomes a very useful training tool that you won’t want to train without.
This is a crash course on the heart and oxygen and how using a heart rate monitor can have a positive impact on your training.
Our cardio vascular system delivers oxygen to our muscles which then uses that oxygen to burn fuels (blood sugar, or glucose, and fats) to create energy. When you train hard you consume more oxygen, more fuel, and then with sufficient recovery time and nutrition, your body adapts by getting stronger, faster, bigger, etc. Your heart also adapts by getting stronger and more efficient and your muscles adapt by becoming better at extracting and using oxygen to burn fuels. The harder you train, the more you body adapts, and the more progress you make. But there are limits and that’s where a heart rate monitor comes in.
The standard method for measuring our oxygen consumption in liters per minute is called VO2. Research has shown that activity below 55% of your VO2 maximum generates no additional aerobic gains. Above 55% of your VO2 Max. and you are sufficiently over-loading your cardio vascular system to stimulate improvement. There is also an upper limit. If you train beyond your VO2 maximum the work becomes extremely uncomfortable, then in a short period of time movement will become seriously impaired or impossible, and death can ensue. There is also as sweet spot, or a heart rate range that is optimal and that range depends on your training goals.
There are charts and formula’s that will help you find your target hart rate range but these are not necessarily precise for every human being. They are a good approximation but each person must consider their health, physical condition, cardio vascular condition, experience, and most importantly, should see a health care provider to ensure you are healthy enough to do intense workouts.
To determine your precise VO2 max you will need to visit a facility that does that kind of testing. Short of that, you can use the chart below to approximate your numbers or use the formula: 220 – your age = Your maximum heart rate (beats per minute)
Once you are cleared by a health care provider to do intense training, a heart rate monitor is a very useful tool to tell you if you should push a little harder, or back it off to a safer, more comfortable, and productive pace. As you continue training, and if you record your heart rate after each training session, the data from the heart rate monitor will give an indication of your progress. There are many apps out there to aid in recording your training data. If you use a heart rate monitor you should consider one that is compatible with the app you choose.
A heart rate monitor can also indicate other problems you may need to address. If you are dehydrated, overtrained, sick, or perhaps experiencing some medical issues, your heart rate may be higher than normal, or erratic while training.
A heart rate monitor can be a very useful tool when you know how to use it by setting your training goals, working within your pre-determined heart rate zone, and use the data to evaluate your progress.