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How To Train With A Heart Rate Monitor
Dr Arthur Tjandra

So, you have just bought a heart rate monitor. You wore it to your spinning class, and the crazy woman in front conducting the class just kept screaming into your ears asking you to pedal faster and faster. She came to you, stared at the figure flashing on the monitor which said 148, and ready to swallow you alive. You were only 25 years old. At that rate, you were just cycling at 75% your maximum heart rate (derived from subtracting your age from 220), but your instructor wanted you to cycle at 85%! What should you do? You were at the brink of collapsing.

Alright, there are so many misconceptions about training with a heart rate monitor that I would like to clarify here. In the next paragraphs, I will tell you all you need to know about training with a heart rate monitor. But before then, I would like you to understand this. A heart rate monitor is just a device for you to optimize your training. It provides nothing but just a guideline on how hard you are training. You still have to listen to your body, as your health state changes everyday. You may be able to cycle at 90% of your MHR for 5 minutes today, but you will not be able to do so on a daily basis. When your body screams stop, stop!

Why do I need a heart rate monitor?
  1. Fitness goals
    Depending on your fitness goals, you would like to train in a certain heart rate zones. In my previous article, I have mentioned about the optimal zone to train in order to lose more fat. Also called the aerobic zone, this is the zone to keep your heart rate in so that your body preferentially burns fat as energy. On the other hand, if you are a competitive runner, you would like to train as often as possible in your anaerobic or maximal zones. Training in these zones will enable your body to get accustomed to lactic acid build-up, which is essential if you want to perform well during that all-out sprint when you approach the finish line in a race.

  2. Prevent over-training
    For many competitive runners, each run is essentially a dance along the fine line between optimal training and over-training. Using a heart monitor to avoid stressing your body too much, means that you will maximize the efficiency of your training, and at the same time minimizing the opportunity for injury. Injuries are much less likely to occur when you are not over-taxing your body, and avoiding injuries is tantamount to avoiding setbacks in your training. To put it another way, the single best outcome from using your heart rate monitor is to ensure your easy days are easy and your hard days are hard. This sounds almost too simplistic to even mention, but habits dominate almost every aspect of our lives, including being an athlete. ďA slow runĒ tends to result, by sheer habit, in running at nearly the same effort whether itís 60 minutes or 4 hours. Your body improves most by cycles of stress and recovery, and using your monitor correctly will help keep each workout on target, whether it is lung-busting intervals, or an easy recovery slow run.

  3. Prevent under-training
    Though, perhaps less common than over-training, some runners simply do not run hard enough, or often enough. In this case, the monitor can function as a coach, telling you when your body can handle more, and consequently, when you should pick up the pace. Set a minimum heart-rate goal for your run, and the monitor will beep when you have dropped below your target, telling you to work harder.

  4. Pacing during training
    Perhaps the most obvious use for a heart monitor is to pace your training runs. Sometimes your time is not the best measure of how hard you are working. Different terrain, different energy levels, inconsistent distance measurements, and any number of factors can mislead you into thinking that you have performed well or poorly when the opposite may be true. Your cardiovascular performance is best measured by the work-rate of your heart, so pacing your training runs according to your heart rate is the best method of targeting your cardiovascular fitness as you do your workout.

  5. Pacing during a race
    Realized how the cheering of the crowds made you run faster, and the silence of lonely stretches that occur towards the end of some races, made you run slower? Within a racing context, a monitor is perhaps most useful in preventing you from going out too fast or working too hard early in the race.

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