A heart rate monitor is a tool that can prove invaluable for any runner, swimmer, cyclist or in fact, anyone who is exercising and can be used to measure the intensity you are training at by looking at the stress the exercise you are doing places on your heart. Obviously, the higher your heart rate the more stress you place on your heart. By monitoring your heart rate you have better control of the training you are doing.

Wearing a Heart Rate Monitor

Make sure the strap on the monitor is tight enough so that it can go around your torso, just below your sternum without falling which is the ‘squishy’ part of your chest between your lungs just where your lungs start to branch out. Your heart rate monitor may have patches with electrodes on the inside that go on your skin which help to measure your heart rate. In order to get a more accurate reading, it can help to wet the electrode patches gently.

Benefits of using a Heart Rate Monitor

You can control whether you are running aerobically or anaerobically.
At a certain intensity which is individual to yourself and can usually be associated with a specific heart rate range, your body starts to transition from running aerobically (with oxygen) to running anaerobically (without oxygen). At an aerobic range where your heart rate is lower, your body is burning primarily fat as fuel which can aid with weight loss. The aerobic range tends to be around 70% of your max heart rate, pushing up to 80% if you are an elite and experienced runner. However, once you start to go anaerobic into the higher heart rate zones, significantly more stress is placed on your body and the primary source of fuel becomes glucose.

A rough guide to heart rate zones in training

Training at aerobic and anaerobic paces is obviously important to running faster times, but with a heart rate monitor, you can better control whether your workout is aerobic and anaerobic. Many long distance runners tend to do their training at an 80/20 ratio where 80% of the mileage is easy and the other 20% is hard. What this would suggest to me is that 80% of the time they are running aerobically and the other 20% is anaerobic work. By running like this they can better stimulate adaptations to the aerobic system which produces far more energy than the anaerobic system when it comes to running 800m and beyond.

A Heart Rate Monitor can provide Running Metrics

Some heart rate monitor’s such as Garmin’s can provide access to enhanced running metrics when you are running with a heart rate monitor such as vertical oscillation, stride length, cadence (steps per minute), ground contact time and balance between the left and right side of your body. For any runner, especially analysts this metrics can prove valuable for improving technique and running form by focusing on how quickly you take steps and potential muscle imbalances in your body which could cause you to run dominantly on one side of the body.

Some running metrics my heart rate monitor provided from one of my long runs

Measure Resting Heart Rate Using a Heart Rate Monitor

Heart rate monitors are useful at helping you to find your resting heart rate. You can do this by either wearing a heart rate monitor in the morning when your pulse should be lowest or by measuring it yourself (although ironically this can increase your heart rate as you focus on counting and press to find your pulse). The other more practical option is to sleep with a watch that tracks your heart rate as this should give you an average for what your heart rate was overnight or even give you a resting heart rate value for the day. This can help to monitor the physical and psychological stress placed on your body by comparing your resting heart rate from day to day. For athletes, a resting heart rate significantly higher than normal can indicate that they are under too much stress and need to take a break.

Wrist-based Tracking vs Chest Heart Rate Monitor

Many watches now have a heart rate monitor built into them which are useful for measuring your heart rate throughout daily activities. However, I’m not 100% convinced of their accuracy or reliability when training as I have been in cross country races before where it says my max heart rate was 138bpm which it certainly was not! The accuracy will depend on the technology built into the watch, but generally, for the majority of my runs, I will wear a heart rate monitor around my chest. I would suggest making sure your watch is fastened tight around your wrist (but not too tight!) in order to get more accurate readings.

Exceptions to this are races where I don’t want to have to worry or think about a strap around my chest and I’ve decided I won’t wear them during track sessions where the reps are short and hard. Why? Because when I’m running at such a high intensity, my chest and body almost sucks itself inwards during the short sharp exhalations and inhalation’s in which my body is desperately trying to get oxygen to the working muscles. This makes the heart rate monitor more loose around my body as the circumference is too periodically too large to the point where I worry about it falling (and it does start to fall!) and I shouldn’t have to think about that when I’m running at higher intensities.

To sum up, I’d say a heart rate monitor is definitely a worthy investment for any athlete who trains on a regular basis and can help to measure how your fitness is improving over time.

Do you use a heart rate monitor in your training? Let me know down below!