Heart rate monitors can give us great insight into our fitness and our level exertion. Here is a quick run-down on everything you need to know about heart rate and how to use it to get the most out of your training.
Heart Rate Maximum
Your heart rate maximum (HRmax) is the highest your heart rate can be. This will be your rate when you are working at your highest level of exertion. HRmax decreases with age and training isn’t protective of this effect. However, training will allow you to increase your pace at each heart rate level (e.g. when you first start running your heart rate may be at 50% of your HRmax at 9 minute/mile pace; however, after some training, you may be at 50% of your HRmax when you're running 8:45min/mile pace). The traditional equation to predict your HRmax is:
HRmax = 220 – (your age)
However, recent research has demonstrated that a more accurate equation for adults is:
HRmax = 208 − 0.7 × (your age)
**Either equation will serve your purpose in getting a general range to base your intensities on**
Using HRmax to Determine Intensities
You can use percentages of your HRmax to determine what paces to run at depending on what your goal is for your specific race or workout.
Lactate Threshold: As a general rule, this is your half marathon pace, and your target pace for longer tempos. Your HR should be 77-83% of your HRmax for this intensity. If you’re a more experienced runner, this pace will be 82-90% of your heart rate maximum.
Aerobic Runs: For the majority of your mileage, you will want to target between 67 – 77% of your HRmax. This is an intensity that will give your body enough stimulus to benefit from running all those miles.
Recovery Runs: These are the most important to work into your schedule after hard workouts, and they should be done below 70% of your HRmax. Recovery runs help keep blood flowing, but aren’t at too high of an intensity to where you’re depleting your body, risking putting yourself in a hole.
**Hint: if your watch isn’t finding your monitor, try wetting the back side of the band before strapping it on your chest. The water will help the monitor pick up the electrical signals of your heart**
Heart Rate for Resting and Recovery
Your resting heart rate is your heart rate when you first wake up in the morning before getting out of bed after a good night of sleep – when your body is at its most rested. Monitoring your resting heart rate can be great feedback for knowing how well you are recovering. Here’s how:
- During a two week period when you’re not training very hard, every morning take your heart rate as soon as you wake up. When you average these rates together, you’ll get a good idea of what your resting heart rate is.
- We don’t recommend sleeping with your heart rate monitor on! Learn to take your heart rate manually in the morning. For tips visit the American Heart Association’s website here.
- From that point on, when you wake up in the morning, take your heart rate first thing. If it is significantly higher than your resting value, then you need a little more recovery time. Consider pushing your next hard workout back a day, or turning a planned aerobic run into a recovery run.
- Training cause a reduction in your resting heart rate, so each new training cycle take some time to re-calibrate your resting heart rate.
The time it takes for your heart rate to lower after a hard workout/interval is also a good indicator of fitness and recovery between intervals. Your heart rate should drop quicker after an interval when you are at your most fit. Workouts will vary on recovery length between intervals, as some workouts are designed to give full or partial recovery. If you know you're supposed to have full recovery between intervals (usually denoted by 3-5 minutes of rest), you can watch your heart rate during the rest to make sure you're recovering appropriately. Your heart rate will not return all the way to its resting rate, but if at the end of your 3 minute recovery your heart rate is still as high as it was when you finished the interval, you may need more recovery time. Or it may be in your best interest to cut the workout short to avoid putting yourself in a hole.
Being aware of your heart rate can give you great insight into your fitness and recovery. However, how you feel will always take precedent over what your heart rate monitor says. You may feel great on a day that your resting heart rate says you need recovery, and vice versa. Use your heart rate monitor as a guideline, not the rule to maximize your training!