Heart rate training is one way to monitor progress and fitness. These days, there are a growing number of fitness devices to help you measure heart rate: chest straps, watches, even inserts you can put in your shorts! You should find the device that works best for you.
Wrist-based heart rate monitors are increasingly popular because they are comfortable, convenient, and can provide continuous heart rate monitoring from exercise to everyday activities. However, we find that they often struggle with accuracy during rowing or skiing due to the tendons flexing while exercising. We recommend a chest belt if you’re looking for better accuracy.
Many heart rate monitors can connect wirelessly to the PM4 (via ANT+ technology) and PM5 (via Bluetooth or ANT+ technologies), giving you the option to watch your beats per minute (bpm) during your workout. (The PM3 can be paired to Polar heart rate devices with a connection kit.) Now that heart rate data is so readily available, what do we do with it?
The Appeal of Data
Heart rate training can be very useful for athletes who are trying to measure intensity and respond well to this kind of data. For others, heart rate data feels like obvious feedback: the higher the intensity, the higher the heart rate. Many employees here at Concept2 opt to train using perceived effort instead of heart rate monitoring as a simpler gauge of intensity. Heart rate numbers can be influenced by factors unrelated to fitness: sleep, eating, stress. Still, heart rate monitoring continues to be popular when gauging fitness. How can this information be helpful?
Your Heart Rate Zones
While we provide some guidance on training with heart rate, it is difficult to give advice on specific target numbers given the variety of training theories available—and person-to-person variations in physiology. The old axiom of subtracting your age from 220 to find your max heart rate was an estimate at best. Our Training Heart Rate Range (THRR) training information comes from a 2002 study which we believe to be more helpful.
What your goal heart rate and zones should be is a very individualized calculation. If you’re planning on using heart rate for your training, we recommend checking in with your physician before starting. Some individuals use monitors for very specific heart conditions that require medical oversight, but everyone can benefit from these discussions with a doctor to best gauge aerobic, anaerobic and recovery zones. A doctor may perform a stress test to determine your max heart rate for you.
Heart Rate Training Plans
A healthy diet of training includes short intervals, long intervals, short rest intervals, variable intervals, longer steady work and longer variable work. How much of each of these types of workouts you’ll do depends on your personal goals. Our Training Guide can help you set up your plan.
Heart rate training zones will depend on the type of workout. Aerobic workouts include the longer work and variable workouts. Anaerobic threshold training is hard to sustain over distance and is best used for short intervals and short rest intervals. Research continues to advise that interval training at higher heart rates for shorter bursts of time offers substantial benefits.
Perhaps one of the most effective uses of heart rate data is to combine it with the power of the PM to measure improvement in your fitness. The PM gives you repeatable data on your workout effort, so you can use it to test your progress. At regular intervals, do the same workout at the same intensity—and if your fitness is improving, you should see that your hear rate lowers for that workout. Recording your heart rate changes over time will give you a long-term view of your success.
Heart rate training is not a substitute for medical advice but can be one piece of a puzzle indicating overall health. If you notice substantial changes in your heart rate, perceived effort, or breathlessness, contact your doctor immediately.
And, we’ll say it again: If you’re planning on using heart rate for your training, we recommend checking in with your physician.