Heart rate monitors. A training buddy. If you don’t have one, get one! Ack! I’ve watched “Toy Story” once too often. Seriously though, if you want to get the most health and fitness benefits from your training, a heart rate monitor is an essential training tool. If used properly, it will enable you achieve maximum fitness levels while avoiding illness and injury caused by overtraining. However, a heart rate monitor is useless if you don’t know how to use it.
The most accurate way to determine heart rate zones is to have a stress test done. This will determine your maximum heart rate and your anaerobic and aerobic threshold heart rates. This may not be an option for most athletes. So, without knowing your maximum heart rate or threshold heart rates you need another method. There are many formulas that are about as accurate as a coin toss. Using a formula that considers your current fitness level and health will increase the odds of finding the correct heart rates. Once you have some training under your belt there are self tests you can perform to more accurately determine your target zones. I will discuss this further in another article.
You also have to realize that everyone is different. Some people are “slow beaters” and some are “fast beaters.” Though it must be said, neither of the two indicate better health, fitness nor will give you lower life assurance rates. A low heart rate does not necessarily mean you are a”stud” and a high heart rate does not always mean that you are out of shape.
There are many factors that influence your heart rate including age, genetics, training, overtraining, conditioning, illness, recovery, weather, hydration and nutrition. These factors may affect your resting heart rate, your maximum heart and your threshold heart rates in a variety of ways.
AGE - Maximum, resting and threshold heart rates decrease with increasing age.
TRAINING, CONDITIONING -Maximum heart rate typically does not change with training. However, the rate at which it decreases with age will be slower with consistent training. Threshold heart rates can change drastically through training. The more well trained an athlete is, the higher his threshold heart rates will be. Resting heart rate will decrease with training.
OVERTRAINING, RECOVERY -Overtraining and incomplete recovery will cause lower maximum and threshold heart rates while causing a rise in resting heart rate. It may be difficult to keep heart rate in low intensity zones and impossible to achieve high intensity zones. You get stuck in no man’s land. Your body is too fatigued to work out at high intensity and needs to go slower at your normal low intensity zones.
ILLNESS -Like overtraining, illness will cause a rise in resting heart rate and lower maximum and threshold heart rates. However, heart rates will typically be higher than normal at any given pace or perceived effort. Your body is working overtime trying to fight off infection or a cold.WEATHER-In general, the hotter it is the higher your heart rate and the slower your pace is going to be. Athletes can overcome this by regular training in warmer climates. When you acclimate to the heat, the increase in heart rate and decrease in pace will be less drastic.
HYDRATION/NUTRITION-When it is hot, you sweat. When you sweat you cool your body but you also lose fluid. Without cooling and without fluid replacement heart rate will increase while pace decreases. When you exercise, you burn primarily carbohydrate and fat calories. Carbohydrates (which are limited) must be present in order to burn the fat (which is virtually unlimited). Without proper nutrition during exercise, heart rate will increase while pace decreases.Listening to your body and understanding what it is telling you is the key to staying healthy and getting fit.