4 min read

Stop Worrying About Your Heart Rate

June 27th 2008 - My Heart Beats for Her
CC Stephen Poff

Learning everything there is to know about heart rate training, was a fundamental component to my education.

The idea I suppose was to learn various ways of measuring max heart rate, and consequently heart rate zones (there are 5 if anyone is curious) for training load when working with clients.

When did weight loss or fat loss become a competitive cardiovascular/aerobic sport?

This can be done with a few different calculations, or more accurately with something like a metabolic cart.

A metabolic cart can measure your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) which I think may be a great tool for weight loss, especially if you’ve struggled with it in the past but sadly requires too much concern for calories in and calories out and as you may already know; I’m not much for counting calories unless it’s absolutely necessary.

A metabolic cart is also a tool used for picking up on heart rate training zones for the big day. (Read: Marathon, Half Marathon, Iron Man, etc…)

That’s right, the big day, and that day is going to be a hell of a lot different from a relaxed, long, slow distance training day, which is different from an interval day with a partner present, versus on your own and is all much different from a tempo day too.

How many of you out there, had a test in school that your heart raced for leading into that test?

Would it be fair to say, that there was another kind of stress present at that moment in time?

Anxiety, mental or emotional stress perhaps?

All of the above, could trigger a hormonal response that would elevate your heart rate, and throw off all the heart rate training zones you just got tested for subsequent training days.

How does the tester really know how your hormones are affecting that process?

To my knowledge, they don’t and it is difficult to account for.

Yet all of your training in a program derived from an exercise physiologists assessment will point you in a direction relying on your heart rate.

So what are you saying Darren? I shouldn’t use a heart rate monitor?

No, actually I’m not, I’m just making you aware of the fact that there are other variables to performance and possibly suggesting that you use them only for short periods of time and only to gauge where you’re at, when you have no concept of where you’re at.

I recommend using a heart rate monitor in waves or phases, it can be a useful took but there is a big danger of reliance and consequent performance lapses when used all the time.

It is possible to get caught up in the numbers to a point where you forget that running is largely about feel.

In fact most runners tell me that what they love about running most, is how they feel when they are doing it.

Yet, many still get consumed by the numbers on their Garmin watch, pace, tempo, distance travelled, etc…

You see even if you use the most precise method of determining heart rate training zones, your body will adapt and the training zones will change with it.

Next week, what was level 5 may now become level 4, now you are doing all of your zone 5 training in zone 4, are you really hitting your potential?

Arguably some of the best endurance running sport athletes hail from cultures that run.

Kenya and Ethiopia put up fast numbers for long distances; I’m sure part genetics and mostly training but I wonder how many of these guys have access to the kind of equipment we have here in North America?

How do they still consistently put up better numbers than our athletes?

I’ve had the pleasure of consulting with a few endurance athletes over the years — not as many as power athletes but quite a few still — and most have had an experience with their equipment to the point where they panic at the numbers, and it changes an entire race for them.

Their heart rate was too high for how hard it felt, their pace was off as a result, and ultimately they end up hitting a wall that they previously never worried about.

I used to recommend a heart rate monitor to nearly every client if it was in the budget.

However, heart rate, I’ve observed many things other than just a physical stress, that creates some huge disadvantages.

I’ve seen it discourage people from hitting their limits as they watch themselves hit 175 BPM, which used to be their upper limit, 3 years ago.

Even though their new fit self can tolerate 190 BPM or more, we’ll never know, because they never hit that intensity out of worry that 175 is too high.

In my work, I would put a heart rate monitor on a client who insists they are working so hard but I question the intensity.

This gives me a visual aid to either reinforce their mental beliefs of hard work, or reinforce the fact that their intensity is actually quite low.

We may do that over a period of time until they discover a better intensity overall, then we take the heart rate monitor away to see if they can maintain the intensity on their own.

Leave it on for too long though and people get comfortable, it turns into a dependency.

Consistency + Controlled Variety = Adaptation

You need to take time away from technology to get back to the human side of endurance every now and then.

You need to feel good again. Get in touch with yourself.