Any runner who has looked to improve their speed or fitness has at least thought about using heart rate training to get better. Heart rate training means using a heart rate monitor either on your wrist or around your chest to constantly measure your heart beat during exercise. This training method bases workouts on target ranges.
Some people have great success with heart rate training while others prefer to run by feel. Here are a few of the pros and cons to training based on heart rate to help you decide if it’s right for you.
Slow down. Many runners get stuck working medium hard too often. That can lead to over training or, even worse, a serious injury. It’s difficult to separate levels of intensity using the talk test unless you’re very experienced. Heart rate training can help give guidance on just how easy the easy runs need to be.
Know your numbers. Knowing what your resting and max heart rates are can be a great gauge of fitness. If one goes down and other goes up you know you’re improving.
Stay in the zone. Just like knowing your numbers can let you know if you’re improving, they can let you know how to work out. You’ll want each workout to be a specific heart rate zone to create the desired adaptation.
Too many variables. There are a wide variety of things that can change your heart rate that have nothing to do with your workout. You naturally have a higher heart rate in the afternoon than in the morning. Hydration, weather, sleep, stress and diet can all also play a major role in how hard your heart works while you’re exercising. This many opportunities for variance make it difficult to compare apples to apples.
Inaccurate. Especially when working at a very high intensity level, most heart rate monitors don’t respond fast enough to really let you know what’s going on. Breezing through a few 100M repeats? No way you’re going to get accurate data off a wrist watch. Receivers can get sweaty and malfunction. They can sense things that aren’t really going on. It might pick up a close by heart rate monitor even if it’s on someone else.
Get stuck. It’s easy to become a slave to data. Paying constant attention to your heart rate can end up stopping you from pushing yourself hard when you need to and that won’t lead to improved performance.