Do You Need to Ditch Your Heart Rate Monitor?

Any newbie to fitness knows a thing or two about heart rate training. If you’ve ever stepped foot on a treadmill, then that “fat burning” graph is probably something you stumbled across. Or, my personal favorite, you’ve spotted that poster with the big heart who  happens to have legs and is trying to run and mimic the intensity you should have in your workout. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a very cute image.

Are heart rate monitors worth it?

I once worked at an establishment in which heart rate monitors were mandatory for all clients. Armed with their monitors, every client’s training was based on their heart rate, and they in fact spent more time staring at the monitor then did actually enjoying the session. I sat mesmerized as clients then became obsessed with everything that the monitor could record:  average heart rate, peak heart rate, and of course calories.

Heart rate training has been a staple for quite some time now; and it offers the novice a scientific approach to their training so they’re not just simply guessing. Since the evolution of using heart rate monitors, runners could now make sure they are in their respective zone for that day; rather than just simply stepping foot outdoors and hoping that the run contributes to some improvement in fitness.

Well, it may be time to ditch your heart rate monitor. There are quite a few issues with monitoring and going off of your heart rate.  After all, it’s hard to find an accurate heart rate monitor that mimics how you actually feel during a session. Things like high stress levels, lack of sleep, overtraining, and even meal frequency can cause fluctuations in your day to day heart rate. This means that you could be anywhere from 5 to 15% off of your training heart rate.

Some runners are interested in factors like the lactate threshold. This is where your muscles begin producing more lactate than they can clear out; along with lactate comes acid production and you’re basically now on a limited window for how much longer you can maintain that pace. In highly trained runners, the lactate threshold can occur around 90% of your heart rate maximum; in untrained individuals,  it can happen as low as 50%. Yes, I know you can make an “educated guess” about where your lactate threshold is, but you would be much better off basing your efforts off of race time, pace training, and intervals.

Which leads into my last point on heart rate training: what if the heart rate monitor is limiting you? After all, how many runners have ever crossed a finish line and wondered what their heart rate was during the race? Chances are, probably none. Outside of those who have clinical issues and are on prescription medication, there’s really no need to monitor your heart rate. Instead, use time and distance to force adaptations and your heart rate will take care of itself.

 

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