Reader’s Roundtable: Heart Rate Training

Will adding my heart to the things I track overcomplicate my running life? Flickr Commons image by dev null.
Will adding my heart rate to the things I track overcomplicate my running life? Flickr Commons image by dev null.

Even withย my crazy heart condition, I never ever used a heart rate monitor in training. Lately, though, I’m starting to think now is the time. For the past 4 years I have done pace-based training; every workout I did had a prescribed pace, which meant I was a slave to the watch. In being so pace-focused, I feel like I’ve lost a sense of what the right effort is for various workouts. I suspect I was often pushing myself too hard for the purpose of workouts, but then again sometimes I might not have been pushing myself hard enough. Perhaps a heart rate monitor could help me get the effort right. I’m hoping it could also help me know that I’m recovering enough too.

The problem is I have no idea what I’m doing! What do I need? Do I really want to run with a chest strap? I don’t want to spend a fortune on a heart rate monitor since I already have the GPS thing covered. Also, I’m not exactly sure what I would need to do to start. I need help!

That’s where you come in! Do you train by heart rate? If so what heart rate monitor do you use? Have any tips for a newbie heart rate tracker? If you don’t track it, why not?ย 

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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29 comments

  1. I’ve been running with the HR strap for my Garmin 620, but like others above I don’t really look at it while running. I like to say that I’m in the “data collection” phase, and maybe eventually I’ll start looking at the numbers and trends.

    I tried running years ago with effort based training, where you do run based upon your heart rate and I HATED it. I had to run so slow to have my heart rate in the right zone and it sucked all of the fun out of running for me. I know people that have had great success with that training, and they all say you eventually will be able to run faster at the same heart rate, but I wasn’t patient enough to find that out for myself.

    Take a look at dcrainmaker.com for reviews on new watches. I’m sure he has a full, in-depth review on the Mio as well as some of the others that are optical instead of needing chest straps.

  2. I’ve been using my HR monitor this training cycle and I’ve discovered some interesting things. First, I have to run at a much slower pace on a treadmill to stay in my various zones. This seems counterintuitive–is it really harder to run on a TM? Second, it’s much easier for me to run my T pace when I’m monitoring HR. Maybe that’s because I’m relatively new to (serious) training and I just don’t have a feel for this yet.
    I wore my monitor for the first time during a race– a half marathon a couple weekends ago–more out of curiosity than anything. I didn’t look at it during the race, but afterwards I realized that I could sustain a much higher HR throughout a race than I had imagined. It was a confidence booster.
    Not sure if I’ll continue to use the monitor as I become a more experienced runner, but for now I find it useful.

    1. Word to the tm being harder! I wrote s post about my thoughts on the 1% rule. Basically if it feels harder to run on the tm than trust that over what the experts say. Seriously! The effort is what matters and when you have that objective feedback of heart rate telling you you’re working harder than you can feel even better about ignoring the conventional “wisdom.” I’ve only known a handful of people who actually train on a treadmill and feel it’s easier than outside running. I want their treadmills!

      Anyway, thanks for your input! What gear do you use to monitor your hr?

      1. I have the Garmin 110 (cheapo; I’d like to upgrade) with the chest strap HR monitor. The strap doesn’t bother me, as long as I tuck it under the elastic on my sports bra. Otherwise the strap tends to slide down, which drives me nuts and gives me inaccurate data.

  3. I ran with a HR monitor religiously for almost 3 years, and I tracked EVERYTHING. I found it to be useful, but I discovered that I was becoming entirely too obsessed with the stats, and started to really focus on the # of calories I burned in a day. I became even overly obsessed with calorie loss and started wearing it all of the time! Even when I was just sitting around the office, after all, I could burn more calories walking to the other side of the building to use the bathroom farthest away from my desk. You can see where this is going… I was also at my lowest weight, which is not necessarily a good thing.

    During the summer of 2010, I just decided to ditch the HR monitor. I was still wearing it even after coming to the reality that I was playing around with a dangerous obsession. The real reason why I ditched it is because I got tired of running when it was warm, and having #s skewed all over. I was really too focused on the numbers and not the pure enjoyment of running. I haven’t used it since, and I won’t go back unless instructed by a doctor. HR training is definitely good, and I would never bash anyone who wants to use a HR monitor–I just discovered it wasn’t for me.

  4. This conversation is tempting me to dig my old Polar watch/strap out of my “race junk” drawer! I’m of the school of thought that more data can inform your training plan and have you do some tweaks. Since I know how easy it is for me to underperform when training, it’s helpful to have a more concrete goal in front of me, like a target HR. I also like having something beep at me when I’m slacking off rather than keep my eye glued on a clock. (Geez, I sound like a lazy runner!) But I also definitely agree with Chamomile that personal and environmental factors on any given day will skew your numbers.

    1. But aren’t those skews something to take into account? Even if your heart rate is up because you had coffee before you ran, isn’t 180 the same amount of stress on your heart as it would be if you ran without caffeine?

  5. I think running by feel for a while is a good way to gauge where you are at but if you are used to certain paces for certain efforts then it probably does need restarted and trying a HR monitor is a good option. I will occasionally check my HR after a harder effort but typically go by feel as a measure of appropriateness. Plus, I am apprehensive about HR training as I typically have a higher resting heart rate, even when in shape. Actually, woman have higher HRs than men generally speaking but I’m not sure if this changes the numbers you should strive for…?

  6. I have always hated heart rate monitors (I chafe terribly when I use the chest straps) until I recently upgraded my Garmin and got a MioLink to go with it. It’s a HRM that you wear on your wrist and it syncs up to your GPS device. I use it for roughly half of my runs (and always when racing), though probably don’t use the data as much as I should. Wasn’t incredibly expensive (about $100) and I believe it syncs to a lot of newer GPS devices. I think it’s as accurate as the strap, but not sure to be honest. All in all, do I think it has helped my training?- probably not, but still another interesting data point to have.

    1. I have just started using the MioLink as well. I can’t wear the chest straps due to chaffing. The MioLink is so light I completely forget it is on.
      I am only just starting with the heart training but I do think it is going to be helpful. There have been a couple of times lately where I have actually realized that I could be pushing myself a little harder. Once I get past the “newness” of it I don’t think I would run every time with it, but I would certainly use it for many runs.

  7. I really think the HRM is valuable. I do not use it during my run to set my pace, but use it to see where I am at fitness-wise and whether I am overdoing it. I find it most valuable to track my resting HR in the morning. When I am out of shape, it is high. When I am hitting my peak, it drops substantially. I also like checking it during workouts. If my HR is through the roof at my goal interval/tempo/whatever paces, I allow myself to slow down (or maybe bag that workout for an easy run and run hard the next day). I think it is a great tool. The only downside is I’ve never found one that is comfortable. I have a funky bone in my chest that sticks out right where the HRM lies. The new Garmin strap tears me up no matter how much body glide I put on.

    1. Agreed on the painful aspect of HRM chest straps. When I had to wear one (I wasn’t allowed to go over 150bpm so used a HRM to keep track) my sternum was always red irritated and scabby, gross : ( I don’t wear it anymore as it feels good to be “free”, but maybe someday I will go back as I know and respect many people who swear by HR-based training!

      1. I have one of those Scosche forearm-strap ones. It’s the only one I’ve ever used, so I can’t comment as to accuracy vs. a sternum-strap, but comfort is not an issue! DC Rainmaker did a very thorough review of it (as he does with every other gadget out there).

  8. I just don’t think I could consistently use one. I hate having extra stuff on my body when I’m running, especially in the summer when I can barely stand even having a shirt on!

  9. What kind of GPS are you currently using, Salty? Can it be paired with a chest strap or would you have to go out and buy a whole new setup? I wear a HR strap on every run but I don’t always pay attention to HR numbers “in the moment,” When I log my runs, the software I use keeps track of how much stress I’ve put on my body for that particular day/week. HR is part of the equation, along with total mileage and intensity, so I like to have the data on hand even if I don’t reference it on the run itself. (it’s good to have an accurate picture of how much cumulative stress you’ve built up during training, mainly so you know exactly when you need to rest. Sometimes the numbers tell you that you NEED it even when you don’t “feel” like you do!) Workouts…that’s where HRM has made a big difference for me. I don’t have any excuse for going too hard or two easy on, say, intervals or something. I know the HR ranges that will give me the best results (ie: put the appropriate amount of physical stress on me for a particular workout…) and I can see whether I’m in that range or not. I think one of the best indicators of improvement is my HR over the course of several weeks/months of training. It fluctuates from day to day because of temps, nerves, caffeine, etc, of course, but clear trends still emerge. If I see that after a month of solid training I’m starting to run certain paces or miles/routes at a lower HR than before, I get excited and know it’s time to drop the pace a bit. That’s measurable improvement that I may or may not have “felt” otherwise. Sometimes my heart/lungs tell me I’m ready to up the ante well before my legs “feel” ready. And I find that my heart/lungs are usually smarter than my legs, anyways… :)

    1. I think I might benefit from that objective number in a similar way. I think it might help me not second guess myself so much.

      I have a dinosaur Garmin 205 so no gps link up. Maybe I should consider an updrade?

    2. I’m using mine exactly the same way, HR is a very helpfull parameter to track progress. I’m not much of a fan of monitoring my HR during a run. I tried that, it made my running more stressfull and less enjoyable.

  10. I don’t train using a HRM, but it’s simply because I don’t want another thing to add when I’m trying to get out the door. I know someone who swears by the thing.

  11. I got better when I broke my third HRM and finally stopped using them. It forced me to start to tune my perception detector. Giving up the HRM and getting better — coincidence? causal? who knows. that is just the way it worked out for me.

    1. I feel like I’m in the opposite boat: my sense of effort is all messed up from being pace-focused for so long and I need to reset that. I might just need some time to recalibrate my internal effort-meter, but I’m thinking a HR monitor might speed the process and also help me get over the constant nagging feeling that I “should” be running faster which I developed over the last few years. If my HR is right than it doesn’t matter the pace. Or so the thinking goes …