Monday, February 13, 2012

Heart Rate Question

This post goes out to everyone who trains or at least pays attention to heart rate.  Heck, it even goes out to people like me - those who are curious about training by heart rate.

Do you train by heart rate?
Do you use a heart rate monitor during training?
Do you do your workouts based on heart rate?
Or do you not consider it at all?

As you begin an exercise, your heart rate increases in order to supply enough oxygen and nutrients to your muscles (along with a vast array of other things).  As you become more and more efficient at performing exercises at elevated heart rates, your heart becomes stronger.  When your heart strengthens, it can push blood through your system easier and no longer needs to beat as often.  This causes a decrease in your resting heart rate. 

Knowing your heart rate during exercise is a convenient way of looking back and knowing how hard you pushed your body.  Did you elevate it to 80% of maximum or was it only 50% and you thought it was higher?

On the other hand, you can go one step further and train by heart rate - set a heart rate goal for a given workout instead of a set pace or speed. 

I've become increasingly interested in the idea of training by heart rate zones.  However, I do not have a heart rate monitor, so I'm left with limited measures.  Every day when I wake up, I grab my watch on my night stand and take a resting heart rate.  So far it's averaged 51 bpm.

Resting HR = 51 bpm

That I'm not surprised by.  An average man is around 70 bpm and athletes are always lower.  On my lunch break at work, I pulled out my NASM book and calculated my heart rate zones according to their three zone breakdown.

Maximum = 194 bpm
Zone 1 = 126 - 145
Zone 2 = 155 - 165
Zone 3 = 167 - 175

Yesterday, after my run, I decided to check my heart rate.  After 3.86 miles at a 7:28 pace, I stopped my watch, turned it back to "clock" and checked my heart rate.  Now, I know that once you stop an exercise, your heart rate begins shifting back to resting; obvious!  However, I also know that it most likely takes two or three minutes even in elite athletes.  I can't be sure of the general time table, but I must say I was surprised to see that my heart rate was only 126 bpm.

Post-Workout HR = 126 bpm

That's barely Zone 1!  Can my heart rate have decreased that much that quickly?  Or does my heart rate not get higher than zone 1?  I am officially in the market for a heart rate monitor.  I want to know where my heart rate is during my workouts.  If I'm not even breaking into Zone 2, or even just barely, I want to know so I can up my pace. 

I'm also adding my post-workout heart rate to the list of stats to collect.  You should see the things I keep track of (And no, I won't divulge them all.  At least not yet.).  If I can find time (and I remember to do so), I'm going to start testing my heart rate immediately after, 1 minute, 2 minute, 5 minute, and 10 minute post-workout.  If I can't tell what my heart rate is DURING my workout, I should be able to get some information from how fast my heart rate decreases after the workout.


1.  What is your resting heart rate?
Relax for a full minute, find your pulse gently, and count the beats for one full minute.  An average male is 70, female is 75.  Athletes are typically lower.

2.  Do you have a heart rate monitor?  Do you have recommendations for me?!
I'm in the market for one.  I'm not going to spend hundreds, but I need something reliable.

3.  Do you train by heart rate zones or do you go more by speed, distance, or time?
So far, I've always gone by distance or time.  I'd like to continue doing so, but with heart rate goals mixed in.

Swim fast.  Bike smart.  Run hard. 


My Boring Triathlon Blog said...

last i checked my RHR was around 43 but i've seen it as low as 37 (which actually isn't good = future pacemaker)

wow you're MHR is 194? mine is 175 but than i'm a lot older and a lot slower

i use Polar but not sure if i'd get another one. service issues have been a pain

every workout is done on HR (except swimming or strength training)

Karen said...

The heart rate training fascinates me. It takes me forever to even get into zone 1. I really have to be doing something to catch zone 3 or AT. (I guess that tells me I am not working very hard and could probably step it up...)

Jenny Davidson said...

The HR monitor is indispensable for training! And you really need the number during, not after, the workout, as it drops right away (will drop faster the fitter you are) - if you're using watch and counting, count while still running. Especially for longer-distance events where feel isn't always reliable, I think the device is essential - a standard IM training plan run workout for instance will be 4 x 8min zone 3 run intervals with 2-3 mins rest, zone 3 is harder to be sure of than zones 2 or 4 which are both more easily experienced in terms of perceived effort. But Kurt, those maximums from a book bear little relation to reality! Max. will be individual to you, sport-specific and prob. 8-10 beats higher for running than for cycling. There are various tests you can do, but the max I use for running comes from my HR at the finish line of a half-marathon on a hot day when I pushed it throughout and then sprinted to finish. Gale Bernhardt's Training Plans for Multi-Sport Athletes gives some good tests and guidelines (she uses the same zone system as Joe Friel). You can get a no-frills monitor for prob $50-60.

Scott Cannon said...

I highly recommend this HR monitor:

I've owned mine for three years. It's very easy to use, inexpensive, and it will give you what you are looking for--your highest heart rate measured during exercise as well as the rate of decrease in HR after you are done exercising. The commentor above is right--the more fit you are, the faster your HR returns to normal.

I've found that my maximal calculated HR using the monitor is actually a few beats higher than the estimation that comes by subtracting your age from 220.

To answer your other questions--my resting HR is usually in the upper 50s. I generally do not use HR to train, but I do note my average HR during exercies and make an effort to push myself more if it seems too mild. BUT: at some point your heart gets more efficient and it becomes harder and harder to push HR higher. That's OK and normal!! I think training by set pace and speed is much more effective and meaningful.
There seems to be a lot of fuss over exactly how to exercise. My response is (1) I think this will vary from person to person, and (2) people seem to follow rules that seem far too precise to be supported by scientific studies. Beware of unsubstantiated hype. Sports medicine and fitness research does not change as much over the years as all the "new" training programs that pop up.