I’ve dabbled into heart rate training back in 2013 as I prepared for the Buffalo Half Marathon, but didn’t make a conscious effort to actively use it. There was so much to learn when I got my first heart rate monitor. I wore the chest strap for the data and then just let it sit there, not really knowing what to do with it anyways. Finally, I decided to really take the plunge and make the effort to use my heart rate as a tool to get better. There is a ton of information out there regarding your heart rate training, so here’s a brief (and very basic run down) to get you started. [Side note: affiliate links are included in this post and if a purchase is made through using the link, a profit may be made.]
For the purposes of this post, a focus is on your maximum and resting heart rates. Here are just FOUR you need to know before starting your endeavor:
- The difference between resting heart rate and maximum heart rate.
- Resting heart rate changes based on fitness. As you get more fit, your resting heart rate decreases.
- Maximum heart rate will decrease as you get older.
- Your maximum heart rate is sport specific.
- Your running heart rate is completely different than your cycling heart rate than your swimming heart rate, etc. You cannot use the same zones for running as you would for any other activity and visa versa.
- How to calculate your resting heart rate.
- Take your pulse before you get out of bed in the morning for a week (count for :15 and multiply by 4).
- Use the average to get your baseline.
- How to calculate your maximum heart rate.
- If you can’t take 30 minutes to do your own fitness test right now but want an estimate, head over to this website and enter your age, weight, sex, and resting heart rate. Alternatively, here are some more calculations that use your age and experience.
- If you can do your own test, warm-up for 15 minutes, run for 3 minutes as hard as you can at an even pace, jog for 5 minutes to recover, and then run for 3 more minutes again as hard as you can at an even pace. You should achieve your maximum in that 2nd set of 3 minutes. If you don’t have a watch that will provide your maximum heart rate at any point during an activity after the fact, be sure to glance at your watch frequently during that 2nd set.
Since we have our heart rate maximum and resting heart rate, we can get a slightly more accurate target heart rate zone by using the Karvonen method:
Target HR = ((MHR-RHR) x %Intensity) + RHR
The hard part comes in now where you have to figure out the different heart rate zones to train in, which is where you get that “% Intensity” number. Since I’m using my heart rate to train for easy runs, we’ll use that as an example. A quick Google search on heart rate zones for “easy” runs is well, not easy. You’ll find the various ways to calculate your heart rate zones aside from the above, including lactate threshold (which is certainly more accurate, but something I haven’t delved into at the current time), and you’ll find (most often) the below five zones of training. Here’s a nice article explaining each in more detail, which I find helpful, as always, don’t let the first article be the only article you read on the subject.
Zone 1: 50-60% – Super easy, could do this all day.
Zone 2: 60-70% – Still easy, but able to carry on conversations in sentences.
Zone 3: 70-80% – Moderate effort, can speak a few words at a time.
Zone 4: 80-90% – Race pace, can’t do this for more than an hour.
Zone 5: 90-100% – High intensity, save it for a short bursts (less than 5 minutes)
For example, my resting heart rate right now is 58 beats per minute and my maximum heart rate is 200. My lowest target heart rate for zone 2, or easy and recovery runs would be:
((200-58) x 60%)+58 = 143 beats and ((200-58) x 70%)+58 = 157 beats.
I found that this works pretty well for me when based off of my RHR and MHR. When I was just simply using my Garmin to calculate based off of solely MHR, I’d be in high zone 1 after a brisk walk with the dog! That’s one example of a pitfall of heart rate training.
Since I’m using a plan I made based off of McMillan’s book “You (Only Faster)“, I decided to go mostly off his target ranges for my runs. Head over to his website, go to the calculator, input a recent race time and your goal time for a race, and click on “training paces” to get an idea of where you’re supposed to be.
I set up my actual heart rate zones in Garmin based on my beats per minute, since they don’t let you put in your zones based off heart rate reserve like we calculated earlier. As a side note, Garmin does calculate your lactate threshold heart rate during runs and can alter your zones based on this. I opted to not do that.
Here’s what my zones look like, based on the self-calculated beats per minute off my HRR.
Zone 1 would be “recovery”, or 55-65% of my HRR.
Zone 2 is 65-78% of HRR. Zone 3 is up to 85% HRR. So if you’re keeping track, my first three zones are all recovery, easy, or long runs. Then Zone 4 is up to 92% HRR, and finally Zone 5 up to 100% HHR.
In general, when I’m in the middle of an easy run, the only thing my watch will show is my heart rate as a percentage of my maximum. I strive to be under 75% for the majority of the run, with exceptions of hills and times I need to run quickly across the street, etc. but once I see 80% on there, I dial it back in. My paces have slowed considerably and I know it’s working because I’m not feeling the fatigue I used to during training.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout researching and paying attention to my heart rate, there’s no one “good” answer for everyone. Could I just plan to stay over 10:00/mile pace on my easy and recovery days? Sure. But I know that I’m not good at that sort of thing. Plus, I like to see the type of progress I’m making and to me, heart rate training is a little more tangible. If I run a route at 75% of my max heart rate right now, I hope than in a month my paces will pick up and I’ll be able to keep the same heart rate. Who knows, maybe the next six months will pass and I’ll realize that heart rate training simply isn’t for me. But without giving it a solid go, I’ll never know