HRM without chest strap

Is there such a thing? Are they any good?

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14/03/2012 at 17:00

Hi - I'm getting back into running after surgery last year and I'd like to try training with a heart rate monitor as I return to fitness.  I'd always found an excuse beforehand as it felt like going backwards as running below 70% was so slow so I didn't give it a proper chance, but now is an ideal time.

However, my surgery included a double masectomy and my Garmin HRM is now blimin' uncomfortable as it sits around my scar tissue and it's all a bit sensitive and sore round that area.

Is there such a thing as a HRM that doesn't use a chest strap that I can actually use whilst running?  All the ones I've since involve contact with a watch and the other hand which isn't really conducive to activity.   And I guess whatever I use will be a compromise in terms of accuracy?

Or are there any hints and tips about wearing the strap differently that would be more comfortable? 

 Thanks!!

14/03/2012 at 17:25

Nasty op (sorry, understatement I'm sure)

The only other ones I've heard are ones where you touch with the other hand which as you say isn't very good for sport.  I did read a while back of someone wearing their strap with the contacts on their back.  I don't know if that would cause less irritation for you.  Or can you wear it lower down your torso?  There may be an issue with the strap slipping down then though and using tape to keep it in place would be a pain.

It is worth sticking with it if you can.  Running that slow can feel like gong backwards, especially if you are getting back too fitness but stick with it and in 3-4 weeks, you suddenly get significant improvement.  For me it was 20-30 seconds a mile for the same effort.  Not to be sniffed at.  And of course, that improves as you get fitter still.

15/03/2012 at 08:43

+ 1 for HR training (and in the way over 20s brigade).   Glad to hear that you're making good progress after the op.  I was doing HR training when I developed viral myocarditis.  I'd no idea what was wrong, but was aware of the symptoms during normal day to day activities, but it was while running (or attempting to) that I could see that my HRs were right off the scale, which prompted me to see my GP.

I think that it is ideal if you're returning to fitness as the emphasis is on slower, controlled runs, so, hopefully, will enable you to make a quicker return in the long run (if that makes sense).  I've seen similar improvements as BDB mentions above - more so than when I was doing more pace-based training.

Re the chafing, you could try something on your skin, underneath the strap, either Vaseline or Bodyglide if you have it the right way around, but I too have heard of people who wear it back to front.  If you were to try that, you could possibly put some form of padding over the strap so it might rub less around the scar area.  TBH, I've only ever used a Polar or Garmin HRM, so don't know about any other type, but you might find something on the internet.

I found Cardiac Athletes very helpful, I know your problem is not cardiac, but you might be able to find out something more about HRMs as people who have had heart surgery might have similar problems.

I've had surgery scars and used E45 and Palmers, moisturising daily.  I don't know what advice you've been given, but applying a cream certainly helped reduce the inflamed scar tissue and (long term) lumps and bumps.

Good luck and do give HR training a serious go!

PS another thought - can you wear something underneath the HRM?  I'm not sure whether it would pick up your HR correctly, but I know some people wear them on top of bras, so perhaps they do.

Edited: 15/03/2012 at 08:46
15/03/2012 at 09:56

Many thanks both - firstly for confirming that some HR training is a good idea but also the tips about wearing the chest strap.  The first few runs  in the plan (I've got John L Parker's heart rate training for the compleat idiot) are only short so I can experiment with wearing it backwards etc. - which I haven't even considered before, so definitely worth a try.   If I wear it backwards, I might be able to tuck the plastic bit under my sports jock bra to hold it in place and hoist the front strap higher over the bra..... I'll try a few things out.

Jeepers - interesting to hear that using the HR prompted you to recognise that something was wrong with you.   I've always thought that running means you are more in tune with your body anyway and if that can be complemented by some HR numbers, that is good.   Hope you're all fixed now.

I was using bio-oil on my scars but it didn't seem to make much difference, but perhaps I should persevere.

Am suddenly excited about trying something new rather than just getting depressed about how much slower I am than before my ops and illness.  Cheers!

15/03/2012 at 12:22

I use the J L Parker book too, in fact I'm on the third run of "re-starting" having to go right back to the Novice 4 week programme due to amount of time off.

I had been doing HR training for about a year and was just about to taper for a mara when I caught a cold (or so I thought).  I left training for a few days as I felt rough, but when I started back, found myself breathless etc.  I was suprised that I'd (apparently) lost so much form after only a few days, but carried on, finding it harder and harder and at the same time, noticing that I was increasingly breathless all the time.  My RHR had increased by 15+ bpm and my recovery running, supposedly at <70% was showing figures closer to 100% - and it felt like it!  My bp was incredibly high too, I'd had pre eclampsia with both pregnancies and felt very similar to that.  However, my GP dismissed it all as exercise-induced asthma and paranoia!  Eventually, I got it sorted out, but I was off for12 months.  I was just about to start training again this January, when I caught another bug (from the same person I think) and I ended up developing pneumonia, so this is the first time that I've been back since October 2010.

HR training suits me, there are plenty who think it a waste of time and empty mileage.  I disagree and particularly, if you've been ill, I think that it has a lot of benefits. 

As BDB said, don't worry too much about your current pace - it will seem as though you're walking and backwards at that, but at the end of a few weeks, you'll have knocked a serious amount of time off.

Keep up with the oil, it will work, just takes time - quite possibly months - but it will work.

There's another thread on the forum about bras and HRMs, you've probably seen it, but if you check that one out and others via the search facility, you might find some other suggestions.

There are threads about HR training - too, they might be useful.

Hope you get on well!

15/03/2012 at 12:37

Another for Parker.  I've been using the principals for over 8 years.

For me, HR training gives me structure.  Others are good at that without the HR so it's not for everyone.  It works for me though.  I just couldn't imaging working to pace. 

I'm glad you're both back to running and more importantly, enjoying it.  Good luck with it all.

15/03/2012 at 13:01

Thanks for the comments, BDB.  Hope you're getting on well too.

Another one you might want to consider, the older I get, is Hal Higdon.  The only problem with JLP is that he doesn't (seem to) do mara plans.  Once I've regained fitness, I'm using a Hal Higdon mara programme as I think that his approach is similar to JLP.

I also found that with this method of training, it's quite easy to "find your pace" at the correct HR, so while I use my Garmin for every run, I don't need to keep checking to make sure I'm running at the correct HR, I can tell by "feel" and when I've checked back at the stats, my mile laps are consistent both in terms of pace and HR.

15/03/2012 at 13:31

Good points Jeepers.

Although Parker doesn't do mara plans, I find it easy to adapt the principals to other plans.  Easy = 60% WHR, slow = 70, steady = 75 and fast/brisk > 80.

I have a reasonable instinct as to what time I'll do a race in and sort of work it back to pace at markers.  

Thanks for the heads up on Hal Higdon.  I'll keep them in mind if I do an Autumn marathon.  I usually follow the RW schedules but it might be time to try something different.

15/03/2012 at 13:46
Badly Drawn Bloke wrote (see)

Although Parker doesn't do mara plans, I find it easy to adapt the principals to other plans.  Easy = 60% WHR, slow = 70, steady = 75 and fast/brisk > 80.

I have done, but I've found that most other plans allow for more speed work than the JLP / HH approach, so while I was doing the work at HR, it still meant that the weekly schedule was more pace-based, but tweaked, rather than one geared around HR training.

Save you looking it up!  Hal Higdon

16/03/2012 at 11:58
Thanks Jeepers - I'll have a look
16/03/2012 at 12:34

You're welcome.

Out of interest, (sorry, thread hi-jacking going on!), do you do steadies / tempo sessions etc too, or concentrate more on miles?

16/03/2012 at 18:00
Please hijack away. As long as you don't mind me ear-wigging to pick up tips and ideas.

Just wanted to say that I tried wearing the strap back to front on a short run today and whilst I'd be lying if I said "I couldn't tell I was wearing it", it was certainly a lot more comfortable so many thanks. I need to check my min and max numbers in the next week or so, but yes I was running v v slowly. And walking a lot.

My biggest problem now is to work out my schedule. I do most of my running with clubs and friends so this isn't compatible. I'm tempted to treat my club run and speed session as hard days and then easy run below 70% around this - but is this actually not following the plan at all....
16/03/2012 at 18:36

Glad it went well, I guess, like most things, it's trial and error.

TBH, I've found it easiest to run on my own with the HR training and being totally brutal, I don't like running with other people, so don't worry about being on my own.

I guess it depends too on how closely you are following the programmes.

At my peak, pre mara, I was doing 45 - 50 miles per week:

Sunday: LSR (mainly <70%, but some pace changes incorporated in some weeks)

Monday: recovery run <70%

Tuesday: steady run 75 - 85% (or mixture of paces, but including steady and threshold @ 90%)

Wednesday: recovery <70% (or rest)

Thursday: steady 80 - 85%

Friday: tempo / hill sessions

Saturday rest

This was with a trainer who just adapted a pace-based schedule and put in HRs instead of pace as appropriate.

I was doing OK until I developed the myocarditis, but I'm now right back to 3m < 70%, so I'm just going to go ahead on my own, doing 4 weeks of JLP, then a HH (probably novice) mara plan as I may now be back on a par with those who haven't run before.

16/03/2012 at 19:25
thanks Jasper. I am worried that running slow means I just get slower as when I ran my first and only marathon in 2010 before my cancer diagnosis I followed the HH novice plan, but the difference is that I ran all the miles slowly as it was exhausting and my goal was to get round. I know I'll do a higher quality speed session with other people so it's probably worth a try for me. Maybe if I had done recovery runs and pace runs rather than slog round all the miles it would have been less exhausting.

Thanks for sharing your plan too. I cannot imagine having to abandon your marathon training - and finding out you had a heart problem after feeling so fit. (also cannot believe you doc thought it was paranoia).

I have no plans to do another mara in the short term, especially as I want breast reconstruction this year, but I do have unfinished business with the half marathon so will see what I can do with the HRM.

Good luck with the training


16/03/2012 at 19:40

Which version of the Garmin strap do you have  - the hard plastic one or the softer version?

16/03/2012 at 19:49
The older I get, the faster I was wrote (see)
thanks Jasper.  I am worried that running slow means I just get slower

No, you won't.  I knocked off a good 30+ second per mile just after 4 weeks - whatever way you look at it, it's still training, so the more you do, the fitter you get and the better / faster you get.

If you had cancer, then I reckon that would explain the exhaustion, particularly so if you were having chemo / radio treatment.

I used to do pace-based training before swapping to HR training, even though I was younger, I was much more tired.  I was doing 25 - 30 miles per week, but feeling it at the end of the week.

I changed to HR training and found that I could run further and longer more easily.  I joined the January challenge (RW UK forumites v RW USA forumites) which is purely based on mileage - which country could do the most miles during January .  I started doing my weekly mileage of 25 and by the end of January, through slow mileage, had doubled it to 45 - 50 comfortable miles per week.  I also improved my stamina, and was able to do my LSRs to a distance of around 16m while without eating a meal beforehand.  16+m and I would take Shot Bloks and water.

I'm in my 50s, so it suits me, I reckon I'm also suited to stamina / endurance rather than speed, but I made more progress in terms of speed doing HR training than I did doing pace training.  I'm not suggesting that everyone does it, I just know that it suits me, so I'm happy bimbling along with my HRM

16/03/2012 at 19:50
PS to you too, for racing and the medical stuff.  You're very brave.
17/03/2012 at 16:07

Quick factoid, but Rosehip oil is really good for healing scar tissue. I used to work in a herbalists, and we had a lot of folk come ask for it when we started selling it - also a lot of good reports back.

Good luck with the running.

17/03/2012 at 18:49
Little Ninja - I have the hard plastic strap so your message implies that there is an alternative so will definitely check that out. I wore it again today on my back and whilst reasonably comfortable, it was showing completely false readings (even when running hard uphill I couldn't get it to go above 100 beats - I stopped at some public loos to wet the contacts and refit it but to no avail. I'll try again tomorrow in case it was a weird blip. Unless my fitness has dramatically increased overnight....)

PBAB - rose hip oil - thanks for the tip. There are some days when my scars are really sore so will definitely try it. I'll go for a stroll tomorrow down to our local Neal's Yard.
17/03/2012 at 21:15
Was Neal's Yard I worked for (well, I managed a shop truth be told), and the oil was good quality - just for the record, that was nearly ten years ago, and I've got nothing to do with them now. Sure there'll be lots online about it's therapeutic effects.
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