Your Top Heart Rate Training Tips

When one RW forum member wondered why she should bother with heart rate training, here's what you said

Posted: 25 August 2006
by Jj

You run, you sweat, you breathe heavily, you eventually stop and recover. Simple... unless you want to know what's really happening to your body, and use that knowledge to control your fitness.

That's when you start to think about using a heart rate monitor (HRM). And when you've read the manuals and seen the brochures, and fiddled with all the buttons – that's when you want to know how others have fared when they've actually used the things.

The RW forum positively bristles with HRM fans. However it seems there are just as many who are a little more circumspect in their praise. The Evil Pixie decided to get the low-down:

"I've been running for four years, I'm slow and always have been," she said. "I have toyed with HR training before and gave up. I was bored, because I was running at crawling pace and walking. Why should I try again? Is walking fast better than plodding stupidly slow/shuffling? Should I 'run' daily, and if so how long?"

Why should I try again?

Responses differ. From the statisticians (Pixie appears to be one herself!) to the cynics, from the HRM fans to the former basetrainers who have modified their use of the monitor, everyone has their view.

Sam Panther was, like Pixie, at the slower end of the spectrum. But as many others have, he found that using a heart rate monitor steadied his efforts so that he slowed down even further – but then he found that his times improved.

"It involved running slowly and taking lots of walk breaks. And I mean lots. But as time went on, the speed increased for the same HR, and the walk breaks reduced. When I started my heart rate training I was doing 17-minute miles when running, and got down to 13-minute miles. My first run home from work took over two hours, and as time went on I reduced this to sub-1:45. I only ran one, maybe two and sometimes three times a week. If I did as the basetrainers suggest, I believe my progress would have been even greater."

Muttley, an experienced runner, agreed that HRM users find their speed increases at the same HR if they stick to the regime of running consistently to a 70-75 per cent heart rate – but "it takes time". He passed on tips gleaned from his own experience. "Start HRM running in autumn. HR goes up in hot weather, so in current (hot) conditions you'll be even slower. By next summer you will hopefully be up to speed.

"Don't restrict yourself to just slow running. I find that a couple of good blasts a week 're-set the clock', like rebooting a computer to clear the clag out. If I don't do this, I get HR drift until I can't run at all at a decent HR. Heresy to the hardcore basetrainers, but hey!"

Muttley also made the point that a HRM can be a useful health tool: "Very useful if you give blood, so you can gauge when it's safe to run afterwards. Ditto if you're getting over a bug."

Legionella urged Pixie to try HRM training again, and also pointed out that it's a good tool for speed training, too. "Working to HR makes a lot of sense, especially in this hot weather. When you are ill or fatigued your HR will elevate, so if you try to maintain a pace you will be overtraining. Who says HR training is just for basetrainers? Try to incorporate speed work within specific HR bands as well."

Sodahead agreed: "Complete your easy runs at 70 to 75 per cent Max HR with at least one session a week (intervals, fartlek, tempo run) at 80 to 85 per cent Max HR."

The debate continues, and the issue of racing with a HRM has just been introduced. "If your goal is to race or compete at a specific heart rate then your training should be focused on heart rate," says VO2 Max. "But honestly how many people do you hear lined up for an event saying 'I want to run this at 150 bpm'? None. Those of us who train for races/events train to run at certain speed (eg 'I want to do the 10K in 40:30') so why not use speed as the ultimate indicator for your training?"

It's a fact that many endurance athletes use their HRM during long races to keep their heart rate down. John L Parker Jr, author of Heart Monitor Training for the Compleat Idiot, is one – will any forum marathon or ultra runners join the discussion and say the same?

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Discuss this article

I have a very high heart rate which makes it very difficult to work out at a certain heart rate percentage. Is this abnormal, I have run several marathons so it is not that I am not fit.
Posted: 30/08/2006 at 22:24

Hmmmm, dont see what difference the value of your maximum heart rate makes to how difficult it is to work out [shrugs]

It isn't abnormal though. The 220-age thing is total carp. My maximum is 203 when it should, according to that, be 193.

Dont worry about it. Use the values you've got from max heart rate test and wear your heart rate monitor to bed to find your resting heart rate and away you go!
Posted: 30/08/2006 at 22:26

What is the best way to test max. heart rate
Posted: 30/08/2006 at 22:31

There are various ways and you will find that you have a different HRM value for different things, eg. for running versus cycling where you dont have to bear your own weight but there are some ideas here

Best to do it with someone helping you to encourage you and also make sure that you aren't getting random spikes on your heart rate monitor.

If you are just saying that you have a higher heart rate than you think you should when you are training it could easily be that you are running too fast.

Anyway, do the test and see how you get on! Hope it helps :o)
Posted: 30/08/2006 at 22:35

Thank you Firestar for your imput, I will definately give it a go.
Posted: 30/08/2006 at 23:01

Those advocating the use of HRMs in races should be aware of UKA Rule 21, Asssistance.
Under this rule the use of a HRM in a race of 10k or less is assistance from a technical device and will make a competitor liable to disqualification from a UKA permitted race. They are o.k. for races longer than 10k.
Posted: 31/08/2006 at 15:42

That's bizarre... Forgive a stupid question, but in what way is it any more assistance from a technical device in a 5k than an ultra?
Posted: 31/08/2006 at 21:03

Be wary, some of the newer HRMs give odd results. For years my old one gave a nice steady max of 174 and I could not exceed theat. The nice shiny new one determines a max of 173 then regularly shoots up to 189 almost as soon as I start to run but things do calm down. Formula states that as a 65 year old I should have a max of about 155.
Posted: 31/08/2006 at 22:04

I have the opposite problem. My resting heart rate is 32/33 - my max is only about 180. I'm really struggling to train at 'easy' pace. I've read all the bumf and 60% relates to (180-32)* 60% + 32 (from the heart rate training page on the website)which is only 121 bpm; I can get up to that walking up the stairs!!

I generally train at about 160 - 165 bpm which is between 87% and 90%. Am I a)training FAR too hard or am I b)getting the wrong end of the stick and working things out wrongly.
Posted: 01/09/2006 at 09:15


From everything I've read I'm sure you can afford to train at up to 70%, which would still be classed as 'easy pace'.

My stats aren't wildly different from yours - RHR 37, MHR 182, which gives me 139 bpm for 70% (approx). I've recently started getting quite good at sticking to this level for easy runs whilst still maintaining a reasnable pace, e.g. yesterday did 10k, average HR 137, peak HR 149 (a few slight drags!), 53 mins (about 8.30 min/mile)

15 bpm less would be a completely different pace for me, so I'm sure you could afford to up it a little.
Posted: 01/09/2006 at 13:36

Well, Benbot. I didn't make the rule, just quoted it. I would agree a HRM is helpful at any distance and especially for judging exertion over a long distance like the marathon. In my view they shouldn't be allowed in any serious races as they're an artificial aid like. say, dosing up on caffeine. Judging one's pace is a major, perhaps the main distance running skill. Fun runs and training are a different matter. Using a HRM in training should help you learn to guage your effort for yourself when racing and this would be beneficial.
Posted: 01/09/2006 at 17:52

Is wearing a stopwatch and pressing the lap button at mile markers considered use of an artificial aid?
Posted: 01/09/2006 at 19:08

Of course pace makers aren't an artificial aid either then?
Posted: 01/09/2006 at 19:31

I have just got a new garmin 305 and on my first run my heart rate average was 166bpm, with a max of 185bpm and my pace was about 7.30min/mile. The 185 was achieved on a steep hill and I was pushing it. I had a HRM before but stopped using it, as I felt it put me off, as it was always above 155 even when I was plodding. Any advice?
Posted: 23/10/2006 at 14:22

AndyL - try this:

Everything you need to know!  But if you STILL need more, try asking here:

Posted: 01/11/2007 at 14:59

I found that using a HRM slowed me down.  I stuck with it a while, got frustrated, and gave up.  Now I don't bother using it at all.  I question the claimed benefits of HRM training.  Bit like global warming really, everyone says it works and yet I'm not sure that the firm evidence is there.
Posted: 01/11/2007 at 18:13

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