What are the main benefits of heart rate-based training?

Wearing a heart-rate monitor means you can get detailed feedback on how hard you’re working. This enables you to train smarter, allowing you to get the desired training effect out of each workout. The first thing to work out is your maximum heart rate (MHR). A rough guide is 220 minus your age. Or there are field tests that can be done to get an approximate reading – such as doing a two-mile time trial on a track or level ground with a heart-rate monitor at the fastest pace that you can sustain, trying to run each mile or lap at roughly the same pace. Look to see the MHR that was hit. You can then work out your heart-rate zones, allowing you to train at different intensities based on percentages of your MHR (see below). This is sometimes referred to as ‘zone training’.

This prevents you from running too hard on your easy/recovery runs, reducing the risk of fatigue and overtraining; it also helps you to recover. By recovering properly during your easy runs your legs will also be fresher for your next hard session or race. Equally, you will be able to accurately track your effort in interval sessions, when you want to be working at a higher intensity. Heart-rate (HR) training is particularly useful for tempo runs, when getting the exertion level right is important for reaping the benefits from the workout. Training to heart rate also helps you moderate the influence of external factors such as heat and humidity, which require your heart to work harder. Remember that although HR training is useful, being able to instinctively ‘feel’ pace and effort is also a valuable skill.

Work out your zones

Zone 1: 60-70 per cent of MHR; very comfortable, easy recovery running.

Zone 2: 70-80 per cent; steady running; comfortable enough to hold a conversation; most training is done here.

Zone 3: 80-93 per cent; tempo effort or ‘comfortably hard’; you may be able to speak in short, broken sentences.

Zone 4: 94-100 per cent; hard effort; interval and 5K pace; conversation is limited to a few words at a time.