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train heart rate monitor

How to Train With A Heart Rate Monitor


  • Why train with heart rate monitors
  • Types of heart rate monitors
  • How accurate are heart monitors?
  • How to train with a heart rate monitor
  • How to identify your maximum heart rate (MHR)
  • When should a heart rate concern you?

Training With A Heart Rate Monitor: The Best Way to Increase Your Aerobic Capacity

Technology can alter the way you exercise, train, and compete. With the right devices, you can ultimately fine-tune your training and improve your athletic performance. And one device you can accurately rely on is a heart rate monitor.

Heart rate training is one of the best methods that can help an athlete, regardless of fitness level, achieve his or her fitness goals. If you’re just starting out with heart rate monitors and heart rate training, this blog will help you identify the many uses, applications, and benefits of the practice.

Why Train With Heart Rate Monitors

Athletes who participate in an extremely vigorous activity–whether it’s training or actual competition–need to track their exertion levels and design training plans that are appropriate to avoid health repercussions, such as overtraining syndrome, burnout, and injury. One of the best ways to track these extortion levels is to use wearable devices with a heart rate monitor.

A heart rate monitor is not necessary, but it has lots of benefits. Using a heart rate monitor during exercise or training lets you track key information about your health and current condition—on top of how fast your heart is beating. When you know your current condition, this prevents overtraining and other dangers of overexerting yourself.

On top of avoiding dangers, a heart rate monitor can also help you adjust your energy output and let you match your heart rate to the right level to burn fats and carbohydrates—or achieve your overall fitness goals, and most importantly, guide you to proper and better recovery after training.

Types of Heart Rate Monitors

A heart rate monitor is now used by many athletes, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts to track their fitness progress. Due to popular demand, there are more heart rate monitors and devices hitting the market today. Here are the two predominant heart rate monitors used by athletes, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts:

Chest-Worn Heart Rate Monitors

Chest heart rate monitors are mostly used by competitive runners, distance cyclists, and other elite endurance athletes because of their position and accuracy. These monitors have two parts—a transmitter attached to a belt or strap worn around the chest and another receiver attached to the wrist like a watch.

A chest heart rate monitor is usually more expensive than other wearable devices for heart rate monitoring. Some athletes also find the chest straps or belts uncomfortable when doing extreme physical activities like running or cycling.

Wrist Heart Rate Monitors

Wrist heart rate monitors offer the convenience of viewing your heart rate and other fitness statistics at one glance. You can find fitness trackers with wrist heart rate monitors in the form of smartwatches and heart rate monitors with chest straps on the market, the latter is said to be the more accurate one, but the former offer all the convenience.

A wrist heart rate monitor watch comes with a heart rate monitor app where you can see the data and other fitness stats that can help you track your progress, gauge your physical health, and adjust your current routine.

How Accurate Are Heart Monitors?

Endurance athletes, especially competitive triathletes, runners, and swimmers, are using heart rate (HR) monitors to guide their training. But how accurate are these monitors in keeping track of the heart’s rhythm and overall physical condition?

One recent study published in the National Library of Medicine in 2019 stated that there’s a moderate to high level of accuracy in today’s wearable watches with heart rate monitors. The researchers tested four popular watches for monitoring heart rate across many treadmill speeds. In the end, the researchers and its sample population agreed that Apple Watch III is the most accurate heart rate monitor watch among the four devices used.

“This study demonstrates a moderate to high-level of accuracy of four watches for monitoring HR across many treadmill speeds. If accuracy is imperative, a chest strap or the Apple Watch III may be the best choice,” concluded the study

Another 2019 study published in JMIR publications tested multiple wearable devices with heart rate monitors, but this time—in a 24-hour period. The study tested wearables during a continuous and ecologically valid 24-hour period of actual consumer device use conditions, and the researchers also agreed that the Apple Watch III is one of today’s most accurate wearables for heart rate monitoring.

“The Apple Watch 3 and the Fitbit Charge 2 provided acceptable heart rate accuracy (<±10%) across the 24 hour and during each activity, except for the Apple Watch 3 during the daily activities condition. Overall, these findings provide preliminary support that these devices appear to be useful for implementing ambulatory measurement of cardiac activity in research studies, especially those where the specific advantages of these methods (eg, scalability, low participant burden) are particularly suited to the population or research question,” the study concluded

In another area, a study in 2017 published by the The Journal of the American Medical Association, cited that a chest heart rate monitor is much more accurate than a heart rate monitor watch when there’s movement.

“We found variable accuracy among wrist-worn HR monitors; none achieved the accuracy of a chest strap–based monitor. In general, accuracy of wrist-worn monitors was best at rest and diminished with exercise…Electrode-containing chest monitors should be used when accurate HR measurement is imperative. While wrist-worn HR monitors are often used recreationally to track fitness, their accuracy varies,” the research concluded.

There are, of course, limitations to the aforementioned studies. Some of these limitations are the health condition of the sample population, the environment, and the physical activity done by the sample population. One thing is for sure, however—today’s popular wearable devices for heart rate monitoring have a moderate to high-level accuracy. So, when you buy or look for the best heart rate monitor, make sure you read the features, studies, and reviews related to it.

Given the current standard and quality of these wearable devices today and the ever-evolving world of science and technology, it’s safe to say that we can expect more wearables in the future with a much-improved accuracy.

How to Train With A Heart Rate Monitor

Heart rate monitors are user-friendly and easy to use. Athletes know how to turn them on, but many don’t know how to use them effectively. Many still follow the basic procedure of turning the monitor on and watching their normal heart rate climb during physical activity, missing out on all the benefits that can help them get the most out of their workouts.

Training with a heart rate monitor is not rocket science, but there are simple guidelines to follow in order to use the device effectively and maximize your training. Here are the essential steps and guidelines:

Identify Your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)

Identifying your maximum heart rate and other related information is part of the preparation phase before you religiously follow the use of heart rate monitors for training. Knowing your maximum heart rate can prevent overtraining as you monitor your heart rate.

A normal heart rate for adults lies between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM), and it varies based on age group, gender, and other physical factors. Well-trained or intermediate and elite athletes may have a resting heart rate between 30 and 40 BPM.

Considering your normal heart rate, you can figure out your target heart rate (THR) zone for maximizing your training, and your maximum heart rate (MHR) for identifying the fastest rate at which your heart can beat in a minute. MHR can help identify your limits and capabilities when performing low-intensity, moderate-intensity, high-intensity, and maximum-intensity exercises or training.

You can calculate your maximum heart rate for each of the aforementioned intensities by subtracting your age from 220. The total is your MHR, the average maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute when training or exercising.

Find Your Threshold

Once you identify your MHR, calculate your training zones to help you gauge your physical condition as you train, and even before and after you train. You may refer to these training points and their corresponding percentages as your anchor point or your 100 percent.

  • Training Zone 1: 60-70% of your MHR
  • Training Zone 2: 70-80% of your MHR
  • Training Zone 3: 80-90% of your MHR
  • Training Zone 4: 90-100% of your MHR
  • Training Zone 5: 100-110% of your MHR

Be In Your Peak or Comfortable Form Before Training

To ensure the accuracy of the heart rate monitor, you must be in a good condition before you use it for training. This may not always be the case since you may be compelled to train while feeling various physical conditions. But if you wish to get accurate results when measuring your thresholds or identifying training zones, aim to be in a good condition before you use a heart rate monitor.

Make sure that you have properly rested before you train and have consumed the right amount of food and nutrition needed for the specific activities you plan to face. Gauge your overall physical condition, and try to notice if you have problem areas that need to be addressed.

Also part of your training with the heart rate monitor is the use of proper gear and equipment. According to Sally Edwards of Sacramento, California, author of The Heart Rate Monitor Guidebook to Heart Zone Training (Heart Zones Publishing 2010) and one of USA ‘s prominent experts in business, exercise science, and lifestyle living, “you only need two pieces of gear to work out: a good pair of athletic shoes and a heart rate monitor.” You can add other necessary equipment to your body, but never ever forget a good pair of shoes.

Hone Your Athletic Performance

After understanding how a heart rate monitor works and collecting data concerning your heart rates, you can finally use the device to hone your athletic performance and improve your aerobic capacity—two of the main objectives of using one.

You can improve your aerobic capacity during training with the help of a heart rate monitor. You can do regular training or shift to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for faster results. HIIT consists of multiple rounds of rigorous activities (maximal or near-maximal work) followed immediately by rest. Your progress and the effectiveness of the practice depend on how willing and capable you are in pushing your heart rate. It will take consistency.

While you’re at it and with the help of a heart rate monitor, you need to find your steady state or the accurate work intensity you can maintain for a long period of time without seeing your heart rate increase. Aim to increase your state over time, and monitor the changes and improvements in your heart rate. The goal is to consistently work at a high intensity while maintaining a steady heart rate. This, in return, will improve your aerobic capacity and athletic performance.

When Should A Heart Rate Concern You?

The intensity of your training and your determination to achieve your fitness goals may affect your judgment and senses when determining heart rate. Some athletes may not notice the rhythm of their hearts, while others can identify minor irregularities. An abnormal heart rate—slow, fast, extremely slow, or extremely fast heart rate—can cause health repercussions, so you must know when to worry about it. Here are some symptoms you should watch out for:

Symptoms of a slow heart rate:

  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Temporary confusion

Symptoms of a fast heart rate:

  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Palpitations or weird pounding in the chest
  • The literal feeling of heart racing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or chest pain

Final Words

There’s no secret that athletes will get more out of their workouts and training by understanding their fitness goals and how best to use their internal and external tools to achieve them. As such, as you choose the best heart rate monitor for your training, also explore all its functionalities, capabilities, and benefits. Don’t just dwell on the cool and latest features these devices offer because, at the end of the day, your main goal is to find the best heart rate monitor and types of training that can improve your aerobic capacity and athletic performance.

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