by Heidi Shalek
At the TR, we’re pumped that heart rate training is “IN”. It makes perfect sense that collecting data about how your body is functioning while you exercise should enable you to train with more precision. However, be careful not to over-simplify the numbers coming through on your device. With the rise in popularity of high intensity interval training (HIIT), it’s easy to fall victim to the sweat factor. In truth, harder work does not always equal better results, and a higher heart rate doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing your body good. So, the next time you’re racking up those splat points or stuck in the endless red zone, take a moment to consider these three heart rate rules:
RULE #1 – Know your resting heart rate. It matters. Your resting heart rate (RHR) is a good indicator of your overall aerobic capacity. When training your heart, the goal is to develop and then maintain the most resilient, efficient aerobic system possible. If your RHR is less than 60, you’re doing pretty good. If your RHR is between 60-70, there is certainly room for improvement, and if your RHR is 70-80+, building your aerobic base should be a focus of your training program. Many heart rate monitors will calculate an fairly accurate RHR with frequent use. Otherwise, simply take your pulse and count how many times your heart beats in 60 seconds when you are completely at rest – ideally first thing in the morning before you get out of bed.
RULE #2 – Know how to recover. Be sure to include purposeful activity into your routine aimed at recharging your system. This could be anything from soft tissue work to acupuncture to meditation to low/slow cardio to a salt bath (to name a few). The amount of rest you need is proportional to the amount of stress you put on your system. In other words, if you aren’t working hard, there is less to recover from. Above all, learn to listen to your body, because work/life stressors outside of the gym count here too. In a nutshell: Hard Work + Better Recovery = Better Results. No one is saying you shouldn’t work hard. In fact, to reach your goals, you’re going to have to put in the work and it won’t always be easy. Your ability to recover from a demanding or physically stressful workout is the key to training success. Keep your system balanced with quality sleep, good nutrition and hydration.
RULE #3 – Know how to change gears. The first step? Build your aerobic base. Remember that a resilient, efficient aerobic system is the gateway to withstanding high intensity efforts. You should be able to control your heart rate. Practice keeping it in a specific zone. Practice improving your heart rate recovery (HRR) by tracking how quickly your heart rate comes down between intervals or sets. (Do this by taking your HR 60 seconds after you stop activity and subtracting it from your peak heart rate during activity.) There is a direct correlation between how quickly your heart rate comes down after exercise and your overall fitness level. Typically, during an interval workout, a heart rate of 120 or less is an indicator that your system is ready to resume higher intensity work.
At the end of the day, knowing your heart rate will allow you to get more out of your training. Just make sure that your system is prepared to handle high intensity efforts, and avoid frying yourself by overtraining. Now, when you do push yourself hard, you will be capable of making real progress.