Heart Rate monitor training...is it just a Theory?
Heart rate monitors are one of the best selling wearable devices in the fitness industry. They are designed to tell us what our actual heart rate is at anytime. A lot of people rely on heart rate to gauge intensity believing that their heart rate is an indicator of how hard they are working.
I myself, used to love using my heart rate monitor during interval-running workouts. However, it took me a lot of time and research to actually figure out how to make it work for me personally. Heart rate monitor training has a time and a place, but to be really effective it has to be a personalized measurement.
Most people use a simple formula to calculate what they are told is their age predicted max heart rate. It looks like this:
220-age= Max Heart Rate.
Sounds easy right? All you have to do is take that formula and once you plug in your age, you know what your max heart rate is. Then, you try to run hard enough to hit that heart rate to achieve high intensity interval training. There are so many things wrong with seeing max heart rate from this point of view that it does more harm than good.
Here is an example of what I am talking about.
Take two people age 50 years old. Person A is deconditioned and hasn’t exercised in the last few years. If we use the simple formula above, Person A gets a max heart rate of 170 beats per minute. So, if I ask this person to run on a treadmill at a speed that feels slow and manageable, what do you think their heart rate is going to do? Yup, spike through the roof! Their heart rate is going to rise above the age predicted max heart rate, but they will feel like they are not yet at max intensity. And they aren’t!
Take person B, same age, so same max heart rate. Except, this person has been exercising and running weekly for the last few years. When this person is asked to run on the treadmill and try to reach max heart rate, they can’t get near that goal because they are so conditioned that the heart rate no longer spikes up, but stays at a much lower rate even though they are running at full speed. So, the age predicted formula was clearly not set for the 50 year old out of shape person, nor the very conditioned fit person. In a more scientific breakdown, the deconditioned person’s heart is not efficient at pumping blood to vital organs and has to work harder, thus the heart is beating more than the age predicted formula and the fit person’s heart is so efficient that it doesn't require as many beats per minute to pump blood to vital organs.
In both cases, the age predicted max heart rate doesn't work to show true intensity that should be used for high intensity interval training.
In short, the out of shape person will never work hard enough because their age predicted max heart rate will always be too easy to attain. While the fit person will never be able to work as hard as required to actually get to the age predicted max heart rate.
I learned this by comparing age predicted max heart rate with real internal markers of blood pressure, minute ventilation, blood lactate, vO2 max and many other markers that showed true max heart rate can only really be determined by testing these scientific measures.
After figuring out that true max heart rate is very individual in nature and different numbers for each person, I figured out a way to get people to their true max heart rate without relying on predicted numbers.
It’s actually simple…. Mind-body connection.
It is understanding both mentally and physically, what intensity should look like, what it should feel like and what is tangible for you. The best way to gauge how fast you should be running, how much weight you should be lifting, or how many repetitions you should be doing is to base it on how it feels to you. And it also needs to be prescribed in a way that lets you know exactly the place your are reaching for.
Here is an example of what I am talking about:
How fast should I run? You should run fast enough that it looks like a sprint; gate open, arms swinging, knees driving high.
What should it feel like? You should feel out of breath, hands on knees, and heart pounding.
Can you give me something to compare it to that makes sense to me? Yes. The run should be much faster than your 1 mile pace and think open sprint on a track, not run around the lake. Think all out 400 meter sprint.
A realistic mind-body approach to your workout can result in actual increased performance, rather than using a heart rate monitor to hit an age predicted target. How do I know? Because after coaching clients through a mind-body connected prescription of intensity, I tested their blood immediately following the last repetition and I could see that they were able to hit their own max heart rate relying on coaching cues which allowed them to push themselves to their REAL max heart rate. Which, in most cases, was much different than their age predicted max heart rate.