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What are the benefits of using a heart rate monitor?

Is knowing your pulse helpful…?

From wearable tech like the Apple Watch to heart rate-based training classes like spin and Orange Theory, using heart rate monitors outside of the doctor's office has become mainstream. Increasingly, people are seeing the benefit of understanding their heart rate (and more specifically, heart rate variability) as a tool for tracking health and getting the most out of a workout routine.

Sometimes it’s hard to determine just how much is too much when it comes to training.It can also be just as hard to determine reasons why a workout may feel great one day, and then terrible the next. With the addition of using a heart rate monitor, you can track normal and irregulars patterns of fatigue, dehydration, and resting heart rate. Knowing these data points can serve as biomarkers to establish baseline and threshold heart rates. With this information, you can learn from your body, and use it as a tool to prepare and recover properly for your next workout or performance.

 Here’s the lowdown on why and whether you should be doing it, too.

The Value of Knowing Your Heart Rate

Even if you don’t own a fitness tracker, you’ve likely seen similar heart rate data on treadmills, spin bikes, or similar exercise machines at the gym. Based on heartbeats per minute (HR BPM), your physical fitness is broadly categorized into different exercise “zones,” which may include resting, warm-up, fat burn, endurance, and maximum heart rate. Ideally, fitness trackers and exercise machines monitor your HR BPM to give you a general idea of which energy zone your body is in.

Utilizing a heart rate monitor for any activity gives you definitive data on what effort level it takes you as an individual to accomplish a given task as well as under what circumstances (i.e., weather; indoor or outdoor workout; machine or free flow; fatigue; effects of medication or caffeine; sea level; time of day, and more. In other words, what does your body have to do and put forth in terms of effort to accomplish the chosen physical feat of the day?

A Deeper Metric to Measure Your Overall Well-Being

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a deeper layer of data that measures the changes (variables) in the length of time between heartbeats. HR BPM gives you a count of heartbeats per minute, whereas HRV measures whether it takes 1 second between heartbeats or 0.5 seconds, 1 second, 1.5 seconds, and then 0.75 seconds, etc. between heartbeats.

HRV sensitivity fluctuates in response to internal and external stressors, from how much we’re sleeping and exercising to our mood and digestion of food, alcohol, coffee, etc. Research shows it’s healthier to have an increased HRV (more time variability between heartbeats) at resting HR and a lower HRV at active HR. Decreased HRV is a plausible link between depression and heart attacks and is consistent with symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety. Low HRV is also associated with inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol. A  recent physiological study found that HRV could even serve as an index of a healthy person’s cognitive abilities; reduced HRV was associated with poor performance of activities that simulated day-to-day tasks.

Compared to basic HR monitors, HRV monitors can give more precise biometrics of your every movement, minute slept, and calorie burned because it uses more precise heart rate data. Most popular fitness trackers still aren’t able to track HRV, though Wearable reported that the FitBit Charge 2 and Garmin Vivosmart 3 recently added HRV monitoring to their devices.

  • Awareness - A heart rate monitor is a fantastic tool giving you clear indication and evaluation of the condition of your cardiovascular system during physical activity. Again, awareness is power! This is great information to share when you see your doctor at your yearly physical.
  • Using heart rate monitor can be your personal coach. Your heart rate along with your "perceived exertion rate" can tell you if you need to up your intensity, pull back and or tell you that you are in your groove. This helps to hone in on exactly what you want to accomplish and insure the best results for the time that you put in to your fitness plan enhancing workout safety as well.
  • Indicates your heart's ability to "recover" from a given exercise and or interval within a workout once again giving you more info on the condition of your cardiovascular system. Faster recovery rate indicates enhanced cardiovascular capacity.

I personally am an advocate for wearing a heart rate monitor, since i started playing sports to becoming a qualified personal trainer, i have always used a heart montor.It has enabled me to train smarter, allowing  me to get the desired training effect out of each workout.

If your a newby  The first thing to work out is your maximum heart rate (MHR). A rough guide is 220 minus your age. 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.

Establishing Heart Rate Baselines:

Prior to beginning a fitness or training program, it is good to establish your body’s baselines (heart rate, VO2 Max, lactate threshold, etc.) Having these baselines established can help you get the most from your workouts, and allow you to train within your body's’ limits, not beyond them. Having the ability to realize when you are overtraining at an exact instance can help speed up the recovery process and allow yourself to get the intended benefits from a workout, not added fatigue. Once you have established baseline levels of heart rate (this is done through a VO2 Max test) you can set heart rate zones and tailor your workouts around these zones. Working in zones above what is meant to be targeted can place your body in a deficit and make it even harder to recover from than what are expected. You can also incorporate heart rate zones and thresholds to increase your levels of fitness by establishing workouts that focus on hitting high heart zones (lactate threshold) as well as holding baseline average heart rate for base season miles of running (or riding!)

There are many benefits to training with a heart rate monitor. From the science perspective, it is a good measurement for data collection. From the mental side of sport and exercise, it is a great way to visually see increases in fitness, and validation that your hard work is paying off! No matter what your goals are, fitness or performance based, the addition of heart rate based training has a place in both. From simple measurements such as knowing your resting heart rate, to high performance baseline testing, using a heart rate monitor can help you achieve success.

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.