Friday, January 20, 2017

To Record or Not? Using Heart Rate Monitors

The great debate between whether to use heart rate monitors to train or not has been going on for many years. Some say that heart rate monitors are the only way to truly train, while others think that heart rate monitors are a waste of time, effort, and money. Here are some benefits and drawbacks to using a heart rate monitor.

The Hard Truth

Heart rate monitors record you heart in every step of the way. This leads to hard data on your heart’s performance during training, recovery, and racing. Taking this hard data, you can plan for where you need to improve during your races by seeing exactly where your heart needs time to recover and where you need to speed up. 
Knowing exactly what your heart rate looks like during the race will lead to focusing on your pace and better training plans.


It may seem tedious, but recording your heart rate data with the finishing times of the legs in your races will improve your knowledge of your pacing. While training, record your heart rate for all stages of your workout. After recording your data you can identify what your heart rate looks like at your normal pace. This comes in handy on race day when you feel like you are going to slow and need to speed up. Look at your heart monitor. Is your heart rate the same as in training or do you need to speed up or slow down? If your heart is already beating out of control, then you should relax so you still have energy at the end of the race. If your heart rate is too low, speed up so you can finish with a better time.

                                                                        picture courtesy of

The Recovery Period

A little counterintuitive sounding, but wearing a heart rate monitor and recording the data from it during your recovery will help you figure out how long it takes your heart to recover. Measure your resting heart rate first thing when you wake up after a day of hard training and a day after easy training. If your heart rate spikes on any of these days, you may need to recover for longer. This tells you that your body is overworked and to get the benefits from training, your body might need a different plan to recover. Replenishing your body fully before extreme workouts or training days will help you build more muscle and excel in your time.

Making a Plan

People who train with heart rate monitors know exactly what their body is telling them and therefore they are able to make a training plan to suit their body’s needs, while reaping the benefits on race day. Regardless of what race a person who trains with a heart rate monitor is doing, their scheduled plan allows them to train to the best of their body’s ability.

Conversely, people who have a plan without data don’t know exactly what their training schedule is improving or lacking; it’s all about feeling. Where the freedom is there without measuring heart rates, the facts are not. Having a plan based on heart rates can increase the consistency of improving your race results without stressing on what went wrong during the race. With a heart monitor you know at what point your pace or strategy needs improvement, which helps you tweak your plan.


As with any technology, there are some drawbacks to racing with heart monitors. If you just want to have fun racing, heart monitor training is probably not for you. Recording heart monitor data is a discipline and if you are only there to have fun, then this might take the fun out of it for you.

There are many factors that may mess with the monitor itself or environmental factors that naturally change your heart rate. Are you not getting enough sleep? Are you dehydrated? Is it hotter today than it was yesterday? Is there extra pressure from work or home life? Are you addicted to coffee? I know I am. Is your gear made out of synthetic fabrics? If there is a possibility of yes from these questions then there is also a possibility that you will get a faulty reading from your heart rate monitor. They are not infallible and they can be finicky which means that some data will be skewed from them.

Heart Rate Versus Lactate Levels

This is the biggest argument against heart monitor training in my opinion. The lactate levels in your blood determine how well your body responds to your training program. Although there are some fancy graphs and equations to figure that out based on your heart rate, they are only averages and not based on you and your body. This means that the training zone you think you fit best into for the particular leg of the race you are on, may not be the one that your body actually fits best into.

You Decide

I recommend trying to train with a heart rate monitor plan to see if it works for you. You never know if you don’t try. If you decide that heart rate monitoring is just not your thing, record your race leg times so you can know which portion of the race you excel at and which portion may need a little more attention.

Beep Beep Happy Monitoring!

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