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How Can You Use Your Heart Rate For Your Running Workouts?

Home » How Can You Use Your Heart Rate For Your Running Workouts?

All of us have access to an incredibly sophisticated, individualised training tool to fine-tune your running workouts – your heart. Specifically, your heart rate offers a wealth of information runners can use. Using your heart rate to optimise your running workouts isn’t a new idea, but one that is terribly underutilised. Below, we explain how you can use it effectively.

Know Your Maximum Heart Rate

Before starting heart rate training, you need to know what your max heart rate is. There are a variety of different methods to estimate this, the most common being subtracting your age from 220. However, these estimates are often inaccurate, especially for older individuals. Factors such as fitness level, genetics, dehydration, heat, altitude, time of day and natural variation can all influence heart rate by up to 20 per cent.

The best approach to finding your true max heart rate is with a treadmill stress test in a lab. You can replicate this by using your own heart-rate monitor. Start with a warm-up kilometre, followed by another at a comfortably hard pace, then slowly increase your speed over 400 metres before running a final 400 metres as fast as you can. The highest number on your monitor will be close to your max heart rate.

Your Heart Training Zones

Once you know your max heart rate, you can find your training zones by multiplying this figure by a percentage. For example, if your max heart rate is 195, you can multiply that by 0.6 and 0.7 to find your zone 1 range (117 to 136 in this case). Here are the rest of the zones, as created by Janet Hamilton of the coaching website Running Strong:

  • Zone 1 (60 to 70%) – A comfortable effort used for warm-ups and cool downs.
  • Zone 2 (70 to 80%) – Used for a majority of training, this zone takes effort, but you can still hold a conversation.
  • Zone 3 (81 to 93%) – A harder effort where you can only manage to talk in short, broken sentences.
  • Zone 4 (94 to 100%) – A very hard effort that you can sustain but only lets you speak a few words at a time.

Each zone has a purpose, and where you choose to spend time depends on your goals. For example, someone training for a marathon will probably spend more time training in zones 1 and 2 as a marathon requires a moderate pace over a long period.

Benefits of Heart Rate Training

Heart rate training allows you to regulate the intensity of your running workouts, reducing the risk of fatigue or overtraining. It means you can train smarter by recovering properly in time between each of your runs. It also means you can accurately track your efforts during high intensity sessions, and moderate the influence of other factors like heat and humidity. Heart rate training is great for tempo runs, where getting your exertion level right is essential to benefit from your workout.

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