Using a heart rate monitor will improve your running more quickly than simply relying on how you feel—if you know how to use it. Employed properly, a heart rate monitor is like having a coach along for every workout. It will help ensure that you train at an appropriate intensity—neither too hard nor too easy. When it's time to work a bit harder, your heart rate monitor nudges you up to the right intensity. And on those days when you need to go easy, you can rely on it to keep you under control.
To improve your fitness, there are only three variables you can control and change:
- Frequency—how often you exercise.
- Duration—how long the individual exercise sessions are.
- Intensity—how challenging the individual exercise sessions are.
More: Heart Rate Training TipsGetting the frequency and duration of your exercise right is easy. Intensity is more difficult to target and is also the most important variable in achieving your goals. One way to measure intensity is to rely on how you feel when exercising by rating your effort as easy, moderate or hard. That's not a very accurate gauge. Mood swings, training partners, enthusiasm and other factors will influence your ratings. A heart rate monitor makes achieving the right intensity of exercise much easier to determine. You decide what your heart rate will be for a given workout and then watch your monitor to make sure you reach it. It's quite simple. Want to get faster? Train with higher heart rates to build speed. Want to go farther? Train with lower heart rates to develop endurance.
I've trained with a heart rate monitor a few times, but I don't know what to do with the information it's giving me. How do I make sense of the numbers?
Until you learn what the numbers displayed on your wrist mean, the heart rate monitor is just a "gee whiz" toy. To give the numbers meaning, you need a reference point, a heart rate unique to you at a given level of intensity. Depending on the brand and model of your heart rate monitor, some will take you through a simple workout to determine this number, but this isn't always the most accurate method to use. It's better to calculate this on your own.