Use a Heart Rate Monitor and Find Your Threshold

As the race season approaches, you need to train some of your sessions close to and at your AT (Zones 2 and 3).

  • If the race you are training for is less than 30 minutes, your harder sessions should be at or slightly above your AT (Zone 3).
  • Events longer than this are best trained at or slightly below AT on hard training days (Zone 2).

It should be noted that all athletes in most sports should try to train all systems at different heart rate zones at one time or the other throughout the year. If you're training for Ironman, you still need to do a small amount of training at and above your AT.

Training with a heart rate monitor is extremely useful on long, easy training sessions. It will keep you under control and reduce the tendency to train to hard on days when you should be taking it easy.

Should I always follow my heart rate monitor and ignore how I am feeling during a workout?

No. The heart rate monitor is best used in conjunction with perceived effort or exertion.

Dr. Gunnar Borg developed a scale in the early 70s to determine perceived exertion. The scale ranges from 7 to 20, with the lower number being a very, very light effort and 20 being a maximum effort. Your AT should be somewhere between 16 and 18.

The day after a hard training session, you may find that the pace of an easy aerobic training session feels harder and is performed slower than normal, while your heart rate is extremely low. Do you work even harder and try to get your heart rate up into Zone 1 or do you listen to your body and slow down even more, realizing that the hard session the day before took more out of you than you expected? In this case, it would be best to listen to how you feel rather than only using your heart rate monitor as your only guide.

Several outside factors such as lack of sleep, stress, sickness and physical fatigue can have severe effects on your heart rate while training and need to be taken into account when training with a heart rate monitor. Don't become a slave to technology. Try to perform some training sessions without a monitor and go by effort only.

It should be noted that there is what is referred to as a "heart rate drift." This occurs during longer periods of training. For example, your heart rate may start to rise towards the end of a two-hour run while your perceived exertion stays the same. This is usually caused by dehydration.

To sum up:

  • Try to properly determine your heart rate training zones rather than using a formula.
  • Remember that your training zones will differ from sport to sport.
  • Use a combination of perceived effort along with what your heart rate monitor is telling you when training.
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