Heart Rate Training for Runners

PolarWearlink+Heart Rate Training

Would you like to run longer and faster with less effort? Heart rate training can help you reach that goal. A heart rate monitor provides real-time biofeedback during your workouts to help you stay in the optimal training zone.

Determining Your Maximum and Minimum Heart Rate

To find your target heart rate zone, you’ll need to know your maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate. Then, you can determine several training zones between those two extreme values. The idea is that you use the heart rate data during your workout to stay in the intended heart rate zone. Some people choose to run by pace per mile speeds, while others by their ability to carry on a conversation. Heart rate training is based solely on BPM (beats per minute).

Phil Maffetone, author of The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, came up with the 180 Formula for heart rate training. It’s popular among endurance athletes and triathletes.

Calculate Your Own Maximum Aerobic Training Heart Rate Using the 180 Formula

To find your maximum aerobic training heart rate, there are two important steps. First, subtract your age from 180. Next, find the best category for your present state of fitness and health, and make the appropriate adjustments:
1. Subtract your age from 180.
2. Modify this number by selecting among the following categories the one that best matches your fitness and health profile:
a. If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
b. If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.
c. If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180–age) the same.
d. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.

For example, if you are thirty years old and fit into category (b), you get the following:
180–30=150. Then 150–5=145 beats per minute (bpm).

The American Heart Association recommends a slightly different method for identifying your maximum heart rate. Their method is to simply subtract your age from 220. For example, if you are thirty years old, you get the following: 220-30=190.

Determining your resting heart rate by taking your pulse for one minute just after waking up, or while sitting down relaxing. Athletes usually find their resting rate is around 60 BPM.

Determining Your Heart Rate Training Zones

MarathonGuide.com offers a nice calculator to easily figure out your training zones. After filling in your maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate, you can click a button to see your training zones. Using the example from above, with a maximum heart rate of 190 and a resting heart rate of 65, here are the results:

heart rate training zones

Heart Rate Training Plans

Your training plans should be based on your desired outcomes. If your goal is to lose weight while building up base miles, you’ll probably stay in Zones 2 and 3. If you are training for a race, you may end up training in Zones 3, 4 and 5. If you just ran a marathon, you are likely recovering and spending time in Zone 1.

Variety is the spice of life and the cure for ‘lazy’ running. Runners aren’t lazy, but their approach to training may be if they’re doing the same thing, at the same effort, day after day. To see improvements, you’ll need to mix things up and challenge yourself in a variety of ways.

The advantage to heart rate training is that it’s based solely on your own biofeedback. External measures such as pace per mile do not interfere with your results. For example, if you run a flat 6 mile course on a cool day at 8:00 pace, how does that compare to running 6 miles on a hilly course under a scorching sun at 8:30 pace?

Heart Rate Monitors

I recently tested the Polar WearLink+ transmitter (Made by Polar) on several of my training runs. The device is attached to an elastic textile strap that goes around you chest. The transmitter is roughly the size of a matchbox and weighs 5.5 ounces. The Polar WearLink+ synchs with your Nike+ watch or iPod device to display your current BPM in real-time. Your data is then transmitted along with your other run details when you upload to the Nikeplus portal.

Here is a snapshot of a recent long run:


The red line represents heart rate

During the workout above, I stayed mostly in zone 2 (weight control) except for the last mile which bumped into zone 3 (aerobic) as the pace quickened. I find that most of my runs began with a quick spike in heart rate followed by a drop in mile 2 after my body starts to warm up. It could be that my body is adjusting to the effort, or that the heart rate monitor is quirky until I begin to sweat. Either way, I’m not alarmed.

I like minimal interference when I run. I prefer empty roads and trails, wearing minimal shoes, and running without layers when possible. So, having a piece of equipment strapped around my chest was not welcome. However, I soon forgot about it once the run began. And, the biofeedback it provides is vital.

I like to use my Polar Wearlink+ as a feedback mechanism on the occasional run or hard workout just to be sure I’m pushing myself hard enough, but not too hard. I’m wearing it now as I write this article at my stand up desk. A steady 60 BPM.

Final Thoughts

Training principles remain the same no matter what method you use. A blend of long and short, easy and hard, fast and slow, and plenty of rest will keep you fit and healthy. Heart rate training offers you an exact measure of effort and gives you the certainty of knowing that you are training at your intended level of exertion.