It’s not uncommon when you are training or racing with other people to hear something like, “My heart rate pegged at 175 beats the entire time…”
Which is crazy to me. Not because that’s such a ‘high heart rate’, but because heart rate is so individualized, unless others around you know your heart rate (HR) zones, it’s kind of useless information.
And the other side is if that person has never done a legitimate HR test, they don’t even really know what those numbers mean!
So let’s talk about how to effectively use heart rate in your training.
Step 1: Test
For any of your heart rate numbers to actually mean anything, you have to do a preliminary test. Joe Friel, basically the godfather of HR training and testing, has written extensively on this subject and I could never do better than he has!
Go check out Joe Friel’s quick guide to setting zones.
Step 2: Train
I once saw an Instagram post from someone and she had written about how she stopped training by heart rate because in the summer her HR was super high and she couldn’t train at the paces she wanted to.
That’s the point of heart rate!
When training by HR you are bringing awareness to the state of your body in the moment and giving it the desired stimulus by a specific number.
Sure, your 5k pace may be 30 seconds slower in warmer weather, but 160bpm is 160bpm no matter the weather. Even though your Rated Perceived Exertion at 160bpm may also vary depending on the day, the stimulus will still be what you want.
And there are countless other factors affecting your heart rate - stress, sleep, hydration, fueling, the list is long.
The key is to know the intended zone of your workout and stay in that zone.
Step 3: Trust
Trusting your training is essential when it comes to HR training. If you are needing to run easy, keep it in Zone 1-2. Honestly, when I train by HR it’s more to ensure my easy days are as easy as they are supposed to be, because it so appealing to train faster than I should be.
Trust that even if you aren’t hitting the paces you want in the zones you want that it will all come together on race day. Sometimes “coming together” means hitting a PR, other times it means not blowing up on the run like you always do.
In the end, it’s important to remember your HR zones and limits are different from someone else. So even if you hear them throw out a number that sounds shockingly high or shockingly low, know it has no effect on where your HR “should” be.
Through testing and training you’ll learn what’s right for your body in the moment and begin to trust that. And of course, never be afraid to retest after a time because even your HR zones can move around.