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John's Running Tips

Heart Rate Monitors

The heart rate monitor can assist the new runner in establishing a safe, effective pace in his or her training. As runners progress in their training, a heart rate monitor can help them train more efficiently, stay off the injury list, run at the right pace, and run with the right level of exertion. Overtraining, both in distance and intensity, can be avoided with a monitor. For many folks, it is like their personal coach sitting on their arm.

The monitor can help you control your enthusiasm, leading you to the most intelligent training program. Most runners are type A personalities—the monitor will help them achieve the long slow runs by slowing them down and helping prevent them from over doing the speed and tempo runs. Staying in control keeps your training progressive and minimizes the risk of injuries.

Heart rate training requires runners to know their maximum heart rate, which can be done in a physiological test to exhaustion. Very few runners have the opportunity to do this test so we must have an alternate method that will estimate our maximum heart rate with some accuracy. There is a very simple and commonly used predictive formula for your maximum heart rate: if you are a man, subtract your age from 220 and if you are a woman, subtract your age from 226. For example, a 40-year-old man would have a maximum heart rate of about 180, and a 40-year-old woman would have a maximum heart rate of about 186. Use your results only as a guideline; listen to your body as you train. The heart rate house is built with the foundation (base training), the walls (threshold training) and the roof (speed training). The key for the athlete to understand is at what intensity they should do the three phases of training and how they should feel.

Let's start with base training, because it is the foundation of our program. The athlete will feel the run is fun, easy and sociable. They have no problem carrying on a conversation. This is a level of training where fat gets used as your main source of fuel. This is the level at which the majority of long runs should be done. Burning fat for fuel allows the limited stores of glycogen to be spared. Training at this level prevents the athlete from becoming too tired, thereby improving recovery time and enabling the athlete to train at the higher intensities when needed. The training should be done at 50% to 70% of maximum heart rate.

The next level is threshold training or strength training, the wall of our heart rate house. The athlete finds this still fun, but talking is laboured. Conversation is in very short sentences—the runner would prefer to talk later. This is the level of intensity at which the runner would do hill training, tempo and fartlek runs. More recovery is required from this effort than from base training. Threshold training should be done at 70% to 85% of maximum heart rate. Use a heart rate monitor during threshold training because as your fitness improves you will become faster over the same distance at the same effort. The runner should also monitor recovery time, which will decrease as fitness improves.

The final phase, which is the roof of our house, is the speed training level. This is the land of heavy breathing and no talking and should only be done after the base training and strength training have been done on a regular basis. It's still fun, but the focus is on recovery. If done properly and with the right level of fitness, your breathing and heart rate drop quickly after each hard effort. The training in this phase should be done at 85% to100% of maximum heart rate.

Polar heart rate monitors have established the benchmark for athletic monitors. The basic monitor displays your heart rate; the more advanced models allow for such features as target zones, recovery times, out of zone alarms, interval times and calorie count. Whether you are a novice looking for a safe progressive improvement in your training or a seasonal runner looking at improving the quality of your run, have a look at the latest in heart rate monitors.

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