Do you train with a heart rate monitor?

They can be a useful tool to let you know what your actual effort is while you are working out, keeping you honest when you are trying to run fast and making sure you don’t overdo things when you are trying to stay slow.

Heart rate monitors are much more accurate at telling you your level of exertion than merely looking at the time it takes you to cover a specific distance. They will take into account all factors, such as hills, heat, how much sleep you got, how well you’ve been eating, and motivated you are during any specific run.

Of course, if you don’t know what the numbers refer to then you will have trouble interpreting the data. In fact, if you aren’t using an accurate and individualized scale, then you might even hurt your workouts by running too fast or too slow based on your own needs.

Most heart rate training involves running at a percentage of your max heart rate, which is the fastest that your heart can beat in any given minute. The most common way to calculate your max heart rate is to subtract your age from 220.

There is no formula that you can use that will accurately tell you your maximum heart rate. When I was in my teens I could get my heart rate into the 230s and even in my 30s can still get into the low 200 beats per minute.

Rather than using a general formula, I recommend that you find your effective max by actually elevating your heart rate during a workout. It isn’t very easy but this is just a periodic test that you can do to see where you are at.

  1. Warm up for 15 to 20 minutes (easy)
  2. 3×800m w/90 seconds recovery (hard)
  3. 2 or 3×400m w/30 seconds recovery (as fast as possible)
  4. Cool down for 15 to 20 minutes (easy)

Start the workout with a light warm up, such as a 15 or 20 minute jog.
The workout itself will be more effective if you can find a steep hill, but for safety reasons I recommend going to a track where it is easy to go fast without having to worry as much about dodging obstacles or traffic.

The 800 meter repeats should be performed at a very good pace, but will not be all out. You should find that 90 seconds of rest will be more than enough to recover before starting the next one. At the beginning of each rest period, check your heart rate to see what it gets up to.

After the 800s, run 2 or 3 by 400 meters as fast as you can, with only 30 seconds rest. Check your heart rate as soon as you finish each repeat, unless your heart rate monitor tracks your max for you in which case you don’t need to look. These 400 meter repeats are going to be very difficult, because you will be tired from running the 800s and will not be getting enough rest to recover in between each repeat.

Finish up with 15 to 20 minutes easy recovery jogging. Whatever you got your heart rate up to is a much better indication of around where your max is than the old formula of 220 minus your age.