Analysing running data

Heart Rate Training: What Is It, What Are The Benefits, And Should I Be Doing It?

Runners tend to focus on distance and time. “I’ll go for a 5K today” or “I’ll run for half an hour” is often what determines the type of pace, intensity and challenge you’ll achieve. And, it’s the most common method when training for a significant race such as a marathon, as it ensures you cover enough ground before race day.

However, a different type of running is quickly catching up. Heart rate training is becoming increasingly common among runners due to the amount of valuable information it can tell us about our bodies and what we’re capable of. But what exactly is it, and is it something you should be doing?

What is heart rate training?

We’ve all heard the classic saying “listen to your heart”. But we probably think of it more in relation to rom-coms and less in relation to our running heart rate. Right?

Well, move over Richard Curtis, because runners are giving the saying a new meaning. With fitness trackers becoming increasingly popular, runners are now able to see their heart rate in beats per minute (BPM) and use this information as a guide for intensity – giving them a better sense of how hard their cardiorespiratory system is working. It’s a more personal experience and means you can base your runs entirely around your own body – and your heart rate zones.

What are heart rate zones?

Let’s talk about heart rate zones. Everyone has them, and they vary from our resting heart rate (when we’re relaxed) and our maximum heart rate (MHR) – the upper limit of what our cardiorespiratory system can handle when exercising. There are a number of different zones lie between these two marks, here’s a breakdown:

Zone 1: Very light, 50% to 60% of MHR

Zone 2: Light, 60% to 70% of MHR

Zone 3: Moderate, 70% to 80% of MHR

Zone 4: Hard, 80% to 90% of MHR

Zone 5: Very hard, 90% to 100% of MHR

Now, to work out your heart rate zones, you need to know your MHR. Scientists say you can do this with a simple equation:

Subtract your age from 220. For example, for a 50-year-old person, the estimated maximum age-related heart rate would be calculated as 220 – 50 years = 170 bpm.

(There are also other methods, such as a field test or laboratory test, but these are really only for experienced athletes).

Once you know your MHR, you can then work out your own personal zones. To do this, you need to multiplying your MHR by the percentages in each zone.

Benefits of heart rate training

OK, so now you understand the basics of heart rate training, but why do runners do it? Can your running heart rate give you a better workout? The short answer, yes. And here’s a few reasons why.

Enhanced Performance

Seeing as heart rate training relies on data, runners can get a more effective workout. The more we know about our bodies, the better. Sometimes, we might think we’re pushing ourselves when we aren’t – and vice versa. When done right, using heart rate zones can make for an enhanced performance and impressive results.

Improve Recovery

One of the best things about heart rate training is that it helps runners to know how hard they’re training. This means that they can push themselves harder, if necessary, but they can also stop if they’re overdoing it. When we have a better knowledge of our bodies we can help prevent injuries and boost recovery. With heart rate training, your body is never overworking, which means that it shouldn’t suffer as much the next day.

Personalised workout

Heart rate training is great because it’s completely personalised to you. Every body is different, and that can make running hugely challenging, especially when following generic training plans. What works for one runner might not work for another. With heart rate training, you can listen and respond to your body – and no one else’s.

Should I be doing heart rate training?

It’s clear that there are plenty of benefits to heart rate training and it’s no wonder that it’s becoming increasingly popular. But does that mean you should be doing it?

It completely depends. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to running. Some runners love heart rate training because they get to know the nitty gritty data about their body’s performance. Others prefer to be a little more spontaneous and go with how they’re feeling. If you fall into one of the following categories, however, you might want to consider giving heart rate training a try:

You’re training for a big race

If you’re training for a race such as a half marathon, marathon or ultra marathon, then heart rate training could be beneficial. The different zones can be used to boost your performance and runners who want to boost their speed, for example, should practise interval running in Zone 5, so they can push themselves harder on race day. However, the majority of their running should take place in Zone 2, so they don’t burn out.

You’re running to lose weight

People who use running as a means to lose weight could benefit from heart rate training. When running becomes a part of your routine, your body quickly adapts and you might struggle to slim down, especially with an increased appetite. Heart rate running, however, elevates your metabolic rate (especially in Zones 4 and 5) and triggers your body to burn more fat.  

You’re recovering from an injury

If you’re recovering from an injury, it can be easy to go too hard too fast. Heart rate training can help prevent this, as you can get a better sense of how your body is performing and when you’re pushing it too hard. This will help your body heal quicker and keep your return to running safe.

You’re bored of your routine

After you’ve been running for a long time, you can get bored of your running routine. Heart rate training might be worth giving a try to mix things up and add some spice to your step.

Ready to give heart rate training a go? Let us know how you found it in the comments below.

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Briony is a writer currently living in London. While she spends a lot of time hunched over a desk trying to craft sentences, her other passion is running. She enjoys setting her own goals and is currently training for her second half marathon.

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