Training Tips: Running with Heart Rate

Data Tracking for Optimal Performance

By Brandon Dyksterhouse
October 1, 2013

[Placeholder]Training Tips: Running with Heart Rate | Data Tracking for Optimal Performance

Nutrition is our game --  all you need to do is figure out how you enjoy to exercise, and what goals you’re working towards. One great way to do this is using a simple Heart Rate Monitor (HRM).  Heart Rate Monitors are a great tool to judge your fitness and develop a plan. But first you need to understand what the numbers mean, what they are telling you, and how to use them to your advantage.  

Below Adam, a multi-sport coach from San Diego's Breakaway Training, assembled a guide to help you get started training using heart rate.



The first step before beginning any training program is to have an understanding of what your heart is capable of. Maximum heart rate (MRH) is one key to determining your training capacity but so is your resting heart rate.  The best way to determining your MRH is not simply 220-your age because everyone's heart is different and MRH can vary based on age, base fitness level, temperature, hydration, etc...  The best way to find your MHR is to actually attempt to hit your MHR.  One way to do this is to head to a track for a simple HR test.



Warm up for 10 minutes and then run 1 mile a little below your perceived race-pace effort for a 5k.  After the 1 mile, run another 400m (one lap) at a slightly faster clip.  As you come around you will complete an additional 400m at an ALL OUT pace.  With about 100M let, take a peek at your watch.  The highest BPM you hit during that last lap is the best approximation for your MHR.  Finding your Resting Heart Rate is much easier.  Wear your HR monitor to bed one night.  As soon as you wake up in the morning check your HR.  This will be as close to your resting HR as you will see without monitoring your HR during deep sleep.    Now you know your MAX and MIN heart rates.  With these two useful points of data, you can begin to actually USE your HR monitor to your advantage.


1) know your zones

Now that you know your approximate MHR and RHR, divide that range into 5 training zones.

  • - Zone 1-2 are recovery/ resting zones.
  • - Zone 3 is your aerobic training zone; an intensity when your body can still process oxygen and is more of a marathon pace.  You can hold a conversation while running.
  • - Zone 4 is an anaerobic training zone; your body can long longer process oxygen fast enough in order to keep up with your energy demands.  Runners experience this intensity while running 5k-10k events.  Finally,
  • - Zone 5  - your max effort, all out zone.   You should only be able to hold this intensity for short periods of time and is often used when sprinting or in high intensity interval training.

Its important to know these zone when your training so you can focus your workouts on developing your capacities within these zones.


2) have a goal

Do you want to be a sprinter?  A marathoner? or just a great all around runner?  You need to know what your goal is in order to determine what HR zones you should be working in.  While high intensity track work is important to develop foot speed and technique and longer over-distance runs are great at developing endurance, you need to make sure you are training properly for the right event.  Training for a marathon? Many of your long training runs will be in your  Zone 2- Zone 3 ranges.  Your body simply can not go anaerobic for 26 miles so you need to begin developing your aerobic capacity.  Want to have a sub 33 minute 10k?  You’re looking at spending a little more time in the upper edges of Zone 3 and Zone 4.  Just want to be a great all-around runner?  A mixture of weekly Zone 2, 3 and 4 training runs and along with the occasional high intensity interval session along with the right training plan in place will help develop all areas of your run-game.


3) make a plan

Now that you've decided what your training for, a well developed plan of attack is critical in making sure you are working within the right training zones to achieve maximum results.  Being a great 10k runner is not as easy as going out and running 10k every day.  A well programed perodizied training schedule will make sure you are both challenging your heart and getting adequate recovery in order to help grow the strength of your heart.  Training is all about stress and recovery, stress and recovery, stress and recovery.  Knowing your HR zones will make sure you are not pushing too hard on easy days and not going too easy on hard days.


4) track your progress

Many online and now even your smartphone have great applications for uploading your run data directly from your watch so you can easily review your run performance and track your progress over time.  Keeping a close eye on your results helps not only to insure you are moving in a positive direction, but is also a useful tool in keeping you honest and sticking to the plan; "Where was I lagging?  Where did I push too hard?, etc...". Knowing this data will help you keep things in check during your next run or enable you to push new limits on those tougher days.  Plus, it's also fun to look back at all the work you've done and just how far your fitness level has improved.

5) test and re-test once or twice a year

As your conditioning improves so will the strength of your heart.  You will slowly be capable of a higher MRH and lower RHR.  As a result, your HR training zones will need to be adjusted in order to continue to maximize your results.  This does not happen overnight, but slowly over time.  A new MHR test once or twice a year will ensure you are still utilizing the proper training zones.


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