Break Free From the Tyranny of Your Heart Rate Monitor

The numbers on your wrist are nowhere near as important as what your body is telling you.

Your heart rate monitor is a dinosaur. An outdated piece of equipment, even if it is the newest model. To the masses that use it, consider it a liar. It deceives you about how hard to train, what “zone” to race in, and even makes you slow down when you should be pushing the pace. All of these artificial inputs are inhibiting you from getting better. Free yourself from the stress of staying in the zone.

How Heart Rate Holds You Back

If I say to you I want you to sprint 400m, you will sprint. It will be hard, and you will recover, and with enough sprint training you will get faster. If you do the same thing following the numbers on your monitor, you will slow down to stay in the zone. You are holding back, when you could be doing better. Doesn’t sound very productive to having a stellar race season. 

Another example of a heart rate monitor letting you down is when you’re tired or aren’t feeling well. The monitor says you need to pick it up to stay in the zone, but you just can’t. Next thing you know, you are ignoring that your body is telling you that you need to rest, and pushing yourself hard to get into or stay in zone, and now you are injured.

What Does Your Body Say?

Before monitors were invented, there was a thing called rate of perceived exertion (RPE). It’s free, pretty basic, and easy to use. The RPE scale is an excellent tool. You can use a simple scale of 1 for easy and 10 for all-out effort. With my athletes, I tend to use percentages in the upper range of 70-100%, or words like easy, hard, sprints, time trial effort, or all-out effort.

For base training, go slow and easy when starting out in your program, then train at a perceived exertion up to 70% effort. After a month or two, when you feel like you are into the swing of it, then it’s time to open the throttle.

One of the great things about ditching the monitor is that you smash through plateaus by pushing harder. The fitter you become through quality over quantity training, the more you can push and blow through your old PRs. It also adds longevity to your programming. You can use the same training program year after year, because it is based on your exertion, and not judging you on your fitness level. Just remember to leave your ego at the door, and be honest in your assessment of your training effort.

Give it a try. Repeat one of your track workouts, and base it solely on how you feel. Of course you will track your time, but I want you run based only on how you feel. Be honest. Then write down your results and compare. It also works for the bike and the swim. It’s time to get away from the chain keeping you from kicking some serious butt on the race course. 

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