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The Benefits of Using a Heart Rate Monitor: Article by Ellen Miller
If you want to train smart, you need a heart rate monitor.
It seems like such a simple solution, and it is. These days, heart rate monitors are inexpensive – $50 to $60 for a basic, quality model – and they’re easy to use. Heart rate monitors provide information you need to train to your goals; a heart rate monitor shows when you’re working at the right pace and when you have recovered.
Heart rate monitors provide us with concrete information about our health that our senses simply can’t perceive. For example, you may be feeling tired and not sleeping well; a heart rate monitor can determine if you’re overtraining and need to take it easy. On the flipside, a heart rate monitor also can help determine if you need to train harder – if you’re in the right zone. You can’t always feel that. If you want to see true progress you need to be able to determine if you’re training to your goals using different zones on different days to stimulate physiological changes.
Zones determine the heart rate based upon degree of physical exertion. There are five training zones according to global standards: zone one represents the easiest pace, with no stress, while five is very high intensity; a place you don’t visit often.
Each zone is valuable for different objectives and different types of training. For example, interval training falls into zone five. It represents maximum effort and, therefore, is done only periodically based upon individual fitness goals.
On the other hand, zones one and two provide a safe place for rehabilitation after injury or surgery. Working in the first two zones prevents overtraining and additional injury. People tend to train harder than they should, or think they are, so a heart rate monitor is key.
With the understanding of heart rate zones and how to use them to your benefit, also comes the understanding of energy systems. How a person burns calories – fat versus glycogen – can shed light on how the body uses food to work in different gears. Many people focus on burning fat, but when we work harder at a higher heart rate we are burning glycogen and/or a fat glycogen mix. Knowing what’s happening inside the body based upon heart rate monitor readings can help directly pinpoint the fuel source being tapped in different zones.
Now that you’re ready to invest in a heart rate monitor to maximize your training, what should you look for? I urge my clients to focus on simplicity. The bells and whistles of more expensive models are nice, but the most important factor in using a heart rate monitor to train is establishing and utilizing the five training zones. Once you have the equipment take a physiological test to determine your zones. Heart rates are individualistic; you can’t compare yours to someone else.
And, if you’d like to learn more, enlist the help of a coach who can craft a program based upon your personal goals and fitness needs.
For more information about using a heart rate monitor, join Vitality Center cardio coach and USATF Endurance Coach Ellen Miller on Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. at Vail Mountain Lodge & Spa for a heart rate monitor training session. Miller also teaches bi-weekly Outdoor Fitness classes at The Vitality Center, focused on establishing a solid training foundation using intervals (Tuesdays) and endurance (Thursdays). Outdoor Fitness is open to athletes of all abilities, ages and genders. For information call 970-476-7721.
Ellen Miller is a Vitality Center cardio coach and high altitude training specialist, a Certified Level 2 USATF Endurance Coach, and a coach/manager for the U.S. Women’s Mountain Running Team. She has summitted Mount Everest from both sides – Nepal and Tibet – and has climbed four 8,000-meter peaks in the Himalaya.