Training With A Heart Rate Monitor- By Coach Keena

Training With A Heart Rate Monitor- By Coach Keena

Raise your hand if you use a heart rate monitor on a regular basis in your training. Now, raise your other hand if you are using your heart rate monitor in the most effective and useful way.


Hmmmm…..Do you KNOW what the most effective way is to use your heart monitor in training?

If not, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you know your Lactate Threshold Heart Rate?
  • Do you know your personal heart rate zones based on that LTHR and not just the numbers that were automatically plugged into your monitor?
  • Do you understand what is happening on a physiological level when you are training at a specific heart rate zone?
  • Do you know there is a specific reason for why you should be training at a specific heart rate/zone and that each zone is important to your success…but for different reasons?
  • And finally, were you aware that you can make AMAZING and PHENOMENAL improvements in your fitness and performance just by effectively using your heart rate monitor to help you train in the right zones and intensities to make EVERY hour of training you do the best use of your time?

 Ready for some quick and easy answers to the above questions?

Good.  Here they are:

  • To figure out your Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (which is different for everyone and is NOT just based on your age), you can do a couple of simple tests.  If you have the funds, go to a facility that offers metabolic testing (like NewLeaf) and have it done with all the cool gadgets that will really break down all your zones and what zone you are burning the most fat vs. carbs for fuel, etc.  If at all possible, I like all my athletes to do this test, because we can re-test after a period of consistent training and be able to quantify just how much they have improved their body’s ability to utilize fat for fuel and at what heart rate zones they are doing that most effectively.

If you want a FREE test that is quite accurate, then do Joe Friel’s test where you run for 30 minutes (just as hard as you would in a race) and then take the average heart rate for the last 20 minutes.  Not a real fun test, but very effective.  I also have my athletes do a little more simple test where I have them jog for 10 minutes easy warm up and then run an 8 minute time trial and take the final heart rate from that effort.  I have found that it is also quite accurate.

Here’s the deal though…you will also need to this same kind of test for cycling if you are a triathlete, because running LTHR and cycling LTHR are NOT going to be the same numbers.  Typically, a biking LTHR is going to be lower than a running LTHR.  So, test BOTH disciplines for accurate heart rate training.

  • Your personal heart rate zones are now going to be based off the numbers you pulled in from your testing.  If you had it done by a metabolic test (such as NewLeaf), then your zones will already be broken down for you.  If not, then you will get to break down your zones into 5 zones (there are other options out there…but, I like the 5 zone option and since I am writing this article…that is what I choose!)

Here is the easy breakdown:

Zone 5 is your LTHR (So, let’s pretend your LTHR is 180);

Zone 4 would be in the range of 95%-99% of your LTHR;

Zone 3 would be in the range of 90%-94% of your LTHR;

Zone 2 would be in the range of 85%-89% of your LTHR

Zone 1 would be LESS than 85% of LTHR.

  • Here is what is happening on a physiological basis when you train at different heart rate zones (and why a monitor is SO valuable for the immediate feedback you will receive.)  Many athletes (especially beginners) have a very hard time interpreting the feedback their bodies give them when training.  It can be hard to KNOW just how hard we are training.  It can also be hard to get our EGOS out of the way when we train…we seem to want to go faster, harder, better…ALL the time.  In reality, we need to build a BASE of fitness before we can build that top end speed (and that would be your Zone 5 efforts).  By wearing a heart rate monitor we can read the feedback from our heart and let that guide us as we build our base aerobic fitness.  Once we have a solid groundwork built up from Zone 1-2 efforts (those would be the zones that build a broad aerobic base and train the body to burn fat more efficiently for fuel, build a network of capillaries to deliver blood to working muscles and assist in the buildup of our connective tissue’s tolerance to increased loads.)  Lots of good things happen in those lower intensity zones, but too many times athletes discount their value because it doesn’t feel hard enough.  Stick to the feedback from your heart rate monitor and once you can run or bike at an improved pace/power with your heart rate staying low (this is where good assessments and testing come in handy) then you can know it is time to go up into the higher zones of training.  Zone 4-5+ training is like the icing on the cake.  We want to train threshold efforts, and increase our tolerance both cardiovascularly and muscularly to those efforts.  Just remember…a little bit goes a long way.  Use your heart rate monitor religiously to really stick to the appropriate zones for each workout and then make the most of that feedback to ensure you are progressing as desired.
  • An athlete that is training for an Ironman distance race is going to use their heart rate zone training differently than an athlete training for a sprint distance race.  This is because an Ironman distance will not require efforts in the LTHR, zone 5 efforts (at least for no prolonged period), whereas a sprint distance race is most definitely requiring as much tolerance for those higher zones as an individual can develop.  If you are training speed, power and maximum output, you will be using your heart rate monitor to ensure you are holding those higher zones.  If you are training endurance, distance, consistency and aerobic development then you will spend the majority of your time in lower heart rate zones (typically zones 1-3) that develop those energy systems.
  • By knowing your heart rate zones and training wisely by engaging in a smart periodization plan that is specific to your races, goals, strengths and weaknesses, you can make the most out of every training session you do.  If you are in your base building phase, then you will be spending the majority of your time in lower heart rate zones.  If you are coming into your race season and you need speed, power and a high tolerance for threshold efforts, then you will plan on at least 10% of your training being spent in those high end zones.  Make every workout a focused, specific effort with your heart rate monitor and the feedback it gives you as an integral part of your training and you will have  your best season yet!

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