Slow It Down--Intro into Heart Rate Training


By: Trey Brush

So many GPS watches and gadgets now come with a heart rate monitor.  For me, this one device is probably the most overlooked and misunderstood product in the running industry by many.  What I am not going to do today is, go through a step by step guide and what the heart rate monitor is and how heart rate training works.  What I would like to do is, introduce you to your HR monitor with the hope you will take an interest and use it to make you a better runner.

Biggest Mistakes Most Runners Make

I can easily cover this mistake, as most runners will run their races and training runs at roughly the same pace.  It means they are training too fast.  We are training too fast for a couple of reasons.  First, for most of us it is all we have ever known.  We have simply laced them up and run just to run.  The second mistake is, that to them it just does not make sense.  We can’t comprehend the idea that they should slow down the pace in training to speed up the pace in a race.

I know so many of you are already reading this and shaking your head.  Many of you just know one way to run, that is all out.  Train hard to race hard you might think.

Why slow down?

It is actually very simple.  As you run at a slower rate you are training your heart and your lungs to operate more efficiently while at the same time reducing stress on your tendons and joints.  That is the answer.  Now, there can be much more to it, fox example you are training your muscle fibers to act more as slow twitch fibers for these races, but at the end of the day training at the ideal heart rate zone will help your body process oxygen and blood more efficiently.

The Injury Formula: too many miles + too fast a pace = Injury.

How does it work?

I will do my best to keep it very simple.  I would highly recommend that you first gain an understanding of what your heart rate zones are, otherwise this is pointless.  There are a couple of ways you can do this.  First, is to get tested by a professional and many fitness gyms do this now.  You can also use a simple fitness calculator to figure the numbers.

There is much more to it than this but for the sake of simplicity let’s quickly give you an overview.

Zone 1- This heart rate zone is about 60%-70% of your max heart rate.  This is a very easy pace and is what you want to get your heart rate at during a cool down and a warm up.

Zone 2- This heart rate zone is about 70%-80% of your max heart rate.  This is a conversation pace.  This is where easy runs and long runs are spent.  You should be able to hold a conversation at this pace

Stop right here- It is important to know that about 80% of your runs are done in these heart rate zones.  These 2 zones alone will help you improve as a runner.  This is simply enough for you to get better. 

The other item that is important is to make certain you include an active warm up and cool down in your workout.  You don’t won’t to see a sudden spike as you start to run.  You want to gradually work up to zones 1 and 2.  The active warm up and cool down will just help your body become more efficient.

How do I improve and know I am improving?

The next question I usually get is, “If all I am doing is running slow, then how do I improve?”  As we talked about earlier, the idea is to become more efficient as a runner.  As you dedicate yourself to this process, you will begin to notice that the 5 mile run you did 6 weeks ago is different from the one today. Your pace might be close but you will notice that your heart rate dropped during that run. You will begin to see a gradual improvement.

An example for me was just a few years ago I had trained for a long distance race doing nothing but easy and long runs.  At the end of that training I went and ran the fastest 5k I had ever run.  It is just an example of what using your heart rate monitor can do for you.

Slow down….to run fast

Trey is a runner and coach with a desire to help create change in others.  He lost 80 pounds on his journey from a watcher in life to a doer.  His passion for running and creating change led him from the couch to marathons and ultramarathons.  He is a husband and the father of 2 boys living in Jefferson GA.  You can follow Trey on twitter @RunOnPurpose