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Running gadgets can be irresistible. Technology continues to permeate so many aspects of our lives – and running is no different.
If you’re in love with running and training, owning a GPS watch that can track pace, heart rate, and cadence (among many other features) can seem like a dream come true!
As with many advancements, running technology can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s essential to learn how to use it to help rather than hinder your training. In particular, heart rate training can be a useful tool to improve your running and racing when used properly.
How Technology Helps
While running is often loved for the simplicity of putting on your sneakers and heading out the door, many of us are also data nerds who want to know more about the details of our run. GPS watches in particular (like Garmin, Polar and Suunto) have given us the ability to collect an enormous amount of data about every workout.
Dr. Rodrigo do Lago, a cardiologist at AdventHealth sees many benefits for runners and even for your general health. “From a unique cardiovascular health perspective, wearables can objectively monitor and improve patients' health and fitness especially in between patient visits and help patients reach their health and fitness goals. Accessing exercise metrics can motivate patients to improve and continue exercise routines.”
GPS watches will track time, distance and elevation, monitor your heart rate, track your running cadence, and even let you pre-program workouts. Now they will even sync with your phone via bluetooth to get text messages, reminders and control your music playlist.
When you’re trying to nail a particular pace for a workout or race, your GPS watch can help keep you on target. Similarly, you can use it to help you with runs based on heart rate. This is especially useful for recovery runs to make sure you don’t push too hard, or tempo efforts to make sure you’re running in the appropriate zone (more on this in a moment).
In addition to running, many GPS watches are now designed to be worn throughout the day and can be loaded with features to help your general health. They track your sleep and resting heart rate, as well as how many steps you take over the course of the day and how many stairs you climb. They may even encourage you to move if you’ve been sitting too long!
How Technology Hurts
As much as technology benefits us, we can also suffer from data overload. Do most runners really need to know their vertical oscillation or have pre-loaded topographic maps? With all the available information, it can be easy to get so engrossed in the details that we forget how to run by feel and enjoy the moment.
While GPS watches and heart rate monitors have become increasingly accurate over time, they’re still imperfect. Running in the city around tall buildings or under tree cover in the woods can cause GPS inaccuracies. Heart rate monitors can be susceptible to error if the contact isn’t just right or if there’s not enough moisture where the strap contacts your skin.
The availability of data may also invite too much comparison, both with others and ourselves. You may get down on yourself if you run a route slower than you have in the past or feel compelled to run similar mileage or workouts to other runners. Social fitness networks such as Strava can be a wonderful source of camaraderie but may also cause anxiety and comparison.
Heart Rate Training: Finding your Maximum Heart Rate
While there are many ways to apply technology to running, heart rate training can be particularly beneficial. Monitoring your heart rate is not a necessity, but you can reap the benefits if you have the capability and apply it strategically.
Training based on heart rate is fairly straightforward. To begin heart rate training, you’ll first need to know your maximum heart rate.
While you may have read that using the formula ‘220 minus your age’ will give you your max heart rate, this is often inaccurate. The ideal way to find your max heart rate is by running a tough workout or race. This will give you an accurate assessment based on your current fitness.
Ideal Workouts for Heart Rate Training
Once you know your maximum heart rate, you can use the data for several types of workouts. Keep in mind that just like GPS, heart rate monitors can vary in their accuracy. Several newer watches have a wrist heart rate monitor, though some feel these are less accurate than the chest straps. If you question the accuracy of your monitor, you can always take your pulse manually to confirm.
The best workouts for heart rate training include the following:
- Tempo runs: Tempos should be run at approximately 85-90% of your max heart rate. For example, if you determine that your max is 190, then for a tempo you want to keep your heart rate between 161 and 171 BPM. Using your heart rate will help you maintain a consistent effort even when conditions may alter your pace, such as hills or heat.
- Recovery runs: Heart rate monitors can help keep you honest on a scheduled easy day. Running by heart rate for a recovery run helps ensure that you aren’t running too hard. Your heart rate for a recovery run should be no more than 70-75% of your max (133-143 BPM for a 190 max heart rate).
- Heart rate recovery workouts: These are workouts (typically hill repeats or fast intervals) where you allow your heart rate to drop down to a certain level before starting the next repeat. This ensures that you start each interval fully recovered. You’ll want to let your heart rate decrease to 65-70% of your max for this type of workout. Again using a max heart rate of 190, your recovery rate would be 123-133 BPM.
Even if you’re not a serious runner, tracking your heart rate has real advantages. Dr. do Lago notes, “Wearables are useful tools for athletes but also for individuals seeking to improve their overall cardiovascular health. These tools can help individuals achieve more from their workouts by tracking exercise intensity. Using a wearable heart rate monitor can help target specific heart rate zones and track progress as individual fitness improves, all while tracking distance traveled, speed, calories burned, steps, activity level, and overall performance.”
Much of running’s beauty lies in its simplicity. If you choose to use devices such as heart rate monitors or GPS watches, they should always complement your running rather than distract you from it.
Technology has brought us a wide array of tools to make tracking our training easier than ever. Heart rate monitoring is one that can be a beneficial addition to your training when used appropriately.
We’re here to support you your running journey. Check in with one of our sports medicine experts to help you reach your fitness goals.