‘Cause I’m an expert..

Cecilia recently left me a comment about Heart Rate Monitors, and I found myself writing a response so long (and consequently going off on about a billion little tangents) that I thought the topic deserved it’s own post. Here is what Cecilia wrote:

hey there, great blog you have here :0) Hope you don’t mind me asking … do you think a heart rate monitor is a necessary gadget?!!! – I’m intrigued by it after seeing lots of bloggers having one of them … but the thing is … they are so darn expensive!!! :0/ Thanks for your advice, I appreciate it!! :0)

Well THANKS Cecilia – because now I can give my (somewhat critical.. I would say “harsh” is too extreme) response without feeling like I’m just gettin’ on everyone who wears a HRM. (Dumbasses… [kidding!!]) 😉

I’ll be honest – I think heart rate monitors are 100% 97.3% unnecessary (let me get into that 2.7% later). KNOWING your heart rate doesn’t change what it is – your heart’s still gon’ be there, and it’ll still be beating, whether you’re wearing a HRM or not. You could say the same about a GPS – knowing your pace doesn’t really do diddly squat about it .. you’re still running. Wearing a HRM (or a Garmin, or a …) wont make improvements in your fitness (if that’s your goal) – you still have to do the work. Having a HRM read back to you “125 bpm” or “150 minutes in the zone” (insert rolling eyes smiley face here.. I wish I knew how to make that one!) doesn’t say anything about if you’re “working harder”. Trust me – if you up the ante, you’ll be able to feel it, with or without a HRM.

Now, if you were a fan of Heart Rate Monitors, you may say – “Erika. STFU. YOU have a GARMIN. And you treat it like your unborn child. Quit being a hypocrite!” (STFU is my 2nd favorite acronym (which would be pronounced “stuff-u”), following TTFU (where you actually need to spell out the letters). But geez! Where did I get this dirty/mean mouth from?)

We all remember this photo..

We all remember this photo..

Me? Hypocrite? Well, yes and no. This is where that 2.7% comes in – there are uses for a HRM (and a Garmin). If you are an athlete who is really serious about your VO2 max, and you’re actually going to train USING that number, then yeah – a HRM might be a good idea for you. (If you don’t even know what a “VO2 max” is, then you clearly wouldn’t need to use a HRM to train with it.) 🙂 If you have some type of condition or are needing to closely monitor your health to make sure your heart rate doesn’t get too high, then yeah – a HRM might be a good idea for you. (Side tangent – if you are one of those people, please be careful. When your body is in a weakened state, exerting yourself and pushing your heart is doing you absolutely no good. You may feel fine, but when you pass out at practice because your heart was overworked and just decided to stop, you wont be feeling anything. Be smart. Be safe.) And the same goes with a Garmin (or other GPS). If you’re actually going to USE the features on it for intervals or out-n-backs or using the pacer – makes sense. If you’re just going to wear it.. pass.

Im in the ZONE babeyy!

"That's right baby - I'm in the ZONE!"

In MY experiences, the majority of people I see who wear a HRM just wear it. They have some number in their mind that puts them “in the zone” (though if they’re using that 220 – age x .0whatever chances are that’s wrong. That formula was an estimate made in the 70s based on a study that included smokers, people on heart disease meds, etc. Not your average healthy Joe.) They may use those numbers to calculate calories burned. Or they may just be like “Sweet! Two hours in the zone!”, and then do nothing more with it. I am fully aware that your heart rate and your PRE (Perceived Rate of Exertion) are supposedly closely connected, but I’ve found that’s not always true. If you ask ME.. your PRE is much more beneficial as a training tool. Here’s why:

Everyone’s run (or swim, or bike, etc.) is different every single day. I tried to think of a more scientific, “official” way to say that, but clearly failed, so sorry! What I mean is this – One day I could run a 7:10 average pace and just be cruisin’ along and relaxed. Another day, a 7:10 could have me breathing hard, and seriously struggling to maintain that pace. As much as I wish our bodies could be perfect and mathematical (get X amount of sleep – be at your peak performance. Eat x amount of calories – be at your peak performance), they’re not. Aside from sleep and proper nutrition, other things come into play: the temperature, the humidity, are you running (spinning, exercising, etc) alone, are you with a group, did you wear breathable clothing or are you in cotton, etc.

PRE must have been around for a long time. This looks hella old.

PRE must have been around for a long time. This looks hella old.

Many people judge their PRE on a scale of 1 to 10. So my 7:10 that feels like a 4 today, could feel like a 9 next week. Basing workouts and training on your PRE is great, because it’s based on that E – your EFFORT. If you base your workouts on your heart rate, despite what your body is feeling, you could saying “I need to be at a 150″, but because humans are not at all perfect, exact, or mathematical, that 150 could be a lot harder (or easier) one day versus another. I am a firm believer in QUALITY over QUANTITY. If my schedule says intervals on Wednesday, but I know my body’s just not feeling it, then I’m going to do them a different day. Pushing yourself through a run (or bike, or swim, or whatever) just to get “to that number” or just to “do what’s on the schedule” is going to do you absolutely no good. Doing quality workouts and doing them when you have the energy to give it what it needs is what will make you improve.

So that in short just turned into a novel, but that’s my take on Heart Rate Monitors. I highly suggest using your PRE instead, and toying around with it so you can get a feel of “what a 9 feels like” or “what a 5 feels like”. And Cecilia’s right – those things cost a BUTTLOAD of money (for a good one), AND those chest straps are hella uncomfortable! Save your paycheck (and your poor skin! chafing = 😦 ).

I’m not a professional by any means – this is completely and solely my opinion. It’s not like I don’t like the people who wear heart rate monitors (I love everyone, remember? 😀 ), I’m just not a fan of the HRMs themselves. If you already have one, and it’s workin for you, then rock on my little heart rate monitoring friend. If you’re just contemplating buying one, I’d say you know whether you’re giving your workouts quality effort or not – you don’t need a pricey little tech toy to tell you that!

Runners World did a great article that completely proves (and defeats at the same time) my point of this post. Take from it what you’d like – just thought I’d share!


8 Responses

  1. Actually, some of my hero-runners have said the same thing– ya know, just get out there. Just run.

    What I really want to do is better hone my internal garmin or speedometer…to be able to say to myself, “this is what your split needs to be,” and to run it– not in training, where that doesn’t matter as much, but definitely for racing! I think maybe an actual Garmin or HR monitor might make it harder to develop that inner awareness.

  2. I was just telling my boyfriend last night that I was thinking about maybe getting a HRM. Thanks for saving me some $$! I need a new pair of running shoes more than the HRM anyway!

  3. Great post. I agree with a lot of the things you’ve said. Like tfh said..”just get out there. just run.” I also agree that they may hinder development of inner awareness b/c you’re more concerned about your time etc than listening to your body.

  4. love your post because people need to know that they wont all of a sudden become a faster runner just because they go out and spend a ton of $ on a HRM! especially nowadays when people are so crazy about having the “new” technology. cuz DUH move faster and your heart will beat faster…do u really need to spend 100$ to know that.. (k now im going to sound like i have split-personality syndrome!)
    i think the HRM can be helpful if you use it to incorporate different training strategies, like heart rate sets into your workouts. i suck at finding my HR on my own…so i wear my HRM almost everyday when we cross train. (but its mainly because i like looking down at my watch and seeing 191 while im sprinting up 60 stairs x20 in our stadium!love the big #!!) my coach stands at the bottom and screams at us that our heart rate must be above 185 during the entire 45min run, so its nice to not have to do any beat-searchin OK THAT WAS RANDOM..just wanted to share in with you on your love of your heart rate monitor! but the fact that they are unnecessary! because a lot of people don’t use them for the right reason!!

  5. THANK YOU so much for your very detailed response – I really was just expecting a ‘yes/no’ answer, haha! ;0)

    Wow, I’m glad that I don’t need to get myself a HRM (more money for me, woot!) Your argument are SO right!!!! I definitely agree with you on the “quality over quantity” part — I can see that exercise can be a chore instead of a pleasure if what you’re trying to do is to achieve a certain number/calories burned! I also LOVE the PRE scale … such an awesome indicator, and yes … the human body are not perfect – we have to listen to our body instead of a machine!!!

    Cheers again for taking out time to respond to my comment :0) Hope you have a great day!!


  6. You def have to do boston since you will be livng there.. I am considering doing the Philly marathon in Nov. I got a PR in Boston but I was way overtrained… my workouts were always pushed to the max and I guess you just learn from that… I have a goal to do a 3 hour marathon, I was way stressed for boston, and fitness level wise should have been able to run the 3 hour but I was overtrained and anxious so I am looking to just go into the next one more relaxed… SO you plan on running one before Boston next year?


  7. Good stuff Sperly! I am still toying with the idea of getting a Garmin as a graduation gift to myself. Countdown to boston begins ey? Keep up the good work!

  8. Great post, and mine will probably be almost as lengthy. =)

    One point I do agree on, wearing a HRM just for the sake of wearing one, without knowing how to use it and just looking at the HR is completely worthless.

    But honestly, if you understand the mechanics and understand heart rate training. A HRM, regardless of your level is HIGHLY beneficial. Not to mention the motivational side of having a HRM. They don’t lie, and hold you accountable.

    Lets use your example –

    Every run is different. Your body, and um.. HR.. reacts different to your physical movements. Weather, fatigue, hydration all plays a part in how you are performing. A great way to monitor the effects of those variables is your heart rate.

    Beginner runners often find themselves at a point where they just don’t feel good about the new sport they decided to take up. It is extremely difficult to maintain motivation when you are just starting out – remember those days?

    I find when I’m coaching a new runner, is that if I outline time based intervals – with the “work period” and “recovery” all being within preset target HR zones this helps build up a good base. I suggest starting out with longer recovery times and slowly decrease the recovery and increase the work period until my client can now run continuously in a good safe HR zone. This helps with motivation tremendously and helps them ENJOY running instead of loathing it during the break in period. All without overtraining. And having this recorded is SO important for trending improvements over time. I don’t know a serious runner who doesn’t have a running log to help him plan every single season.

    A lot of heart rate monitors now also have options for different sensors, like speed – running cadence – pace – stride length – altitude – downloading..etc.. When you get into running a bit more, and want other variables to compare your body reaction(HR) to these options could be very useful.

    Comparing heart rate to something like cadence is a great way to gauge your efficiency. I know myself, I expend less energy with a higher running cadence. And if I extend my stride length while going up hills I can maintain a lower training load. Running to improve your performance is all about knowing your sweet spots.

    I have also found in my years of training athletes that resting heart rate is a great way to prevent over training as well.

    I could go on for hours on the importance of heart rate training. I would suggest one to every level of runner – but I would also suggest learning how to use it properly.

    And as for the $$ thing – come on, running is a cheap sport. I go back and forth through running and cycling, needless to say my wife LOVES when I’m in my running mode because I spend 98% less money:)

    PS I use 100% Polar HRM’s and wouldn’t go any other way.

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