Many runners train according to their heart rate – but what does that mean, what are the benefits, and how do I do it? I aim to answer these questions for you:
Benefits of running according to heart rate
Your heart rate provides you with a relatively simple way to control your training more effectively. Depending on your training heart rate, you achieve various training effects. The key benefits initially lie in building a good basic endurance, increasing your performance based on it, and avoiding excessive fatigue simultaneously. This way, you stress your heart less, ensuring healthier and long-term-oriented training.
What does running according to heart rate mean?
When training according to heart rate, you run in different heart rate zones or training zones: sometimes challenging sessions that push you and provide a stimulus, and other times more relaxed sessions that help your body relax and enhance basic endurance, especially after intense sessions. It's essential to keep an eye on the effort for your body – measured by heart rate as an indicator – to avoid overexertion while still increasing your performance in a sensible way.
Important note: It's particularly unbeneficial for you as a trail runner, who often spends a lot of time on the trails, to focus solely on speed and run at a high heart rate. Having a good basic endurance that keeps you on your feet is crucial here. You'll get faster by alternating with interval sessions and stronger with hill sprints.
How to measure heart rate?
Firstly, to avoid any confusion: Pulse usually corresponds to heart rate. Pulse and heart rate are used synonymously in our consideration. Pulse refers to the pulse waves per minute, which can be measured at the arteries (the blood vessels leading away from the heart), e.g., on the wrist. Therefore, running watches are suitable for pulse measurement, although there is a debate about accuracy, and other pulse measuring devices are more precise. Heart rate describes the number of measured beats per minute (beats per minute = bpm). Hence, chest belts are an alternative to measuring with a wristwatch. A chest strap measures the small electrical signals generated with each heartbeat and is therefore very accurate. Optical sensors on the watch are more susceptible to interference when the watch is in motion. Optical sensors for the upper arm are becoming increasingly popular and deliver better results than those on the wrist.
If you don't have any of these devices: simply place two or three fingers on the inside of the wrist, count the beats for 20 seconds. Multiply the result by three, and you have your beat per minute.
How do I run according to heart rate and determine my individual zones?
As mentioned before, you can achieve various training effects through your training heart rate, reflecting your training intensity.
Two essential things are crucial for this: your training heart rate and your individual heart rate zones. The keyword here is "individual" – it's pointless to use any charts from the internet, as these zones depend on the individual, influenced by training status, age, gender, stress level, sleep habits, and many other factors.
You can continuously read your training heart rate from your device, but you must determine your heart rate zones in advance and update them with increasing performance, as they change over time. The zones are measured in percentages of the maximum heart rate.
Usually, five different zones are used, which we will introduce in part 2, explaining how to determine and use them. These zones are based on your resting heart rate and your maximum heart rate as the two extremes
Resting heart rate describes your state without any physical stress. The more trained you are, the lower it is. You can deliberately influence and try to reduce it through your training. The best time to measure your resting heart rate is directly in the morning after waking up. An increased resting heart rate can be caused by overtraining, fatigue, illness, or dehydration.
Very well-trained individuals have a resting heart rate of 40 to 50 bpm, while less trained individuals have a resting heart rate of 70 to 80 bpm.
The maximum heart rate (HFmax) is the number of heartbeats per minute that you reach under extreme physical stress. Unlike resting heart rate, it cannot be trained, but it naturally decreases with age and depends on the training condition.
How can I dtermine my HFmax?
One method to determine your HFmax is the following self-test: However, you need a device to measure heart rate for this.
Run for 10 minutes to warm up. Then, 3 x 3 minutes at an increased pace – meaning the pace increases with each unit, and in the third unit, give it everything you have. After each of the 3-minute units, take 2 minutes of easy running. At the end, 10 minutes of cooldown. The highest heart rate measured during the 3x3 is your maximum heart rate.