Leave Your Heart Out of It – Why Heart Rate Training is Ineffective

Many fitness establishments, devices, and apps claim the heart rate monitor is the ultimate tool for success in athletic training. Heart Rate is commonly used as a keystone to determine training zones, intensity, calorie burn, and numerous other metrics for training and improvement. I’m here to tell you that while monitoring your heart rate may provide benefits, the measurements provided during workouts will not provide the most effective feedback for producing results.
Heart Rate (HR) is traditionally measured as heart beats per minute, and is often used to establish different exercise or training zones. These are usually educated guesses of a participant’s intensity level. More often than not, programs, apps, and devices predict this level of intensity using rough estimations of simple metrics – height, weight, age, sex, etc. – all of which produce a normal curve. In essence, devices generate an equation that will be roughly correct for some people, and wildly incorrect for others. For example, two elite athletes might work in their highest intensity zone, “go all out” for an hour, and have significantly varied heart rates – up to a 50-55 beat per minute (BPM) difference. These discrepancies are due to a number of variables not contained in those simple metrics: genetics, the size of the heart, etc. Due to these variations, the extreme generalization required to employ HR as a measure of intensity is often inadequate.
Another way to understand the relationship between fitness and heart rate is to view HR as an athlete’s input, and the pace/distance achieved as the output. This input vs. output ratio does not remain constant as fitness increases. For example, a brand new swimmer could jump in a pool with Michael Phelps, and they might reach the same HR while swimming for fifteen minutes, but will the new swimmer swim as many meters as Michael Phelps? No, probably not. However, that new swimmer could train for six months, jump in the pool again, and swim an extra 100m with the same HR. As with many things in life, measuring input is important, but tracking results is the key to accomplishing goals. When a person becomes more fit, their HR will not reflect progress as effectively as their pace or distance.
It is also important to recognize during a workout, your HR will not reach the appropriate “zone” for several minutes — if instructed to keep your HR at 150 beats per minute for fifteen minutes, for example, then you might work far too hard in the first two minutes just to bump up that HR number. By the end of the workout you would slow down drastically. We know that you will be much more successful if you “pace” yourself rather than going out too hard and burning out in the end.
At Killer B Fitness, we are focused on utilizing output as a benchmark for efficient athletic training, for all of our members — not just those whose goals rival Michael Phelps’. We can show you results – because we measure them! We expect that our members are working hard in class, and we know that everyone’s HR is elevated, but instead of showing our members a number that may or may not accurately match up to their effort levels, we’re able to tell a member, “a month ago, you could only row 900 meters in 5 minutes, and today you rowed 1,100 meters in 5 minutes,” – that’s improvement you can see!
Of course, HR can provide useful information for athletes and casual exercisers alike. Your resting heart rate is a good indication of your aerobic health, and it can be useful as a tool during long haul (we’re talking over an hour!) training sessions. However, a workout program developed on the estimation of effort provided by HR will not be as capable of providing results as one based on the progression of those results. Any serious athlete will train primarily based on output and results. They may use HR as a tool to supplement their training plan, but not as the main measurement of the effectiveness of their training. You may not be an Olympian (yet!), but everybody loves to see the results of their hard work, so let’s ditch the HR straps and focus on output and improvement — who knows, you may end up going for gold!
Written by Kyle Visin, Manager of Killer B Fitness [email protected]

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Killer B Fitness Center Santa Barbara

1107 State Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Killer B Fitness Center Goleta

191 S. Turnpike Road
Goleta, CA 93111


(805) 448-2222
[email protected]

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