HOW TO USE A HRM
Splurged the cash on a heart rate monitor but baffled by zones, BPM and the endless feature list? Fear not, because here’s our ultimate guide to making the most of your multisport watch and using it to supercharge your tri training into the 2019 season an
Get the most out of your multisport watch and transform your tri training into 2019 and beyond
The heart rate monitor (HRM) has been a tried-and-trusted training tool for over 30 years since Polar launched the world’s first wireless, wearable HRM. Back then, a stopwatch and heart-rate measurement was as plush as it got. Now you can navigate your way home, monitor strides per minute… and even tell all your online friends about it with a press of a button. Evolution has certainly cranked up the features list, but it’s also confused many athletes on how to maximise their use.
“The pros of HRMs are that they can help guide your training intensity,” says four-time Ironman world champ Chrissie Wellington. “As a newcomer, it can be hard to differentiate by feel between easy, steady, race pace and all-out efforts, so different heart-rate zones may help in exploring and exerting control over effort.” That’s important because, as a triathlete, you’re not only looking to build endurance, but also speed, power, tactical acumen… Varying training effort is key to this development.
“Essentially, HRMs provide positive reinforcement, as you know you’ve ticked the ‘intensity’ box,” Wellington continues. “You can also set targets for how quickly your heart rate recovers and see if you can hit the same/faster times but at a lower heart rate – both of which are a sign of growing fitness. Coaches also like such tools because they provide quantifiable feedback and keep you accountable.”
Here then are our proven ways to get the most from your HRM...
1. ESTABLISH YOUR ZONES
“During my 15 years of racing in tri, I searched for those few golden tools that would make the most of my training time and execute the race results I was aiming for. At the top of that list was heart-rate training.” The words of six-time Ironman Hawaii winner Mark Allen.
So where should you start on the heart-rate road? By finding your maximum heart rate (MHR). 220 started in 1989 and was named after the historic method of determining your MHR, which was ‘220 minus your age’. In fairness, this still works for some, but a more accurate method is to calculate your bike and run MHRs out in the field.
A simple test if you’re a beginner is to ride while breathing only through your nose and accelerate until you need to open your mouth to inhale enough oxygen. At this point your heart rate should be around 80% of your maximum. Divide that number by 80 and multiply the result by 100 to work out what your MHR is.
Alternatively, you can do 2 x 3min runs at maximum effort with 2mins easy jogging in between. Take the highest HR reading from the second 3min effort as your maximum. Once you’ve obtained your ‘maximum’ figure, you can then determine your HR zones. Although there are variations between swim, bike and run due to the position of the body and major muscle groups that are engaged (head to 220tri.com for our guide to the training zones), these roughly translate as… Zone 1 50-60% of MHR range Zone 2 60-70% of MHR range Zone 3 70-80% of MHR range Zone 4 80-90% of MHR range Zone 5 90-100% of MHR range.
2. DON’T NEGLECT SWIM HR
HRMs have been used for years, but purely for the bike and run. This has recently changed due to tech advancements, but can waterproof trackers provide swim HR readings comparable to bike and run?
For wrist-based monitors, water is a disruptive medium because it
“I used HR on occasion during my training days and use it extensively to train my athletes.”
hampers the proficiency of the LED that illuminates your capillaries to track your heart rate. This poses serious questions about the effectiveness of wrist-based readings on the swim.
So what about chest-strap readings? These are considered the most reliable for tracking heart rate in the water, whether they’re worn beneath a swimsuit or exposed. Units such as the Swimovate PoolMateHR (£140), which operates at a lower frequency to most HRMs, transmits accurate HR data from the water for post-session analysis.
3. MAXIMISE ONLINE SOFTWARE
For post- (and even during) session analysis, the majority of tech brands will have their own software – or will link to respected third-party outfits such as Training Peaks – for crunching output numbers, comparison to previous sets and establishing training plans.
Garmin’s Connect system, for example, exists as a web service and a smartphone app, with each enabling you to release an array of extra tools that can hone your training and ensure you become you a fitter, faster and stronger athlete.
Garmin Connect offers a range of features for planning, tracking and reviewing your training sessions. The software allows you to set monthly goals, analyse what training zones you train in, and feedback a host of swim, bike and run data to analyse. This includes duration, elevation gain and pace. Through Garmin Connections you can also interact with (compete against!) your clubmates and race rivals via Facebook or the challenges function, taking on their times on local bike and run routes in a similar vein to Strava.
4. REMEMBER THE 80% RULE
Is easy-to-moderate training simply junk mileage for time-pushed recreational triathletes? Far from it, says top tri coach Joe Beer.
“Training data from national and Olympic Games-standard athletes – including rowers, cyclists and runners – would strongly suggest not by showing that training below 80% of max HR accounts for 80% of their training schedules. Training below 80% of max HR may feel slow, but this intensity should provide the bulk of technique, fun and modest endurance sessions, such as a steady one-hour aerobic run.”
Training in this zone results in a variety of physiological gains such
“Training below 80% of max HR may feel slow, but this intensity should provide the bulk of sessions”
as improved fat burning, increased aerobic capacity (how much oxygen you can process each minute to fuel working muscles) and acclimatises you to race duration, which can be up to 17hrs if racing an Ironman.
“Aim to then spend the remaining 20% of your training hours in zones 4 (80-90% of max HR, hard) and 5 (90-100%, maximal),” adds Beer. One of the primary physiological reasons behind this is to raise anaerobic threshold, which is essentially your ability to race hard at a high intensity; in other words, race faster for longer.
5. WRIST VS CHEST STRAP
Wrist-based HR readings were pioneered by Mio earlier this decade and they’ve now become commonplace, with Garmin, Polar and the rest of the major wearable tech brands joining the optical party. The clear benefit is that it dispenses with the need for a chest strap, providing more comfort and less faff, especially under a wetsuit.
So why are many of us still beholden to the chest strap? The proximity of a chest strap to the source – the heart – is said to provide greater HR reliability compared to a wrist-based tool, and there’s also the chance that light can leak in and affect the optical sensor when worn on the wrist.
Head-to-head tests have been conducted far and wide on the reliability of the data being produced by chest or wrist-based approaches, and the two often produce similar numbers at lower-intensity training sessions. But the positives of a chest strap reveal themselves in highintensity workouts especially, proving more accurate and less susceptible to random readings.
“Training below 80% of your max HR should provide the bulk of your training sessions”