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

220 Triathlon Magazine - - ON THE COVER -

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...


“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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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”

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