A few weeks ago, I wrote about using heart rate to monitor readiness to progress a training session or for a tool in determining improvement without racing in the fall, but I think it’s wise to address when NOT to use heart rate.
While heart rate monitors certainly have their place, the data that they record is something that can be influenced by things beyond training stress such as hydration, temperature, clothing choices, comfort, and the last time you’ve eaten. As such, it is difficult to get a complete gauge of performance with heart rate alone. However, I find that those who benefit most from heart rate training are also those who are most consistent and dedicated to their training and lifestyle as their internal environment is more consistent.
While it is always a good idea to run within yourself in training, there are certain occasions where measuring heart rate is not as beneficial as running by “feel”. Most of the time these types of sessions take place when you are looking to adapt to running at a specific running pace or to establish an ability to resist technical failure (coordination running). Typically these really intense sessions will occur towards a competition effort, so an 800m runner in late May could do a session of 3x3x200m at 800m race pace with 30 seconds standing recovery between repetitions and full recovery between sets. In a session like this, hitting pace and giving that very strong effort is much more important, and you’ll be operating at a threshold approaching maximum heart rate, so it really is not as important.
As well, in the fall we may do a series of longer, slower runs (2000m reps) at around threshold pace followed by a few runs approaching race pace just to keep developing the NMS. In this case, our heart rate is also unimportant, and we’ll take as much recovery as the athlete dictates to maintain quality of the repetition and help develop the right skill.
While heart rate training does provide some useful information, we as coaches need to be certain we are not using them to our athletes’ detriment.