What is heart rate training and should you try it?

what is heart rate training

Heart rate training is something I’ve read and heard about for a while and, the more I’ve found out about it, the more I’ve wanted to try it. A few weeks ago, just before I properly started training for the Hertfordshire Half Marathon, I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to try something new and have a go at running to heart rate zones. 

After my first heart rate zone run I absolutely loved it and have now switch all my runs to heart rate training, plus I’ve been telling anyone who will listen about how great it is! I’ve found that it has not only made me enjoy running a little bit more, mainly because I’m finding my easy runs so much easier, but it has also taken the stress away from aiming to achieve a certain pace and, instead, I can just relax and enjoy my run, while focusing more on my running technique. 

If you’ve never heard of heart rate training and wondering what it is, or like me, have always wanted to give it a go, here is an overview of what you need to know. 

What is heart rate training?

Heart rate training, which is often also referred to as heart rate zones, is running using your heart rate in beats (bpm) or a percentage of your maximum heart rate (which will be individual to you) as a guide to how intense your should be running. 

In an article on Runner’s World, Erin Carr, certified personal trainer and cofounder of Union Running in Massachusetts, said: “The idea behind heart rate based training is to train your aerobic system without overstressing your skeletal and muscular systems.” 

What equipment do you need for heart rate zone running? 

The main equipment you need is a heart rate monitor that will accurately tell you your heart rate as you run. This doesn’t have to be expensive and I just use my Garmin Forerunner 35, which has a heart rate sensor on the back that  provides me with an easy way to see my heart rate as I run. Many other running watches have built in heart rate sensors now which makes it incredibly easy for runners to train this way. 

Heart rate zones vs pacing for training

The two most popular ways to monitor your running when training for an event are running to pace and using heart rate training. Both of which have their advantages and disadvantages and while I’m loving heart rate training at the moment in the past I’ve always used running to pace, which is something I’d still consider in the future. 

The biggest advantage of running to pace over heart rate training is that it is a lot more simple, making it ideal for those new to running. Working out heart rate zones can be quite complicated and I found that having a lot of running data to look at helped me to work out what my running zones should be. As well as this, having a PT or coach to help guide you with this type of training would be beneficial, but something newbies to running probably don’t want to invest in yet. 

As well as this, if you’ve not got much running experience, running to pace gives a good and easy-to-measure idea of how fast a runner you are and it will be easier to see the progress you make as you become fitter. 

How to find out your heart rate zones 

I found that having lots of running data, as well as years of running experience, helped a lot when working out my heart rate zones. In addition to this, I wear my Garmin almost all the time, which means I had a good idea of my resting heart rate when working out my zones. What finally made me decide to change to heart rate training was reading The Complete Guide to Endurance Training by Jon Ackland, which is where I found out how to work out my heart rate zones as well. If you are interested in working out your zones there are a lot of websites that provide the calculation you need, such as this article by Active

At the moment, heart rate training is really working for me and I’m planning on using it for all my training leading up to the Hertfordshire Half Marathon in the autumn. Saying this, when it comes to racing I’m still going to use pace as I feel that with a race you should be running hard, so heart rate becomes irrelevant, while pace becomes key. 


Have you tried heart rate training, if so how has it impacted your running? 

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