A heart-rate monitor can be a helpful tool in training. Tracking your heart rate with a monitor (which reads your pulse via a sensor built into a chest strap) tells you precisely how hard—or easy—your heart is working.
Measuring your heart rate can help you keep from making one of the most common mistakes that runners of all abilities make—running too fast too often, which puts you at risk for injury and burnout. But heart-rate training does have its limitations.
Know your zones. When you work out using a heart-rate monitor, you’ll aim to work out within a specific zone. Hitting a “zone” means falling within a particular percentage of your heart rate during every workout—for example, 65 to 80 percent for most runs and 90 percent or more as you blaze to a fast race finish. For most of your workouts, your heart rate should fall into zone 1 or 2.
Here is a general guideline used by exercise physiologist and coach Janet Hamilton, owner of Atlanta-based Running Strong:
- Zone 1: 60 to 70 %; very comfortable effort; use this for warmup and cooldown
- Zone 2: 70 to 80 %; comfortable enough to hold a conversation; most training is done here
- Zone 3: 81 to 93%; “comfortably hard” effort; you may be able to say short, broken sentences.
- Zone 4: 94 to 100%; hard effort; the pace is sustainable, but conversation is a few words at a time. For most people this is around 5-K pace.