There seems to be an increase with people who are ‘heart rate training’.

They seem to have seen that other people are having success by following a heart rate based training programme and want a piece of the success!

However, ‘heart rate training’ doesn’t really describe or define anything specific enough and if you’re going to take on a training regime, you should at least have half a clue what you’re talking about.

When working towards a new goal, you need to ask yourself 2 questions;

1 – What is the outcome that you’re trying to achieve?

2 – How are you going to do try to achieve it?

Simply saying ‘heart rate training’ won’t quite cut it.

People see other people achieving success or making progress and naturally want a bit of that same progress.  But progress doesn’t just come from ‘heart rate training’.  It comes from following a proper programme that happens to be based on heart rate training.


Heart rate is a quantification of how much your heart beats.  Once it is measured, the result is usually given in beats per minute (BPM).  Every part of your body needs oxygen and nutrients, which are contained in our blood.  Our heart pumps the blood around to deliver the blood to every part of our body.   It’s basically counting your pulse rate the same way your doctor does by feeling your wrist.



If you measure your resting heart rate (RHR) every day, usually done in the morning before getting up and moving around, it would probably be the same every morning give or take a few beats per minute (BPM).

If you ran particularly hard the night before, your body would still be trying to repair itself and so your RHR might be higher than usual.

If you drank alcohol the day before, your RHR could be slightly higher as your body works hard to remove it.

If you didn’t sleep too well the night before, your body would still be tired so your RHR could be slightly higher.

If you’re stressed, this could also affect your RHR.


If you’re sitting still watching the telly (athletics of course), then your muscles don’t need much oxygen and many nutrients, so not much blood has to be pumped around to supply the muscles.  As an example, it might be 60BPM

If you stood up and went to fetch a glass of water (because we like to stay healthy and hydrated!) then your muscles would need more oxygen and nutrients to provide the movement.  Your heart would have to pump a little bit more blood around a little bit quicker, and so your heart rate would go up.  It might go from 60 BPM at resting to 75 BPM as you go for a drink.  When you sit back down, it would gradually settle back down towards 60 BPM.

If you then got up and went for a jog, your muscles would need lots more oxygen and nutrients, and so your heart would have to pump lots more blood to provide the oxygen.  Your heart rate might now increase to 150 BPM.  Your breathing might increase too, as your lungs work harder to get more oxygen into your blood.

In a nutshell, movement affects your heart rate.  The more intense the movement, the more the heart rate is effected.


Your heart rate reflects what is going on with your body.  When you’re resting, it could be a bit higher or lower than yesterday if you are exhausted, if you’re ill, if you ran hard the day before.

Take what we’ve read above.  Imagine that without using a heart rate monitor, if you’re ill or if you drank alcohol, your heart rate could be 20 BPM higher than usual, but you wouldn’t know it. If you went out for a run, you’d run it at the same pace as usual, and therefore with a higher than usual RHR, you’d have a higher working heart rate during your run than you’ve planned for.  You’d not be getting the right training effect of your session and there-fore, would more than likely be over-training and over fatiguing.

Sports scientists somewhere have worked out the most effective intensities for us to run at to achieve certain aims, whether they be to improve endurance, to speed recovery, to raise our lactate threshold or whatever it may be.

Take ‘recovery’ for example.  The scientists might tell us that our ideal intensity to speed recovery is 60-65% of your maximum heart rate (%MHR).  That would translate to around 6/10 – 6.5/10.

As a coach, if I had a group of 20 athletes and told them all that today’s run is a recovery run, and I want them to go and jog for 20 minutes at 6/10 intensity, and we could measure their intensities after the run, they’d probably all come back having run at 20 different intensities.  We tend to run too hard for the level that is set for us.

However, if we had a reading of our heart rate on our watch, there are no excuses.  If you’re at 55% then you make it slightly more intense until your heart rate rises.  If you’re at 75% you reduce the intensity until your heart rate drops.

Essentially, it rules out the human error factor and eliminates the chance of misinterpretation and mistakes.



Effective heart rate training is a tool to implement a plan.  An effective plan can make you fast.

What the majority of people mean when they say they are heart rate training, is that they are having a go at running at 75% of their maximum BPM.

Most of them don’t even know their maximum BPM to start with and just do a random calculation because google says to.

They go off at 75% and it’s loads slower than their usual runs, because it’s less intense, but because they don’t understand what they’re doing, they keep running all of their runs at 75% MHR.

This just teaches their body to run at 75% MHR forever.  It can be quite effective in long endurance events, but on the whole, who wants to race slower?


If you can use this method of training to lower the intensity of your easier runs, then chances are you will get more of an aerobic improvement and will be causing less fatigue to your body.

With less fatigue, you’ll see improvements in all aspects of your life.

However, as you get fitter and fitter, you can start to add tougher sessions to improve your speed and speed-endurance, hill running technique and all sorts.

But now, since you’re less fatigued, you can do these sessions at a higher intensity than you used to, and you can work your body and systems at the correct intensity, whereas before you were getting out of breath, but not getting the right physiological effects.

Sometimes you might want to run at other intensities in between ‘easy’ and ‘hard’, for example, at your lactate threshold and with an accurate way of measuring it, you can do it properly, rather than guessing.


First of all, if you are going to be working at your maximum then you need to be 100% confident that you are capable and not in a state of bad health that could cause you illness or damage.  Check with, and get permission from your doctor!

Finding your MHR is a tough session, as it’s pushing you to your maximum.  I have my ways of helping clients find their maximum, but I’m sure that you can fins something useful somewhere on the internet!


  • It’s not heart rate training.  It’s training.  Using a heart rate monitor!
  • Heart rate training removes the human error factor.  It is what it says on the watch, not what you ‘guess’ it is.
  • It isn’t a way of ‘getting faster’; effective training is.
  • Training with a heart rate monitor is just a way to accurately train effectively.
  • It’s a good way of making sure that your less intense runs (don’t say slow) are at the right intensity for the desired outcome.
  • It’s a good way of making sure that your more intense runs (don’t say fast) are at the right intensity for the desired outcome.
  • It’s a good way to be coached remotely, as I do with my clients.  If I run 1:1 with clients I assess them throughout the session to correct their intensity, but if I’m 200 miles away, I’m not going to face time you for 45 minutes!  I tell you to run at x BPM and then look back on Strava to follow up.  If you make the progress I want then all is good, if not I can reduce or increase the intensity and give you a number to stick to.
  • You need to know your MHR before you can start using it!!!

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