Why I Don't Use A Heart Rate Monitor

Back in the 1999 I had my copy of Triathlon Into The Nineties, motivation to get fast and a heart rate monitor. I jumped right into the sports science of the time and hammered out a few Conconi Tests before I realised it didn't work for me. This fuelled the search to learn more, which also took me through a degree in Human Movement. For years I used a heart rate monitor to guide my training. The methods evolved over time and I certainly got a lot out of it. Over the last three years I've stopped using a heart rate monitor.


A recent tweet from @paulrunslong asking prompted me to look at why I no longer use a heart rate monitor (HRM):

Do you use a HRM regularly? 

How does it benefit your training?

prompted me to look at why I no longer use a heart rate monitor (HRM).

After my Polar HRM finally succumbed to over a decade of hard use a few years ago I moved onto the newer generation of gadgets. GPS became a handy tool that I have incorporated. However, the newer generation has put the nails in the coffin of guiding my training by heart rate. The lack of quality and resulting unreliability of the newer HRM's that I used made them unusable for me. If I could get years of use from one built in 1999, then I should get more than three months out of one built after 2010. My suspicion of built in obsolesce was fuelled.

Was persisting with heart rate worth the hassle of forever failing equipment? In a word "no." The HRM was no longer a very useful tool for me. Using it as a guide to my training and racing had more negatives than positives. My heart rate is no longer a good measure of training intensity or recovery status.

There is hardly any correlation between my heart rate and race performance. Each race seems to be unique to itself. I could run one race up near my maximum heart rate and then the following week race the same distance at a heart rate that's 20-30bpm lower, but my pace will be the same or even faster. I don't know where my heart rate will sit prior to a race. The variation in racing is also seen in training runs. An inability to raise my heart rate doesn't always mean I run slow and am struggling with recovery.

A lot of this variation seems to be as a result of shift work. If my body thinks I should be asleep, then I usually had lower than expected heart rates. Runs in the afternoon or evening tended to have higher rates compared to the same session performed in the morning. Resting heart rate seemed to be influenced by my sleep patterns than what training I had been doing. I also didn't have the luxury of following the standard advise of adjusting training based on resting heart rate. I had to fit in what I could when I could.

Next on my list is running by heart rate can become a crutch and lead to chasing an artificial fitness. While for the most part a lower heart rate for a certain pace usually equates to an increase in fitness, it doesn't necessarily translate into faster racing. I've tested out the Maffetone Method, and while it has provided a solid base, maximising my MAF HR definitely didn't result in my best races. I have noticed a tendency to develop a slower stride rate with stiffer legs when chasing lower heart rates for the long runs. To me this is an artificial fitness that holds me back from my best running.

Data and statistics do help my running, but there has to be a lot said for what is beyond the numbers. That feeling when you can open it up and run fast and smooth with that snap that goes with just getting it right comes more readily for me when I am not using a heart rate monitor.

Comments

  1. Understand...I didn't use one for years...lately, I occasionally use one mainly to make sure I am training hard enough. I always train alone and, when the HRM is working properly, it helps me determine when I am slacking. But, other than that, I don't do zones and such.....And like you, I really reach for that "just getting it right" feeling that doesn't come with the bells and whistles.

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    Replies
    1. I think its all part of the running journey Marvin. The HRM is just one of many tools we can use. Years of using them has definitely helped me understand how I respond to training, but I believe I now get more value out of not using one.

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    2. I used to religiously monitor my HRM when running, and training, only to lose focus on how I feel. Now I still wear the HRM, but only occasionally look at the watch for any of it's readings. I run be feel, then look at the plot afterwards to see what happened. Only time my HRM was instructive, was looking at why I bonked so early at Melb. Marathon in 2013. Too high, too soon, and not sustainable. Later on realised I might have been sick going into the race.

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