Monday, January 14, 2013

Heart Rate Monitors - How Are You Using Yours?

I've utilized a heart rate monitor in my training protocols (both for myself and with clients) since I started in the industry about eleven years ago.  But I have to admit something - I believe that I used it wrong for the majority of that time.

*Gasp*

I know, shocking - but really, that's what happens when we learn and develop new systems, both as individuals and on a much grander scale.  Now, to be clear - when I say I used it wrong I don't mean that I had it hooked up incorrectly or that I didn't understand how to set the various functions - but rather, I focused on the wrong aspect.

Calories.  I tracked the calories, and I had my clients track their calories.  How many did you burn during this session - how many during the week?  The month?

I feel that this was my mistake.  Why?  Because how many calories you burn is only one part of a much bigger picture - and frankly, it's also one of the most irrelevant.  For two reasons - firstly, depending on what type of training you're doing, you may not be burning a lot of calories... which does not make that type of training any less effective.  And secondly, if you're worried about fat loss, then (at best) how many calories you burned during a session is simply going to highlight the need for a proper nutritional plan and, at worst, demotivate you when you realize that the ass-kicking session you just finished didn't even burn a third of the crap meal that you ate the night before.

So with this in mind, I'm still a huge believer in heart rate monitors - but I'm going to recommend you try using it in a different way.  Stop tracking how many calories you're burning during sessions, and start tracking the heart rate itself.
  • How high does it get during different types of exercise?  Is there any variation between workouts, or are you always red-lining?
  • What is your average, as well as the maximum reached, during the same workout in different weeks?  How does this relate to the quality of your eating, and the quality of your sleep?

The reason I'm suggesting you watch these things is because they give you so much more insight into the bigger picture, offering clues and hints at over-training, lack of recovery, poor nutrition and poor sleep habits... all of which can impact the quality of your training sessions much more than "how many calories" you've burned.

Give it a try for a month - what have you got to lose?

~Guy

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