Heart rate monitor training is going to be different from one person to the next.
Training for a marathon, a cycling event, a particular sport like soccer, and for the general fitness enthusiast are all going to be different.
The heart rate zone to train in, the amount of time in that zone and the type of training will be different for each athlete.
Below is a summary of the basic steps to follow when training with a heart rate monitor: (Some steps only apply to those who use Polar Heart Rate Monitors)
1. Determine your resting heart rate. 2. Perform a 3-5 minute Polar Fitness Test (Certain Polar Models Only). 3. Activate the Polar STAR Training Program (Certain Polar Models Only). 4. Make note of your Initial Heart Rate before training. 5. Perform 5 minute Polar OwnZone® Test (Certain Polar Models Only). 6. Begin Warm-Up Period (especially if training in Zones 3, 4, or 5). 7. Begin training in your Target Heart Rate Zones. 8. Cool down period at end of training to prevent venous blood pooling (especially if trained in zones 3, 4, or 5).
These guidelines can be applied to any training goals. The difference for the marathon runner, the soccer player, or the general fitness enthusiast is going to be how they train within their target heart rate zones.
You will want to get a journal to keep track of your heart rate information. By keeping track of your daily heart rate variations, you will be able to see improvements as well as the possible onset of illness.
Heart Rate Monitor Training Step 1 Determine Your Resting Heart Rate
Ideally finding your resting heart rate should be first thing in the morning. When you awake strap on your heart rate monitor and turn it on. Lay back down for approx. 5 minutes to determine your resting heart rate. This should be done before any eating or drinking.
Make a note of your resting heart rate in your journal. A resting heart rate with an increase of more than 6 to 8 bpm combined with fatigue and lack of interest in training may indicate the onset of illness.
Heart Rate Monitor Training Step 2 Perform Polar Fitness Test
If you have chosen a heart rate monitor such as the Polar FT40, FT60, or FT80 the first objective is to perform a very simple cardiovascular fitness test. The Polar OwnIndex® Test also known as the Polar Fitness Test is a feature found on certain HRM models that will estimate your VO2Max. (See video below)
It's important to get good rest and to not drink any caffeine within three hours of performing the fitness test assessment. In addition you should have already entered your age, gender, weight, height, date of birth, and your current activity level into your heart rate watch. The watch will calculate your maximum heart rate based on your age.
The test should be performed lying down, no talking, and you want to be as relaxed as possible. When you start the test your heart rate monitor will begin monitoring not only your heart rate but it is also measuring the time between beats (heart rate variability) something we cannot measure without a Polar heart rate monitor.
The watch will read 255 heartbeats, however long it takes, which could be as little as about 3 minutes or as much as 5 minutes. This will give you a fair estimate of your VO2Max, your maximal oxygen uptake, or a measure of the efficiency of your body's ability to pump oxygen rich blood to the muscles.
When the test is complete a value will be displayed on your HRM. You will then find your value on the OwnIndex® Chart.
Where your index falls in the chart allows you to compare your current fitness level to other people of the same age and gender.
This will be your starting point. Where you go from here is up to you. After a few weeks of heart rate monitor training you can perform the test again to see how well you are progressing.
It's possible to see as much as a 30% improvement in this number depending on whether you are faithful with your exercise. As this number increases you will be able to perform more work with less effort, so you'll burn more calories and get stronger with less effort at a lower heart rate. And that's a good thing.
Remember that it's never the goal of the workout to raise your heart rate to some arbitrary number, but to use the heart rate as a guide to determine how hard your body is working with the level of intensity you are exercising at.
Polar OwnIndex® (Fitness Test) Video
Heart Rate Monitor Training Step 3 STAR Training Program
The Polar FT60 and FT80 heart rate monitors comes with the Star Training Program feature that customizes an aerobic training program for you with weekly targets based on your personal goals that defines your target heart rate.
By performing the Polar Fitness Test in association with the Star Training Program you are taking the guesswork out of choosing the right intensity for you, let alone the right amount of time to work out, or the frequency that you should work out.
You won't have to think, just do what the heart rate monitor tells you to do by staying in the correct heart rate monitor training zones for the correct amount of time.
Polar STAR Training Program Video
Heart Rate Monitor Training Step 4 Heart Rate Initial
Each time you are ready to begin a heart rate monitor training session take a moment to note your heart rate. We will call this your heart rate initial, HRi.
This HRi is simply the recognition of your beginning heart rate to help you understand how your heart rate is reacting to the events and stresses of the day. Be sure and record this each day just before your training session.
You will also use this heart rate as an expectation to return to (close to anyway) at the end of the cool down portion of the workout. If the HRi is higher than normal before you start your workout, you may need to take it easier that day.
Heart Rate Monitor Training Step 5 Perform Polar OwnZone® (Polar FT60 or FT80 HRM)
Some of Polar’s heart rate monitors come with the Polar OwnZone® feature. This feature will determine your training heart rate limits for an exercise session. (See video below)
Depending on the day and time, your physical state may vary, for instance, if you are stressed or tired, or if you're not fully recovered from your latest training session.
Your Polar heart rate monitor can determine that information from the OwnZone® Test and compute the ideal training zone for that day.
The test only takes about 5 min. and can be used on the treadmill or any other piece of equipment. Also do not talk during the test as it will raise your heart rate due to you needing to take in more oxygen to talk while you are exercising.
The first minute is quite easy, walking slow enough to keep your heart rate under 100 bpm. You gradually want to build up intensity over a 5 minute period to a moderately fast jog if possible (or a really fast walk if jogging isn't possible).
At the end 1 min. your heart rate monitor will beep alerting you to pick up your pace a little bit to a slightly faster walk (increase the speed only enough so there is a moderate increase in walking speed). At the end of the second minute you will now increase to a very fast walk for the third minute.
At the end of the third minute you are now going to jog lightly if you can (if not then increase the walking speed). At the end of the fourth minute you're going to increase the speed to a faster jog. Time will beep at the end of the fifth minute concluding the test.
If the OwnZone® Test ends early you will need to try again. If it continues to do so, the HRM may be receiving significantly inconsistent heart rate variability due to oncoming illness, excessive fatigue, or undue stress. All of these factors will result in a lowering of the heart rate zones previously determined based on the Polar Fitness Test.
The great thing about the OwnZone® Test is that it will adapt the training zones based upon your body's readiness today. Once you have been working out regularly, and you feel great, you can rely on your normal training zones without having to perform the Polar OwnZone® Test.
Most people want to burn a lot of calories and workout hard so that they can get to their goals faster. But if you keep doing this you will either get sick or wear your body down so much that you will plateau in a few weeks and you will either stop progressing or you will start falling back in the wrong direction.
Your heart rate doesn't lie about how hard your body is working and you must trust your heart rate monitor training program when it reminds you to take it easy.
Polar OwnZone® Video
Heart Rate Monitor Training Step 6 Warm Up Period
The goal of the warm-up is to raise the core temperature, increase blood flow, and see a resultant rise in heart rate up to the level of intensity that will be expected in the workout that will follow.
If the workout of the day is intended to be intense, the warm-up period should last 10 to 20 minutes. If the workout is intended to be light or moderate, the warm-up period is only 5 to 10 minutes.
Most people will either not do enough intensity to warm-up or they will push far too hard and far too fast.
It's important to ensure that the increase in effort and your heart rate response is consistent and gradual. You may need to go through the warming up process a few times before you get the hang of recognizing gradual increases in effort.
Heart Rate Monitor Training Step 7 Exercise In Target Heart Rate Zones
At this point you're ready to begin your heart rate monitor training. The recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine is that every US adult should accumulate 30 min. or more of moderate intensity (3 - 6 METs) physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week for a total of at least 3.75 hours of cumulative weekly exercise activity.
If you own the Polar FT60 or FT80 start your exercise by following the Star Training Program. The Star Training Program will guide you to your goals whether you want to maximize performance, improve fitness, or lose weight. You will get an aerobic training program with weekly targets - including calories, intensity and duration.
If you own the Polar FT40, the EnergyPointer feature will indicate the center point between improving fitness or fat burning. So you know whether your training is more effective for improving fitness or burning fat.
Here are the Target Heart Rate zones and some of the benefits that can be obtained by heart rate monitor training.
The duration recommendations below are for the recreational athlete. If competing, the duration will need to be increased for the type and length of race.
Zone 1 – 50 to 59% of your heart rate max helps with:
Recovery from previous workouts.
Improve health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Rehabilitation from heart problems.
Training pace should be continuous endurance and steady effort. No interval training.
Training duration: 30 minutes if running, 45 minutes if walking, 1 hour if cycling.
Zone 2 – 60 to 69% of your heart rate max improves:
Activates fat metabolism.
Reduction of bad cholesterol and increases good cholesterol.
Stabilizes cardiovascular system.
Training pace should be continuous endurance and steady effort. No interval training.
Training duration: 45 minutes if running, 60 minutes if walking, 90 minutes if cycling.
Zone 3 - 70 to 79% of your heart rate max improves:
Aerobic fitness, muscle endurance and capacity.
Reduction of body fat.
Training pace can be continuous, steady efforts or intervals.
Training duration: 45 minutes if running, 60 minutes if walking, 60-90 minutes if cycling.
Zone 4 - 80 to 89% of your heart rate max increases:
Interval training method, such as 6 to 12 minute load with rest/recovery ¼ of load. For example: 6 minutes of training with 90 seconds of recovery.
Training in this zone should be minimal. 1 training session out of every 4-5 workouts.
Training duration is 20 to 60 minutes.
Zone 5 - 90 to 100% of your heart rate max helps fit young athletes develop:
Improve lactate threshold.
Interval training method.
Very short duration.
Not recommended for unfit or elderly.
It is important for beginning exercisers who have not exercised regularly (at least three days per week) for the past several months to not exceed 65 to 75% of your heart rate max until a baseline of low level conditioning can be established.
If your mouth begins to open more visibly and you are unable to breathe through the nose or talk in complete sentences without pausing (also known as the talk test) you have moved from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism as the primary phase of energy production. If you are a beginner, this is a sign to slow down.
Exerting at high intensity levels too soon in an exercise program can create a greater likelihood of injury to connective tissue and muscle which has not had time to adapt to the new stimulus. You may also be compromising your immune system as well.
Remember that exercise is intended to stave off illness and disease, not invite it by working out to intensely. Weight loss goals and desired body changes cannot outweigh the greater need for total body health.
Heart Rate Monitor Training Step 8 Cool Down Period
The cool down period should be performed at the end of your heart rate monitor training session by gradually decreasing the intensity levels over a 10-20 minute time period.
This allows for an efficient removal of metabolic waste and to return the heart rate and blood pressure toward normal. This will help avoid venous pooling where blood has been localized to muscles heavily used during exercise.
Always consult a doctor before starting any nutrition or heart rate monitor training program.