Body & Mind

What does running have to do with your heart rate?

Remember how I said that running is not for everyone? I still think that, even though I run from time to time. I had put aside running since I ran my half-marathon in August because my goals were to build muscle mass and try out some strength programs, to see what happens. And I have to say – I am quite happy with the results, but my cardiovascular fitness has suffered. Right now – I am adding back some cardio training in my life, and it’s painful to watch that just after a couple of months, I have to start from the beginning with this. I believe that any of us have felt that way, coming back to workouts after a period of rest.

So, what do I mean when I say that I am starting from the beginning again? It doesn’t mean I run out of breath, there’s no stinging in my side from improper breathing, my legs feel fantastic and it feels like I should be picking up the pace. And here I come to my most significant point for anyone who wants to start doing cardio – what is your heart rate when you move?

Your heart is the most important muscle in your body and you can’t treat it bad. When I was running regularly, I could run a little faster than I am running now and my heart rate was about 65 % of my maximum heart rate or a little below that. Now, I get that just thinking about running… When I slowly run now, my heart rate jumps up to about 80 – 85% of my maximum heart rate (MHR). And that would be ok to have that for a shorter (30 – 40 minutes), more tempo-running type workouts. Since I am re-starting my running regimen, my goal is to have a longer runs (about an hour) with low intensity (55 – 65% of MHR). Which means that my running now looks like fast walking or running with breaks and that is frustrating… And I believe that if you have ever thought about running and been smart enough to get a heart rate monitor (HRM), you might have felt the same way.

What does your heart have to do with all those numbers? If you spend a lot of time in the higher percentages of your MHR – you make the walls of your heart thicker. That’s great if you have a lot of volume of blood to pump out of the heart, but if the volume is small and the walls are thick, the heart can have problems with keeping itself contracting. When you spend more time in the lower percentages of your MHR – you train the volume of your heart. I usually suggest to start with that – increase the volume and then make the heart walls thicker to work well with the volume of blood that your heart needs to pump out.

And why would you need HRM for that? Can’t you just tell by the way you’re feeling? Well, no… When I am running (and I consider myself quite self-aware), I am feeling perfect, but when I look at my HRM I see 156 beats per minute. That’s about 82% of my MHR. And this is when I run downhill. Slowly…

How can you find out your maximum heart rate? It’s easy… For ages, we have been using the same formula:

220 – age = 100% of your MHR

This formula works for healthy adults, but you always have to take into consideration your own medical history so you can ask your doctor if this works for you too. If you get a green light from your doctor – then you can play around with numbers and find your 55 – 70% of your MHR and start your training somewhere in that range. As you progress and it gets easy to stay in the range and you can pick up the pace – calculate your 70 – 85% of your MHR and add some intervals or tempo-training into your daily mix.

Nowadays, HRM come with programs that already know your workout zones as you enter your age at the set-up, but it’s good to be aware and know what you are doing.

With this – all I want to say is – watch out for just leaning on ‘the feeling’. We live in a time when we have technologies to help us improve our health and well-being. Guard your heart!

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