A novice exercise enthusiast asked me if I could share some information on how to incorporate a heart rate monitor into her running program. This woman wants to keep her exercise at a healthy pace, while avoiding injury and promoting weight loss. So that’s what I decided to write about this month.
A heart rate monitor is used to measure the amount of times that your heart beats per minute. It is a valuable tool to help you exercise within the “safe zone”. This means keeping your heart rate at a pace that will not over-stress your body while also exercising hard enough to raise it to a healthy level and burn fat. Knowing your heart rate zones will help you monitor progress and avoid injuries that can stem from over-exertion. As a corrective exercise specialist, my first priority with clients starting to exercise is for them to enjoy it, my second to keep them free of injury. A heart rate monitor is a valuable tool used to accomplish this. Wearing one gives you the basic feedback needed to make your exercise safe.
The other advantage to using a heart rate monitor is to understand the different “zones” and where the body burns fats if you are interested in losing or maintaining your weight. The science behind this is counter-intuitive to how most people think it works. The common process is to work very hard at high heart rates to lose weight. While that might burn a lot of calories, it burns off the sugar in your body and not the fat. Exercising at an aerobic “safe zone” is where the body actually burns fat.
Where do I start?
Lets imagine that Jenny Heart decides to start exercising and has not run since her high school days. She would like to begin a long-term lifestyle change before the holidays to address her issue of being about 30 pounds overweight.
First of all, we must find out if Jenny has any major health issues. This will play a very important part in determining the intensity level of her exercise. Additional stressors can exacerbate existing health problems and hinder one’s ability to perform. If this is not the case with Jenny, I would start her out with a simple stretching routine.
Now let’s talk about the intensity at which she should start exercising in order to have a safe experience getting back into the arena. Although there are several ways to find your target zones, such as exerting youself to your maximum limit, I feel the safest formula to use is Dr. Maffetone’s method. Dr. Philip Maffetone is the author of the acclaimed book, “The Maffetone Method- The Holistic, No- Stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness”.
Dr. Maffetone has trained many professional athletes, and uses the formula that takes 180 minus your age as a maximum heart rate. Because Jenny is 40 years old, I would estimate 140 as Jenny’s maximum heart rate (180-40=140). This will provide her with great aerobic training (also known as cardio training). For the first 2-4 weeks of her new exercise program, Jenny can reduce her maximum heart rate number by 5 beats to allow her body to adapt to the beginning stages of her running program. Running at a heart rate over 140 will go over the healthy aerobic threshold, or “safe zone”, and will move into the anaerobic stage. This will cause her to burn more sugar than fat and not be effective in achieving her goal of weight-loss.
Warming up and cooling down
Many people find this part of an exercise program to be a hassle, but it is important in preventing injuries and developing the proper mechanisms to mobilize blood to the lower extremities. In other words, this can help in preventing soreness.
The human body is always performing various biological activities throughout the day. For example, meals you ate yesterday are in transit inside your digestive tract, the nutrients being broken down and utilized as your body needs them. Beginning an exercise session at a high level of intensity, rather than warming up at a lower intensity, will force this process to an abrupt halt. This may cause further biological disturbances because the body is being forced to adapt to the sudden strain of exercise. This may further complicate the issue by causing the heart rate to reach abnormal heights too quickly. However, if we start with a fast walk and gradually accelerate the pace after a few minutes, our body will have time to prepare for a more intense level of exercise without unnecessary stress on your system.
Cooling down will help the blood return to the upper extremities to resume your pre-run activities. Overall, this makes your exercise session a pleasant and safe experience. You should feel alert and energized after exercise, not pure exhaustion.
I would suggest that you invest in a heart rate monitor and set it to alert you when your heart rate reaches its healthy maximum. This is a key element to not go above limits that are potentially harmful to your body. It may be a challenge at first, but as you continue to train this way, you will notice that you are running faster while staying within the same healthy heart rate range. This is a positive sign of building endurance and your heart’s ability to pump more blood per beat.
Make sure to stretch the muscles that you engage while you run: calves, thighs, groin, gluteus, core and shoulders. Do short 3-5 second” contract and relax” movements, 2-3 times per stretch. Tight, short muscles force you to work harder to compensate for inflexibility. Stretching these muscles will enhance your performance and reduce post-workout soreness.
Give yourself the “mile test”. Select a route and identify a section that is one mile. Set your heart rate monitor to beep when it reaches 5 beats below your maximum heart rate so that you’ll have time to slow down before you hit your max. Warm up appropriately and then run your mile, trying to keep a steady heart rate at or just below your max. Note the time that it takes you to run a mile, train 3-4 times per week then test yourself again 4 weeks later. You’ll notice that it took you less time to complete the mile. The outcome? Less stress on your body which will lessen the chances of injuries. Most importantly, you’ll enjoy training!
If you’d like help with a better understanding of training within your safe zone or setting up a training program, please contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our fitness professionals. We are always happy to meet with you and discuss a training plan that will suit your needs!
“Keep on moving”
Luis Ponce Sr.