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Time to Read

5 minutes

Points of Interest

  1. Maximum heart rate
  2. Heart rate variability
  3. Average heart rate
  4. Recovery time
  5. Calories burned
  6. Concluding thoughts

There’s no doubting that the more knowledge you have, the better your training can be. With more training data than ever before so easily accessible now, it’s possible to get lost down a rabbit hole of graphs, numbers and times that do nothing but confuse.

Today we’re going to look at a few bits of heart rate monitor data and discuss how useful (or not) they are in the wider context of training. Before we go any further, I’ll caveat anything I say by stating clearly that every bit of data has a use if you’re going to use it, but collecting data for the sake of it isn’t always a sensible strategy.

At KYMIRA Sport we’ve got a mission to help you perform and recover better, so like all our blogs, this article on heart rate monitor data should help you to make informed choices on your training…

1) Maximum heart rate

The theoretical maximum heart rate is calculated by subtracting your current age from 220. This figure is the highest number of beats per minute your heart could reach during sustained high intensity exercise.

This figure then informs various other heart rate data points, such as the ‘fat burning zone’, ‘cardio zone’ and ‘anaerobic zone’ you see on cardio machines in gyms. Where these zones are largely inaccurate and useless for the vast majority of us, some people gauge their training output using them exclusively.

Useful or not?

Not really – the figure is an estimation at best and is unlikely to inform much in the way of training intensity. Heart rate is individualised and some of us are capable at working for longer periods at higher heart rates – not because they are fitter necessarily, but because their heart naturally beats faster that many other people’s.

It’s something to be aware of and to use as a rough guideline, but that’s all. Don’t let it inform too many training decisions.

2) Heart rate variability

This is a measure of the variation between your heart beats – it was a particularly popular measure of general wellness back around 2016, where technology and apps for measuring heart rate variability first became more popular and widespread.

The theory behind the measurement of heart rate variability is that it’s a good underlying assessment of the autonomic nervous system. When the variability of heart rate is lower, it assumes a state of stress (physical, mental, emotional etc) or under-recovery. When variation of heart rate is higher, it indicates the person is more rested and less stressed.

Useful or not?

There is a lot debate around the practical use of HRV as a training tool – some coaches swear by it, others are less enthused. If you’re at the limits of human performance and your training, nutrition and recovery strategies are perfect, then it can provide some useful data. For the rest of us, it’s probably extra data that we don’t really need. You’ll know how you feel intrinsically.

It’s a possible indicator that you need more rest, so use it to keep yourself healthy rather than to keep performing at your maximum.

3) Average heart rate

During a training session your heart rate monitor is collecting data all the time. During the session you can keep an eye on your output, but the average heart rate data is only truly available for analysis at the end of the session. It’s a measure of your cardiac output during the entire session, giving you a measure of work output from your training.

Useful or Not?

Absolutely – it’s arguably the best overall measure of intensity and output from a session. It’s obviously more useful in retrospect, because it will provide you information regarding the training load you can work to for subsequent sessions – if you’ve worked too hard you can go easier next time and vice versa.

One session is unlikely to change your season, but the work done over an entire programme will. Use your average heart rate data to track performance across a programme, not a workout.

4) Recovery time

Modern heart rate monitors will make an assessment of your training session and prescribe you a recovery time based on the intensity of your training. The recovery time is given to the hour, so you may after a tough workout be given a recovery time of ’62 hours’ or something like that. It’s very precise for something where the original data set is actually quite vague.

Useful or Not?

Nope. Here’s why – as we at KYMIRA Sport know, recovery can be influenced by a huge range of factors. The clothing you wear, the food you eat, the sleep you get, the fluids you take on board, the stretching you do, the massages you have and the sauna/ice bath you take. Your quoted recovery time doesn’t allow for any of these additional details.

Your recovery time will give you an idea of workout intensity, but you’ll already have that from other data points in your training.

5) Calories burned

Your heart rate monitor will assess the energy output of a session and at the end, give you a calorie burn score. It’ll do this for the entire day as well, so you’ll know how many calories you’ve burned across the day, including both calories burned in training and along the rest of your day.

Useful or Not?

Yes, absolutely. As athletic people we’ll have a closer eye on our weight than most – whether it’s for power-weight ratio, losing weight for a weight class sport or generally because we’re keeping an eye on our weight, having a measure of calorie burn is vital. Even if it’s not 100% accurate, it’ll be closer than most other measures – the equations determining energy burn are well tried and tested by now, so they’re generally reliable.

Of course this only holds true if the heart rate monitor is accurately set up and tweaked – if you set the monitor up when you weighed 85kg and through training and diet you’re now 75kg, you’ll have to set it to your current weight, otherwise your calorie burn data will be miles out.

Heart Rate Monitor Data: Conclusion

Modern heart rate monitors can provide us with a plethora of data, but the purpose of this article was to see what’s useful and what’s not. Data is pointless unless it is going to inform your training in future.

With good data you can put together fantastic training programmes and make improvements to your physical capabilities but be careful to not get bogged down in measuring everything. Take what’s useful, discard what isn’t.

Data is only as useful as its application.

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