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Heart rate based training

Your heart rate data gives you an insight into your physical condition and helps you understand how your body responds to training. The information you receive is useful in fine-tuning your training plans, for example, the regularity and intensity of your training, and will help you reach your peak performance. 

Whether you are an elite athlete or just want to train for fitness and health, the unique and personal information a heart rate monitor provides will help you get the most from your training, remain on track, and stay motivated. When you listen to your body with a heart rate monitor and keep your recovery times optimal, you will get more fit and improve your endurance performance.

Useful for athletes of all levels

Training with heart rate brings benefits to all—no matter what your fitness level or training background is. Below, you can see a list of benefits for different kinds of exercisers.

Beginner

  • Teaches you about your body's reaction to exercise.
  • Keeps you from starting out too hard.
  • Helps you control the intensity of your exercise routine.
  • Provides feedback on your improvement.

Regular exerciser

  • Helps you control the intensity of your exercise program under different circumstances.
  • Helps you fine-tune your program to get the best results.
  • Gives you plenty of feedback both during and after a session, teaching you more about your body's reaction to exercise.
  • Helps you see how you're progressing.

Pro

  • Helps you make sure you work out at the right planned intensities for your training program. (Hard enough on hard days, light enough on recovery days, enough recovery between intervals, etc.)
  • Enables you to track and accurately adjust your training program.
  • Teaches you about your body's reaction to training, providing an early warning of overtraining, flu, etc.
  • Gives feedback on your progress.

Factors affecting heart rate

Although everyone’s heart rate is individual and affected by a number of internal and external factors, the heart rate can be used as an indicator of the body’s state.

Personal factors affecting heart rate

  • Age: Maximum heart rate usually decreases with aging.
  • Genetics: Genetics affect your heart rate.
  • Fitness level: If your fitness level is high, your heart rate decreases faster after exercise.  When your fitness level improves, your resting heart rate decreases.
  • Maximum heart rate: The higher your maximum heart rate is, the higher your heart rate in different training zones is.
  • Illness: If you’ve recently been ill or are coming down with an illness, it raises your heart rate.

Exercise factors affecting heart rate

Your heart rate can change across activities due to different muscle mass involved, level of experience and technical proficiency. For example, in group exercise, heart rates are higher in high intensity endurance classes than in muscle toning classes. 

Running usually elicits the highest maximum heart rate during a stress test whereas maximum heart rates in cycling and swimming can be 10–15 beats lower during a similar test. This means that you may need to adjust your training heart rate intensities by 5–10 beats for activities other than running. 

External factors affecting heart rate

Weather conditions and ambient temperature

The body is usually very effective in maintaining the core body temperature in a narrow and safe range. However, exercising in extreme conditions causes more effort for your body.

Generally, the core body temperature increases during exercise. This results in increased heart rate because in addition to the heart needing to supply blood to the working muscles, it needs to supply blood to the skin for cooling you down. Also, in order to prevent your body from overheating, you will dissipate heat, typically via sweating. Sweating excessively can cause dehydration, and dehydration in turn can further increase the core temperature above the safe range, again increasing your heart rate to cool you down. Dehydration does not only occur in hot environments, and failing to stay hydrated can result in an increase in heart rate also because your blood volume decreases.

Humidity on the other hand reduces the effectiveness of sweating, preventing the body to effectively reduce the core temperature. Therefore, humid exercise conditions can result in an abnormal increase in the heart rate.

Use your heart rate data combined with perceived exertion and subjective feeling to set an appropriate pace. Also remember to regularly drink during exercise. 

Altitude

Hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) in high altitude stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. At first, this increases the heart rate, but in time, the effect to heart rate decreases, and the initial higher heart rate may not be sustained. High altitude can also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and this may reduce maximum heart rate. 

Your body will adapt to a higher altitude in a time period ranging from a couple of days up to a few weeks, but if you’re at high altitude only briefly, you’ll need to slow your pace to keep your heart rate in the proper range. It also takes longer to recover from a hard exercise at altitude so rest periods may need to be longer.

Fuel

Your body is always using a combination of carbohydrates, fats and proteins for energy production. As the exercise intensity increases, you burn more carbohydrates and less fat (protein metabolism is always fairly small). Even at low intensities, you need some carbohydrate to burn fats (fats burn in the flame of carbohydrate). 

If you start to run low on carbohydrates, it will become difficult to maintain your pace at a given heart rate. Your perceived exertion and subjective feeling will increase but your heart rate will be falling. This is informally called “bonking” and can be remedied by eating foods high in carbohydrate. As a rule of thumb, always bring along some form of ingestible energy on any training lasting more than 2 hours.

Lifestyle factors

Your behavior and way of life affect your heart rate. For example, stress, smoking, and consuming caffeine or alcohol all raise your heart rate. In addition, some medicines can have an effect on your heart rate. Medication can either raise your heart rate (e.g. asthma medication) or it can lower it (e.g. heart and blood pressure medication).

By using a Polar device when training you can…

…get feedback.

In addition to heart rate data, heart rate monitoring also gives you other useful information, such as calorie consumption, training benefit, training load and recovery status. Check the user manual of your training device to find out if your device supports these features.

… be more efficient.

Polar heart rate zones offer a new level of effectiveness in heart rate based training. Training is divided into five zones based on percentages of your maximum heart rate. With heart rate zones, you can easily select and monitor training intensities and follow Polar’s training programs that are based on the different heart rate zones.

…train safely.

Using a Polar training device helps you train smarter. Training in the right intensity is the key to improving your performance. Polar also helps you monitor your training load and recovery. If you don’t push yourself too hard when you’re supposed to be resting, you’re less likely to demand too much of your body and to get injuries.

…follow your achievements.

Using a Polar heart rate sensor and a training device gives you a possibility to perform the Polar Fitness Test™ (available on A300, A360, M400, M450, Polar Beat and V800). It is the easiest, safest, and fastest way to estimate your aerobic fitness. By performing the test regularly under the same conditions, you can follow your improvement.

Another test that is based on the measurement of heart rate and heart rate variability is orthostatic test. With the orthostatic test (available on M450 and V800), you can monitor the balance between training and recovery. Long term follow-up helps you to optimize your training and prevent overtraining. See the user manual of your training device to find out if your device has these features.

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