Me and My Heart Rate Monitor


Original Post 25 January 2011

Today was the best running day I have ever had so far.

One of the things I invested in to help me in my exercising was heart rate monitor. I didn’t know such a thing existed until I saw them given to the contestants from the Biggest Loser Asia Season 2. They were all given Polar Heart Rate Monitors. That very night I began to do my research on heart rate monitors. I started looking for them the very next day and finally bought a Polar FT60 from Athlete’s Circle in PJ.

In subsequent months I bought the Polar Flowlink which allows the FT60 to download info to the Polar Personal trainer website so that I can view data online as well as the Polar G1 GPS Sensor which allows me to track my running distance.

What I found really useful is that the Polar FT60 has built in programs called Polar STAR Training Program which allows me to create programs based on my objectives which could be either improve fitness, maximise fitness or lose weight. It’s based on the fact that our heart rate while exercising can be classified into zones and exercising and raising your heart rate to fall in a particular zone would have a different impact. Needless to say, I chose the weight lose program and stuck with it for awhile (I recently changed the program to maximise fitness).

I’d be the first to admit that all the investments I made in Polar products had a certain impact because the built in programs would give me targets to achieve every week. It counts calorie burn based on my exercise duration and intensity. Having targets is a great way to get personal motivation and I would strive to reach my target every week.

Today I realised that I wasn’t using the heart rate monitor properly and was not deriving maximum benefit from it. I bought a book called ‘Precision Heart Rate Training’ edited by Edmund Burke, who was the Professor and Director of the Exercise Science Program at the University of Colorado (he passed away in 2002).

It’s an old book, written in 1998 and I am sure the technology has progressed much since then but it was still a revelation for me. There’s a lot of science which is way complicated for me but one of the things I learnt from reading this book (I read it in the space of 2 hours) is that I have to be conscious of what I am exercising for especially when I am running. The book explains that there are 3 specific objectives in any run:

– endurance – the ability to maintain a certain pace for an extended period of time
– stamina – the ability to continue moving forward regardless of pace
– speed – the ability run a certain speed for a specific distance

My problem with running is that it’s all topsy turvy. Eventhough I recently brought my personal best for the 5 km down from 44 mins to 39 mins 30 secs i wasn’t running all of the 5 km. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t maintain the pace I was running at and I have to slow down to walk before I could run again. I found that I have to built my endurance and it has to be built over time. The book suggested that I build endurance by running and maintaining a heart rate of 60-70% of my maximum heart rate (which is 180 beats per minute). I usually run at about 85-90% of my maximum heart rate and that’s why I can’t maintain it. There are other ways to build speed and stamina (which I’ll write about later) but the most important objective for me is endurance.

Armed with this new knowledge I started a run this afternoon as well as another run in the evening. I was determined to keep my heart rate within the 60-70% zone. It was tough because I have a tendency to pick up speed and once I do that my heart rate would shoot up. Keeping an eye on the Polar I started to run at a very slow pace. The monitor fluctuated between 65-75% and after awhile settled at 73% and guess what, I was able to maintain pace and not walk for a total of 9 km (4 km in the afternoon and 5 km in the evening). This was the first time I have ever run consistently without walking and to maintain this for a total of 2 hours was awesome. My best 5 km time is 39 mins 30 secs. Tonight I did the 5km at a slower pace in about 60 mins.

According to the book, doing this consistently would have an impact on my endurance. When I combine it with speed training, my overall pace and endurance will increase.

So the lesson is, when exercising (or taking action in life generally), make sure you are deeply conscious of your objectives. Be specific. The more specific you are the more likely you will achieve it. If I had continued to try to run at a fast pace, I don’t know when I would have achieved my 100% run. Eventhough the pace was slow, in time, I’ll go faster.

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