Everything you wanted to know about Heart Rate but were afraid to ask

race night dismal%

Every now and again I put some running/cycling stuff on Facebook.  Mostly work stuff to try and help people but sometimes just for fun to see what interests the folks out there in the running world.  Most of the time, the responses are apathetic (Apart from the occasional sarcastic comment) so I was astounded to see the responses to a slightly tongue in cheek post I popped up after Spin last Wednesday.  Here’s everything you ever need to know about Heart Rate for the ‘common person’.  The comments in italics are my own – added purely for this blog post.

The original post stated…

Fuckety fuck. Hit 100% HRM doing ‘race night’. You know what that means…

  • Geoff: Actually, I don’t know what that means. (actually I wouldn’t expect him to.  The reference was made to those who’ve been in the shed of doom and so would have an inkling – specifically Pauline who had experienced the same just a few weeks ago).
  • Nova: Nope??
  • Me: 100% of HRM is a theoretically target. So, if you hit it, the Heart Rate must go up. (from now on each session would require harder work to hit the same training zones – hence the fuckity fuck)
  • Kevan: Can you ask for a recount and do it again?
  • Me: It was there in black and white Kev. And on the read out afterwards. No recount. Just have to don the man suit when I go back in the spin shed. (or weep quietly to myself)
  • Trevor: Nicky Donbavand can I ask a question … I only got to 159 during my Monday spin session but during my Oddballs interval session I hit 187 …… I really struggle getting my heart rate up cycling ….. Any clues? (good question.  Ian comes up with the obvious answer very, very soon…)
  • Ian: Try harder (there you go..)
  • Trevor: I try as much as I can ….
  • Ian: R u using the same hr strap for the run as the bike? & have you checked the hr barrie display is the same as ur own device when you are spinning?
  • Pauline: Haha. I can see the glint in Barrie’s eye as he pounces on the ipad… fortunately I only got 99% on the first session..and bonked the second at 93%
  • Kevan: This all sounds foreign to me. The spin bike I use just has a little dial that you are meant to turn if you want to make it harder.  I have to admit that I don’t always hear the instruction to turn the dial up.
  • Nova: How do you know if your heart rate is accurate in the first place? (and here is the crux of training to Maximum HR)?
  • Nova: Not you in particular, I mean ‘one’. (Quite)
  • Ian: It is set to average
    215 minus your age for bike
    220 minus your age for running. 
    This is an estimate only.  (now universally pooh poohed – although maybe not sufficiently enough for 220 Triathlon Magazine to change their name.  Barrie essentially guesses and then changes it if they’re in the red zone while chatting to their neighbour)
  • Nova: That’s what I mean it’s only an estimate, how do you know for sure? Why is it diff on the bike from running?  (Quite again Nova, a superb question.  Nova has highlighted the essential problem with training to heart rate.  Slowtwitch come up with an excellent article here – I’ll share my own experiences later if I may).
  • Ian: If you wish to find out for sure, you can be tested.  Then you will know for sure I have read it somewhere, perceived effort or something like that, Running is a touch harder so you get a couple of Percent it is only a guide (sic)
  • Barrie: Pauline I was off the bike encouraging the finish to the line in a monotone calm sedate manner!!! so as quick as a flash before I got distracted I immediately went to edit the info for nicky, whilst grinning…… Oh! I do like race days (what can I say – the man is pure evil.  He’s not called the Barrienator for nothing!)
  • Mark: The 220 minus your age rule went out of the window! Once your max HR is known, assuming everything remains constant, your HR should not change with age. Nova, only by testing in lab conditions will you get your precise Max HR and zones. Barrie’s shed of pain is less than lab conditions. Running will give you a higher max HR, by around 10-15 Bpm. (Mark is SO going to pay for that comment when he gets into the shed of doom)
  • Barrie: Mark I am disappointed in you calling my shed of pain less than lab conditions…. There’s been plenty of testing been done under my microscope!!!!!! Just you wait till you are next in…. (Barrie has a very good point – I’ll come to that later)
  • Mark: Bugger! I could be in trouble now. I love the shed really Barrie (the penny drops way too late hahaha)
  • Barrie: Lab rats…. Right I am thinking of some further testing that involves pain, pain and yes more pain, strictly for scientific purposes of course, better not tell human rights activists or Brussels! (see…Barrienator)
  • Penny: There are advantages to being able to hit 120% just sitting on the bike warming up while failing to get over 85% whilst working flat out (Penny has a slightly erratic HR Monitor.  This monitor definitely has her best interests at heart.)
  • Cliff: My heart rate blew it’s top off on Sunday! (as he demonstrated how not to fall off a bike – gravel rash yowch!)
  • Alistair: Only 100%?! Lightweight! Got mine to 103% last night! 194bpm. Not sure I have seen it that high ever whilst running! (Ali makes a relevant point while having his tongue firmly planted in his cheek)
  • Me: Trevor, what Mark said. And limiting factors are either psychological (ie can’t be arsed/I can’t), leg strength, CV or illness. Everyone’s power/HR will vary. Some get better output with a lower resistance and higher cadence. Some are the opposite. If you’re struggling to get HR up then change what you are doing slightly. See what works. (I find getting out of the saddle always helps to elevate my heart rate)
  • Jennifer: My heart hurts just reading these comments!
  • Nova: Ian, there is a place in Epsom by TK max that tests your max HR for you. I’m with Trevor, even on a good day trying as hard as I can I barely get to 90%, I have no leg strength so respect to you Nicky, well done
  • Ian:I have been tested hun It was 176 but I also got 103% so it has been upped a bitGo figure (sic)
  • Me: Your Max HR test will be limited by your fitness at the time. A much more accurate/reliable way of doing it is VO2 Max testing. Nova. I’ll dig some stuff out for you that you can use. (I’ll post this at the bottom of this blog)
  • Me: That’s why your Max HR is a theoretical max. Most peeps don’t actually bother testing it because it’s so difficult to get an accurate figure. Hence why we have to keep adjusting it in spin as we get fitter. It’s a useful tool but nothing more than that (unless you’re an elite athlete).
  • Kath: I know what you mean Nicky – I went up to 93% this evening half way through – by the end I was struggling at 80% and doing what I thought was hell for leather !! – I reckon Barrie’s machine is up the shute Is he doing race night all week then or something – I’m going up north for a rest – hehe (yes indeed he is, run for the hills)
  • Alan: Having read all the above, I agree with Jennifer, my head hurts! Also does it matter! Surely we all know how hard it feels and if we want to take it a bit easier who cares! I wouldn’t get stressed about it Nova, go with the flow (Quite again.  Rate of perceived exertion is a generally accepted way of training as it takes into account how you’re feeling on the day – and is much less frustrating than a heart rate that will not rise because your legs are too knackered to elevate it – it’s ALL about limiting factors)
  • Mark: Here, here fully agree Alan Alan (sic)

Personally, I’ve found using heart rate to be a useful TOOL in an arsenal of tools I use to monitor performance.  Interestingly, my heart rate in the shed has been much higher than anything I’ve been able to achieve while running.  Primarily, I think, because I’m a lard arse, so being on a static bicycle (which takes body weight out of the equation) helps me to achieve a much great power/weight ratio than anything I can do outdoors on my own bike or on foot, where I have to drag the dead weight around.

I’ve increased my ‘maximum’ heart rate approximately six time (and 14 bpm) in the shed.  At each increment I would have sworn hand on heart that that was my absolute maximum I could have gone.  This was backed up by rate of perceived exertion and the talk test at the time (ie going over 85% HRM effectively reduces your ability to speak because breathing rate is so elevated).

My theory is that my limiting fact was cardio-vascular fitness and a lower VO2 Max when I first started (the rate at which your body can process oxygen to ‘re-create’ energy).  As I’ve got fitter, I’ve increased my VO2 Max (this has been backed up by Petes fitness testing too) and so increase the ability to get my heart rate higher.  My actual Max HR has not changed.  I’m just more able to get closer to it now.

When I started, rather than guessing what my maximum was, I used Joe Friel’s lactate threshold test and then adjusted accordingly from there.  Actually, Barrie’s ‘race night’ <after a couple of practice sessions> is perfect for this.

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About PT Nicky

I'm a girl in the world just trying to make 1% improvements everyday. I recently qualified as a Personal Trainer. I certainly don't fit the aesthetic of a PT and I wanted to demonstrate that ordinary people can achieve their hearts desire. Clean eating advocate with paleo leanings.
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1 Response to Everything you wanted to know about Heart Rate but were afraid to ask

  1. Geoff Hastings says:

    Blimey , what a lot of info, I read all of it, understood some of it. I must admit that I randomly use a heart rate monitor and that is more out of curiosity than as a training aid really. Sometimes it’s quite scarey at just how high my rate goes both running or riding but interestingly it does not always seem to equate with how hard I seem to be trying or how bad I feel.

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