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Your heart frequency is a very good tool for planning the intensity of your training. For that to work, you have to first find the individual stress range, which can be done like this:
The most common way to determine your range of training is to find your individual maximum pulse. Ideally, that can be done though a maximum capacity test (e.g. running 1000 m at maximum speed). The “rule-of-thumb” formulas that give you an approximate rate are not precise (e.g. 220 beats minus your age). One should note that the maximum pulse differs from person to person, and can be influenced by many factors, such as medications (e.g. beta blockers for those with heart issues); for this reason, it is not wise to use “rule-of-thumb” formulas to determine your maximum pulse. Planning training with an incorrectly calculated maximum pulse can result in over- or undertraining.
Example calculations based on “rule of thumb” formulas
Man, 50 years old heart frequency max (HFmax): 220 – 50 = 170
65% - 75% HFmax long, loose distance run < 127
75% - 85% HFmax mid-distance run 128 - 144
85% - 95% HFmax paced distance run 144 - 161
95% - 100% HFmax paced runs > 161
If you want to know your range more precisely, you can have the individual pulse zones evaluated as part of an endurance test by a sports physician. Runners often question their training when they compare themselves with other runners or trust information from their heart rate monitors and apps over their own body awareness. One dangerous self-diagnosis response can then be working out at too high a heart rate. The best way find out if you heart is working well at high exertion is by having an ECG test as part of a sports health check (rather than relying on the numbers on a heart rate monitor). Every marathon runner should undergo such a check on an annual basis.
The key characteristic for marathon runners is basic endurance. Long, loose endurance runs during training for a marathon assist in the optimization of lipo-metabolism. That is only true, however, if the running tempo is low-intensity. Too often, these training runs are influenced by the pace of fellow runners, resulting in a pace that is too fast for the actual intent of a relaxed endurance run. Your pulse is a good measure of whether or not the exertion is correct for the desired effect. For training sessions that are comprise of intervals and race-pace endurance runs, the speed is determined by intended time or pace, not by a heart-rate monitor, and you should leave your gadget at home, or at least only use it for observation or recording. Our bodies react to regular endurance training with adjustment processes of the heart (eg. cardiac output per minute). That results in noticeable improvements in training at low heart rates and the same course/speeds, which are measurable within 4-6 weeks.
The most technically solid devises are chest belts (1-channel ECG with the ability to measure heart frequency variability), as they are uncontested in precision. However, since they are often considered to be uncomfortable (especially by women), heart-rate monitors with optical sensors worn on your wrist provide another possible alternative. Other options, such as measuring your pulse in your ear, do not yet present enough precision during movement. During running events, heart rate monitors should be viewed with caution, as many factors can influence their precision.
Regardless of whether you are using gadgets, apps, fitness trackers, etc. to measure your pulse or any other technical possibilities, you should remember to never neglect your own body feeling.