Heart rate in running is undoubtedly the most important parameter to evaluate the quality of your training or performance. Not the km or the distance, which concern the quantity, nor the speed, which is only partially related to the intensity of the training: if you want to have a qualitative idea of your run, know if you are training for the goals you set – whether it is weight loss, improvement in speed or distance – and to evaluate the improvements in a medium-long time, it is the heart rate in running that you need to look at. And luckily today it is much easier and cheaper to monitor the heart rate during a sports performance, but then you need to know which data and which parameters are important to look at.
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Heart rate in running: why it matters
The Finns were the first to understand that heart rate in running was an important, if not the most important, qualitative parameter of training and performance. And it is no coincidence that the first sports cardio bands were invented in Finland. But why is heart rate so important, even more than speed or distance? Because it’s about how our body works.
The whole body, but especially the muscles during a sporting performance, need energy. Energy can come from various internal sources, but in all cases there is a need for oxygen. AND oxygen is carried to muscle tissue by blood. As with a car, the faster you go, the more the engine revs up, consuming more petrol: like this the more our body increases the effort and the more it needs energy, the more it will make the heart beat.
Which is sort of independent of speed or distance travelledbecause a young, trained and normal weight person could run at 6 km/h after 10km already done with a low or medium heart rate, while a middle-aged, untrained and overweight person could already be at the limit after a few hundred meters at a much slower speed.
So here is the individual parameter to evaluate fitness, training intensity or performanceand relevance to the goals that have been set is precisely the heart rate.
How to calculate heart rate for running
Today, calculating heart rate for running is very easy and cheap. If once it was necessary to take the pulse in the throat or in the wrist and set them to the time of 1 minute, today there are sportwatch with heart rate monitor even at a more than affordable price that do this job very well in real time and in every moment of their run.
Before continuing, a quick note is in order: the heart rate monitor detects the heart rate via Led lights that perceive blood pressure and deduce its frequency; chest cardio bands, on the other hand, substantially use the electrocardiogram system by detecting the heartbeat directly via radio frequencies. This is why elite athletes continue to use heart rate monitors because they are absolutely accurate. But for an amateur, a sportwatch with wrist cardio is just fine. Only then you need to know how to read the data, in real time and after trainingknowing how to interpret them and being clear on what is being done and why.
Heart rate and running: what training zones are
At this point conventionally, 5 heart training zones are identified, which can be found on any sports watch with heart rate monitor, of any brand. It is a scientific standard adopted by all manufacturers, from the best known in the sports arena to those that have entered this market today, perhaps coming from hi-tech.
The first thing to know is that heart rate zones are expressed as a percentage of your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)which is the highest number of beats per minute that the heart can sustain. The Maximum Heart Rate is entirely individual and depends on general factors such as gender and age but also on personal factors such as state of fitness, genetic factors such as bradycardia (fewer beats per minute at rest than the average of 55-65) or tachycardia (highest number of beats at rest).
To calculate the Maximum Heart Rate there are very reliable scientific-sports tests on the treadmill or cycle ergometer, but the simplest and most practical way is the Karvonen formula, a Finnish physiologist, who plans to subtract his own age from the value 220. So the FCM of a 50-year-old is 170, a 40-year-old is 180, and a 30-year-old is 190. Simple. Not by chance it is the method that sportswatches use using personal data such as age, gender, height and weight to give a benchmark (so better not cheat when setting up for the first time).
Once the FCM has been established, which will gradually decrease with age, the cardio training zones can be established as a percentage of this. Training zones that are marked on each GPS cardio watch for runningusually with different colors during the training session, and with graphs with colored bands in the same way on the App or in the personal online page.
Cardio Zone 1
It matches approximately 60%-65% of your maximum heart rate. For almost everyone it is the cardio area for warming up, for many that of slow, relaxing and effortless running, excellent as an aerobic workout for beginners, which improves the oxygenation capacity of the tissues. A good practical test is that in this area you can breathe effortlessly and even converse without problems with another person.
Cardio Zone 2
About the 70% of the FCM, therefore little more than the previous one. For trained runners it is the so-called slow fund, often recovery, also included in many training programs for marathon and ultra marathon runners. We are always in the aerobic zone, for an amateur or beginner it is already an interesting pace because improves the ability of cells to deliver fat to musclesand therefore to burn them, but in any case it is an area where one can still breathe without difficulty and it is possible to converse, with a perceived effort that is not tiring.
Cardio Zone 3
Circa 75% – 80% of the FCM, is the cardio zone where all the amateurs and tapascioni run more or less consciously. Breathing begins to become more labored, you can still talk but it’s not really a conversation, and it already is a great cardiovascular workout as well as fat burner. The heart strengthens and prepares for more intense and longer-lasting efforts, and the ability of the muscles to use oxygen and thus burn fat improves.
An interesting note for those who run to lose weight is that the so-called fat-burning, or lipolytic zoneis between zones 1 and 3, i.e. between 60% and 80% of HR Max. Up to this point, in fact, the body mainly burns fat, while beyond that it begins to enter the anaerobic zone and mainly consumes sugars.
Cardio Zone 4
Between 85% and 90% of your maximum heart rate, then a high-intensity run that makes the breath run and the breath short. No one at this rate can talk, the actual training time in this zone is limited, so much so that it is mostly reached for short time intervals within training programs for running at variable pace and heart rate (e.g. long repetitions, or the fatlek). With this workout the anaerobic threshold and consequently the speed are improved and running performance.
Cardio Zone 5
Beyond 90% of your maximum heart rate, for sustainable time, which will be short. It is the threshold that is reached in interval training, such as short repetitions, and it is the one in which anaerobic resistance and muscle power improve. A threshold that only advanced runners deliberately reach and support.