I was recently pulled into a post on Facebook by a runner who asked my thoughts regarding a post with this opening sentence. The person who had made the original post, had posted a couple of articles talking about why heart rate training is not useful and you should ditch your heart rate monitor.
As a believer in HR as a tool that can help runners, I posted a reply as requested and I thought I would share it here too in the hope that you may find some value in my response.
Perceived exertion, pace and heart rate are all measures of intensity and it’s intensity (not how they are measured) that really matters as it’s what determines the majority of the physiological benefit and recovery time from training.
Each method has its pros and cons and wise athletes use all three measures together for best effect. As the person who posted this mentions, many coaches do believe that heart rate has it’s short falls and so do I, which I too highlight when I give a talk on the subject.
The reason I as a coach advocate HR as a primary tool though, has been driven by thousands of lactate tests we have done in our lab. Time and time again, the results have shown that many athletes have a warped sense of how hard they are truly working at different intensities and as such perceived exertion alone in my opinion, is not a great method for determining how hard you should work.
Getting intensity right is important because it can be the difference between running aerobically and anaerobically. Burning fat or sugar. Learning to clear or tolerate lactate and more.
Pace is one objective measure for intensity but it’s an output and does not respond to any other factors. Heart rate is the other objective measure for intensity but it does respond to many things.
Most of the reasons the coach in the articles referenced does not like heart rate are the exact reasons why I do like HR. HR responds to lack of sleep, stress, caffeine, when you are hot, thirsty, excited etc.
If you are a person who has a busy life with family, social, work and training commitments, having a measure that adapts to stressors like these helps to ensure you work as hard as you need to, but not to over work in times of increased stress.
When combined with pace to measure fitness improvements and RPE to dial in your natural ability to gauge effort, it is a great tool.