Heart Rate Based Training....Should you be doing it?

One of the topics that we receive numerous questions on is Heart Rate (HR) based training. Why don’t we utilize HR monitors in all of our classes, when they should be used, and how?

Health and fitness world is a multi billion dollar industry, and all areas of the field are constantly changing (we’re hesitant to say “evolving” due to some changes not being for the better….ex. shake-weight :)). But all of the trends aside, new research is being conducted, new ways to optimize training, and new technological advancements. One of these advancements is utilizing real time heart rate to maximize workout efficiency. We are seeing more and more fitness facilities utilizing heart rate training, and we are also seeing elite athletes use these devices. But are Heart Rate (HR) monitors a must have tool for training, are they just a marketing scam, and are they worth the investments? Here is our take on it, and we apply them.


Just like anything else HR monitors are just a tool to assess intensity, and there has to be a purpose and context for the use of the tool. To start, we need to find our max HR, and a very rough way to calculate this is 220 - your age (this equation has shown up to +/- 20% error, but its still an “ok” way of calculating an approximate max HR). Once we have the max heart rate we can set up various HR zones which on paper, cause different adaptations. Again with 20% delta, we could be training in a different zone. You can see how this can be a problem, but nonetheless, it is a good starting point. Over time and with proper conditioning you may actually get to a max HR. This should be only done with clearance from your doctor.



Generally speaking, HR monitoring is mostly used by endurance athletes, who understand their body and want to stay in certain intensity range which is given by BMP, (below their lactic threshold). Lactic threshold is when we transition from aerobic to anaerobic energy system, and we accumulate more lactate than our body can clear. With training, lactic threshold can be shifted (which is highly desirable), but using a HR monitor is a great way to understand at what approximate HR we need to be within. Periodization can be designed based on the desired goal, timeline and other variables.



3 minutes or work and 1 minute rest

Another great way to use HR monitors is for measuring recovery. For example, how quickly we can recover after a controlled interval can give us great data (Ex. during one minute of recovery we like to see 30-35 BPM of recovery for well conditioned athletes). I say controlled because sports such as boxing can end a round with a 15 sec max effort flurry of punches, which will cause our HR to elevate over the first 15-30 sec of the recovery, even after all effort stops. To get a controlled reading we need to compare apples to apples, and certain sports make this very difficult, so we need to be careful. Interval running difficulty can be gauged by heart rate testing as well. If a persons HR jumps more than x BPM between two consecutive intervals, we need to asses whether the intensity is too high or athlete is not conditioned enough …. which means intensity is too high.


HRV (Heart Rate Variability) measurement is also a great way to use your HR monitor. To oversimplify HRV, it is measuring two segments of our nervous system categories: sympathetic and parasympathetic (and each having different ranges). HRV takes a look at your heart pattern and how much variability there is between beats. When you are rested/calm there is more variability (parasympathetic), and when you are fatigued/nervous beats are more steady (Sympathetic). Again we need to ensure that each day is measure under the similar conditions, as coffee, stress, lack of sleep, not receiving likes on your most recent Instagram post, can all alter the readings.

There are other applications of HR monitor, but we mainly prefer to use HR monitors for fitness: HRV training, aerobic work, as well as active recovery sessions.

Things that HR is not very useful for: Max effort work (ex. sprinting) due to HR lag, or as an absolute way to gauge training. Other things should be considered such as RPE scale, time of the workout, rest, other causes of stress etc.

So there you have it, HR monitors are definitely a great tool to have, and can make workouts fun, especially when working out by your self. They can help you gauge your effort, and also let you know when you are making progress. You can pick up a quality HR monitor for under $50, and HRV app around $7. We use Polar H7 monitors, free “Polar Beat” app for HR monitoring, and the app “ithlete” for HRV monitoring. We have used HR monitors in our Boxing classes as well as Senior Citizen Fitness classes, with great results!

This article just touched on each of the points, so if you have any specific questions please don’t hesitate to reach out to us and we will give you a more in depth answer to your question.

Enjoy the holidays and stay healthy :)

On a personal note, I (Srdan Lukic), went through a cardiac ablation in 2017 and 2018 due to Atrial tachycardia. Following the procedure, I used a heart rate monitor to carefully get back into a fitness routine. For the first two weeks following the procedure, I rested. Third week I only did 4 days of aerobic work limited to 10 min at 120 BPM. Fourth week I worked up to 140 BMP at 10 min intervals (My lactate threshold is around 165BMP, and my measured max is at 182 BMP). At 140BMP i started adding volume to 20-30 min, until I felt comfortable with increasing the intensity and doing interval boxing bag workouts. At a moderate boxing pace my heart rate would get into 150 BPM range for a 3 min round and during the 1 min rest (where my heart rate would recover by 30 BMP). Now I added strength training in week 5, as I never go over 150 BMP during strength work. This linear progression helped me get back into a regular routine in about 8 weeks after a cardiac ablation, and HR monitor was crucial to prevent overtraining (as well as psychologial benefit).

Srdan Lukic