One of the first pieces of equipment I bought when I started running was a heart rate monitor. With its help I was able to stay in the aerobic training zone, especially during my long runs.
Most coaches advise to stay within that zone for the majority of the training, i.e. for over 80% of the training, especially for beginners, but also for long distance specialists. In this zone, physiological changes happen which enable the body to become more efficient in the utilization of Oxygen. More vascular capillaries are created around the muscles, which carry oxygen more directly to more muscle fibers. Additionally, training in this zone is less stressful to the body and helps avoid injuries. Due to the lower intensity, the body can recover more quickly and is sooner ready again for the next training session; hence a bigger training volume can be completed. In this zone most of the energy produced is generated using body fat while Glycogen is spared. This zone is called zone 2 in which the heart rate range is 65-75% of Maximum Heart Rate (MHR).
How do you find out what your MHR is? There are several ways to do that which I will mention in future posts, but for beginners, the easiest way is to subtract your age from 220. So, if you're 30 years old for example, then your MHR is 220-30=190. With that, your zone 2 range would be 123-142.
So, what are the other zones? Zone 1is the rest and recovery zone in which the effort is below 65% of MHR. Zone 3 is from 75 to 85% and is better to be avoided in training. Then there is zone 4 between 85 and 95% which is the zone in which speed or strength is developed depending on the type of training done in this zone. And finally, there is zone 5 from 95-100% which is all out effort for instance in the final sprint before the finish line.
Let me return to the initial point of this post, which is that a heart rate monitor is a worthwhile investment. After I started with a cheap heart rate monitor and watch with basic functions only, I progressed step by step to a Garmin watch with many more features, most importantly the GPS supported functions of measuring pace, speed, and kilometers, and the ability to record and upload your training sessions onto a Garmin website such that you can share it with others like your training partners or your coach, who can use your data to track your progress and design an individualized training plan for you.