The Trouble with Relying on Heart Rate Monitors

A few different gps watches
September 26, 2016

Mike Ricci



Heart rate monitors (HRMs) have been a game-changer in training since they became widely accessible in the mid-1980s, providing an affordable "coach" for the average person. This technology allows individuals to monitor their heart rates (HR) in real-time, enabling them to adjust their intensity levels accordingly. Modern HRMs offer advanced features like interval programming and data recording for various metrics such as HR, pace, altitude, distance, and calories burned.

However, in our pursuit of precision, we've sometimes become overly reliant on these devices, obsessing over every data point and metric. In today's data-driven society, where we track everything from car GPS to phone usage minutes, it's easy to get caught up in analyzing every aspect of our workouts.

Yet, training should be about enjoyment, stress relief, and improving overall well-being. While HRMs provide valuable insights, they shouldn't overshadow the joy of exercising and the camaraderie it brings.

There are instances when HRMs may conflict with our perception of effort levels. In such cases, it's essential to listen to our bodies rather than fixating solely on the numbers displayed by the device. This is where the concept of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) comes into play.

The RPE scale, ranging from 1 to 10, offers a simpler and more intuitive way to gauge effort levels. By aligning RPE with HR zones, individuals can better understand how hard they're working relative to their physiological responses.

During certain periods, like October through December, relying on internal cues rather than HRMs can be beneficial. By using the RPE scale, individuals can maintain appropriate intensity levels tailored to their specific goals and conditions.

Moreover, RPE proves invaluable in competitive scenarios, where focusing solely on HR may limit performance. Whether racing or training in extreme conditions, such as heat, RPE allows for more adaptive and effective effort management.

Therefore, it's crucial to strike a balance between utilizing HR data and listening to one's body. By incorporating RPE into training routines, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their capabilities and optimize performance accordingly.

In conclusion, while HRMs offer valuable insights, embracing the freedom of running by RPE at times can enhance training experiences and performance outcomes. So, I encourage everyone to occasionally disconnect from the numbers on their wrist and embrace the intuitive sense of effort. This practice not only fosters a deeper connection with one's body but also equips individuals with a versatile tool for optimizing performance in any situation.

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

schedule a call