Heart rate when training: how do I find my optimal rate?

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Anyone taking up jogging or who jogs regularly will ask themselves the same questions: how intensely should I push myself? What's the right intensity? The answer to these questions is: measure your heart rate when jogging.

Why jogging and heart rate go hand-in-hand

Jogging and heart rate must go hand-in-hand, especially for health-conscious runners. This is because our heart rate shows us how hard we are exerting ourselves when jogging. It's also very easy to measure.

External influences affect heart rate

Our heart rate doesn’t only react when we increase our speed. It also reacts very sensitively when external conditions change, for example if there's a tailwind or headwind, it is very warm when jogging in summer or quite cool in autumn or winter. Our heart rate reacts to these external influences.

Stress & sleep influence heart rate

We don’t feel equally fit every day. This can be due to pressure from our working day or a night with little sleep. Our heart then indicates how stressed or relaxed we are. If we’re stressed, our resting heart rate is increased. This means that while jogging at our otherwise usual heart rate, our speed will be slower.

Jogging with heart rate data builds body awareness

Even with a good degree of body awareness, many factors influence how well we can gauge our exertion levels. Sometimes running feels less strenuous if we drink a cup of coffee first, or while listening to motivating music. But this can also lead to overexertion. A common problem for beginners is that when they jog at the pace they subjectively feel is right, they always jog in the same zone, i.e. never at a pace that’s really easy or intense. But this is exactly what makes training effective and interesting.

Listen to your inner self, feel your heartbeat, be aware of your exertion level. These are important components of any successful training. Nevertheless, as a professional runner I always wear a pulse watch.

Why are there various heart rate zones?

To get fitter and improve endurance, you need to follow a well-balanced training programme in which you run in three to five personal heart rate zones. To determine these zones for your own body, you first need to measure your personal maximum heart rate.

Measure your maximum heart rate

The “HRmax = 220-age” formula can provide a rough figure. However, scientific studies show that the actual measured figure differs considerably. The maximum heart rate can be measured more precisely with a heart rate monitor, for example with a pulse watch.

After entering personal data such as age, gender, height, weight and fitness level, the maximum heart rate is calculated and divided into five training zones.

  • Zone 1  is designed for regenerative jogging or walking
  • Zone 2 for a slow endurance run to burn fat
  • Zone 3 for an intensive run
  • Zone 4 for interval training at the anaerobic threshold
  • Zone 5 for high-intensity short intervals to increase maximum oxygen uptake

Differences between women and men

In a scientific study, sports scientist Professor Kuno Hottenrott found that the female pulse is about 10-20 beats higher per minute than the male pulse, especially at low running speeds – even though women use their muscle metabolism in exactly the same way as men. This can be explained by the fact that women's hearts are smaller and, at the start of each running session, work more on the number of beats (beat frequency) and less on the blood volume per heartbeat (beat volume). At higher running speeds, a woman's heart rate is similar to that of a man.


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