In the last few years a trend emerged in the field of fitness. The trend of wearing heart rate monitors while you exercise to determine your level of exertion. Heart rate training was already around but they helped take it to a new level.
There are now companies that create monitors that allow all the gyms out there to have a heart rate monitor system in place so that all of the people, whether in classes or in 1 on 1 training sessions, can see how “hard” they are pushing themselves.
This can be a great thing in the right situation.
If you are a runner or someone who needs a lot of cardiovascular ability then heart rate monitors will be a great tool to be able to push your aerobic threshold.
Group fitness is another great place for this, in the right situations. Group fitness exists because of accountability with each other in the class and the comradery it builds. If you are all working on your cardiovascular ability, then hell yeah wear that heart rate monitor.
But how do you know how “hard” you are pushing yourself?
If the heart rate monitor says you are close to your max HR then you a working hard right?
Plain and simple your heart rate can’t tell you how hard you are working if you are trying to lift heavy. If you are truly "lifting heavy" your heart rate may spike a little if you are using the Valsalva maneuver to stabilize your core, but it won’t keep your heart rate up long enough to really mean anything with a heart rate monitor.
.What if you are trying to get stronger?
To truly get stronger you must rest. Resting goes against everything that these heart rate monitors push for, you want to be “in the orange/red” to get that cardio/conditioning work in.
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, your 1-repetition maximum(1RM) is the greatest about of weight that can be lifted with proper technique for only one repetition.
This shows the relationship between the number of repetitions performed and the amount of weight you can lift based on a percentage of your 1RM.
As you can see if you are performing a multitude of repetitions you aren't "lifting heavy".
Ok, so you don’t care about getting stronger. Didn’t you want to tone up?
Performing these high intensity workouts with heart rate monitors will help you lose weight and build some muscle, at least in the beginning. Once you get beyond the initial stages you most likely will continue to lift lighter weights because you have to lift the weight 30 times and follow that with 18 other exercises of 30 reps each (little bit of an exaggeration, but you see where I’m going).
So to take the next step in your training and to continue to push yourself you have to lift heavier weights. I’m not saying you have to go so heavy that you could really hurt yourself, but you should lift heavy enough that it really challenges you. As stated above to lift heavier you have to rest more, again counterproductive to the use of a heart rate monitor.
Oh and to the idea of performing a lot of reps of a heavier exercise, I just hope that you are careful about your form. Performing a lot of reps of something like a deadlift can be great but, if you form breaks down and you hurt your back, well, let’s just say I told you so.
These Systems Perpetuate the Idea that you Must Work in the Higher Heart Rate Zones
What I mean by that is, these systems generally earn you points when you are wearing the monitor. To get more points you must be in a higher heart rate zone for a longer time. They then create challenges that ask you to get the most points you can in a month or in a week or in a single workout.
I have literally seen people come in to places and do 2 classes (mainly made up of high intensity training) in one day, every day of the week. This is dangerous. This can lead to overtraining and serious injury.
My conclusion is we all just need to take a step back. If you want to lose weight using a heart rate monitor can be a great tool to assist you. Just don’t let the tool blind you to achieving your goal with a single mindset. Everyone needs to understand that you must put work in and perform many different types of training to get the best results for long term health and happiness, instead of the quick fix.
And to my fellow trainers and coaches, look at what we are doing to the fitness industry. In a world that is trying to lose as much weight as possible as fast as possible, we may be doing more harm than good. We have to educate and inspire our clientele to do what is best for them while still achieving the goals they have set forth. Doing what’s right for the people can be hard to do. Especially when all they want is to lose all their weight yesterday.