By Dr. Rick Kattouf II
As athletes, we have a number of variables that we can follow and monitor during training and racing. For example, we can monitor our speed, pace, power, perceived effort and heart rate. There is no denying that each of these has their place and each is very important. But, with that being said, let’s put one of these at the very top as the most important, and this would be heart rate. By following your heart rate, you will build a massive amount of efficiency (teaching your body to go longer, harder, faster, more repetitions at the same or lower heart rate; this is one of the greatest signs of increased fitness), reduce the risk of injury and overtraining, reduce the risk of illness, achieve your optimal body composition and enhance performance and recovery. Let’s take a look at these other factors and see why heart rate cannot be ignored (if you choose to perform at your best).
Let me first start out by saying that power is a fantastic tool to use. It has been my wheelhouse since 1997 and it is very significant in training, racing and coaching. When following power, just be sure to also notice and appreciate its relationship with heart rate. Here is an example; let’s say your racing a half iron distance triathlon and your goal is to average 250 W on the bike, no matter what. This is what you have trained for and nothing is going to stop you from achieving 250 W. Now, let’s say the thermometer is rising on race day and it is already in the mid-80s and will be approaching 95+° on the bike. Now, if an athlete is well-trained and this is a very realistic number to average on the bike, I have no doubt that this athlete can average this 250 W whether it is 65° or 95°. But, what is the heart rate at 250 W given the heat on this day? There is a very good chance that because of the heat, the heart rate is rising and at 250 W, the heart rate is much higher than it should be. What is the outcome? Most likely, a great bike, right on the money. But, as a result of having such a high heart rate on the bike (even though your wattage was spot-on), the run will be a train wreck and you will be dragging your carcass across the finish line. Always remember, heart rate tells you, physiologically, exactly what your body is doing. Power, albeit a great number and it gives you great feedback, does not tell you physiologically what the body is doing.
Running pace is another fantastic number to follow, but, without knowing the associated heart rate, this can get an athlete into trouble. Let’s say, for example, you are planning to run 5 miles at a 7:00 pace and normally, your heart rate is 140 bpm at this pace. You head out for your run only following pace and ignoring heart rate. But, what if your heart rate at 7:00/mile is 150-153 bpm on this day? Your pace is spot-on; what is going on with your heart rate? Could you be getting sick? Are you dehydrated? Are you under fueled? Are you sleep deprived? These are all factors that can affect heart rate. It does not matter what is causing the heart rate increase, rather, we simply have to take heed and make adjustments as needed in order to keep our heart rate in check.
Sure, perceived effort is another great gauge for an athlete. But, the same holds true with perceived effort as the above explanation for pace. On a given workout you may “feel perfectly fine”, but what is your heart rate telling you? Remember, perceived effort does not tell you, physiologically, how your body is performing. Only heart rate can tell you, physiologically, how your body is performing.
Yes, there are many factors that affect heart rate and unfortunately, this has also been the excuse individuals choose to use when they choose not to follow heart rate. To this day, many athletes will say, “I do not follow heart rate because far too many factors affect my heart rate.” Precisely! That is exactly why heart rate is so important to follow. Whether it is heat, humidity, terrain, stress, illness, sleep deprivation, inadequate fuel and nutrition, dehydration, etc., if you are looking to get the most out of your body, improve body composition, improve performance, enhance recovery and reduce your risk of injury and illness, following your heart rate for maximum success.
2x Best-Selling Author and Fitness & Nutrition expert Dr. Rick Kattouf has been named one of America’s PremierExperts® and one of the World Fitness Elite™ Trainers of the Year. He has been seen on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox affiliates around the country as well as in the USA Today, Chicago Tribune and The Independent in the UK. Rick is the CEO/Founder of TeamKattouf, Inc., CEO/Founder of TeamKattouf Nutrition LLC, Creator of TeamKattouf Nutrition Supplements, Host of Rx Nutrition, author of best selling book The Secret To Winning Big, author of the best selling book Ready, Aim, Influence!, author of Forever Fit, Creator of 5-Round Fury Fitness™ workout app, Sports Nutrition Specialist, ITCA Triathlon Coach, MMA Conditioning Coach, Food Psychology Coach, Wellness and Nutrition Consultant, Sports Nutrition Consultant, Heart Rate Performance Specialist, Entrepreneur and Inspirational Speaker. Rick can reached at www.teamkattouf.com or www.5roundfury.com or www.kattoufstore.com or [email protected]