Q. Do you recommend getting a heart-rate monitor? Is it necessary? – Dianne H.
Dr. Ross Tucker answers:
A heart-rate monitor can be a useful tool in the right hands, and a destructive force in the wrong ones. The difference is how well you understand what it is actually measuring, and your ability to interpret that number in the context of the rest of your life.
Your heart rate is an indication of the ‘stress’ experienced by your body during a run; so if you measure it objectively, you can track your progress, and manage the stress optimally.
However, as you get fitter, the same run (say, 40 minutes at 5min/km) will be perceived as less stressful, and so your heart rate will be lower than it was when you began training. Similarly, your resting heart rate will drop, partly because the heart muscle gets stronger and partly because your nervous system activity is reduced. On the flipside, if you suddenly notice a jump in heart rate for a standard session, it can be interpreted as a sign that you’re under pressure, over-trained or on the verge of illness.
The problem is that heart rate is ‘vulnerable’ – environmental conditions, work stress, time of day, diet and random variation all affect that number; so if you’re too literal, you’ll be led astray. Use your heart-rate monitor sparingly, when you are in control – at the same time, on the same route, in the same conditions. It won’t tell you what to do, but it will tell you what has already happened; and if you apply your mind to understanding why it happened, you’ll have an able assistant.
Dr Ross Tucker has a BSc (Med) (Hons) Exercise Science Degree and PhD from the Sports Science Institute. Visit him at