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What is an HRM?

A heart-rate monitor (“HRM”) is an electronic appliance or device that measures one’s pulse per minute, that is, the frequency or rate per minute of a heart’s palpitations. There are different HRM brands and models. The cheaper ones are simple in their functionality: the watch simply reads and transmits your pulse via a numerical figure shown on the watch. The more expensive ones not only perform that function but also configure and track heart-rate zones. measure calories burned, measure VO2max, record workout data, and provide GPS-functionality.

In my opinion, the most accurate HRMs usually have a chest-strap, which needs to be moistened to work accurately, as well as a watch that reads the measurements from such strap.

Why Is Important to Train with a Heart-Rate Monitor?

Is training with an HRM worthwhile? The answer is an undisputable Yes. Indeed, many of the best professional soccer teams in the world – both men’s and women’s teams – train with HRMs. It is a scientific truism that fitness is crucial in soccer due to the running demands of the sport, and biochemistry proves that it is even more important than fitness. See

But why is it paramount to use an HRM when doing fitness sessions or soccer-specific drills? The simple answer is to gauge the particular intensity of a given workout or exercise session by measuring heart-rate beats per minute. In addition, there are a few other reasons that are more complicated to explain. To be sure, besides being a tool to regulate a workout’s intensity, an HRM allows a coach (or a self-trained athlete): (1) to measure gradual progress in a player’s fitness level; (2) to determine the speed of recovery between training exercises or training sessions; and (3) to determine whether rest is necessary after a fatigue-inducing training session or, worse, after periodic overtraining (to wit, doing too much training without sufficient rest periods).

An HRM, essentially, is a tool that makes training purposeful and effective. It helps a coach (or a self-trained player) to gather and analyze heart-rate data during a training session and, subsequently, during a state of rest in order to determine the mode, duration, frequency, and intensity of the next training session, which is designed to achieve a particular purpose. At a competitive level, such purpose is usually to produce a physiological adaptation in the muscle cells that is conducive to increased fitness. But, in any case, it could be to lose weight, to improve endurance, to improve speed, to improve power or strength, or merely to exercise at a certain rate of effort – i.e., not too hard, but not too easy.


Finding Your Correct Heart-Rate Zones

Consistent, well-planned exercise produces physiological changes in the heart, which make it stronger and more efficient in pumping blood. These changes could be measured more accurately than perceived effort – a subjective feeling – by using an HRM – a more objective test. As a prerequisite to efficient training, you will first need to use your HRM to obtain the following crucial heart-rate measurements:

-- Resting heart-rate (“RHR”) (lying down);

-- RHR (standing or sitting down);

-- Aerobic threshold heart-rate (“ATH”);

-- Anaerobic threshold heart-rate (“ANTH”);

-- Recovery heart-rate differential (“RHRD”);

-- VO2 Max heart-rate (“VO2 Max”); and

-- Maximum heart-rate (“MHR”).

(Collectively, we will refer to these measurement as the “Key HR Measurements.”

If you have a fitness coach, he/she could guide you to obtain accurate measurements of MHR, RHR, ANTH, ATH, and RHRD. There are specific exercises and drills that you could do to measure each of these heart-rate benchmarks.

The Key HR Measurements become an initial reference point or benchmark for establishing training zones, which allow an athlete to train effectively. The main reference point is MHR, which sets forth the maximum number of heart-bpm. in one or more of the following heart-rate training zones:

Zone 1 – 50% to 59% of MHR

Zone 2 – 60% to 69% of MHR

Zone 3 – 70% to 79% of MHR

Zone 4 – 80% to 89% of MHR

Zone 5 – 90 to 100% of MHR

How to Figure Out Your MHR Meaurement:

Prior to the mass production of HRMs, heart-rate testing used to be done in exercise-science laboratories, where they took blood measurements to obtain primarily ANTH levels. Such testing was very expensive. If an athlete did not have the money to do such testing, the MHR was generally figured out by subtracting an athlete’s age from 220. (So, if an athlete were 18 years of age, the MHR would be 202.) This test is generally useful if one does not have an HRM, but not very accurate since it has a low reliability quotient. A better formula is 205.8 minus the product of 0.685 multiplied by one’s age. This may produce an MHR figure that is + or – 6 bpm to 7 bpm on the low-side or on the high-side about 70% of the time. (But, for me, it does not work. My laboratory tested MHR was 202 when I was doing Ironman triathlons several years ago. I recently tested my MHR as 194 doing an MHR fitness test. This formulaic test makes my MHR 173.3, which is almost 20 bpm lower than my recently tested MHR with my Polar HRM.)

The best, non-laboratory method of testing MHR is with an HRM. Such device will accurately produce an MHR figure following a series of high-intensity, sport-specific tests designed to elevate an athlete’s heart-rate to its highest level. The MHR measurement should be determined periodically, but certainly before you begin serious fitness-training.

The Significance of Periodically Measuring Your Resting Heart-Rate.

RHR is arguably the most important heart-rate measurement. It is a scientific fact that gradual decreases in RHR resulting from consistent training is a good indicator of improvement in cardiovascular fitness. What actually happens is that the heart’s stroke volume – the amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute – increases and the density in the capillaries also increases, making the latter better agents for the transport of oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the muscle cells and for the clearance of other waste products, such as carbon dioxide and pyruvic (or lactate) acid, from the bloodstream. Normally, RHR is 15-20 beats below one’s leisure heart-rate while standing or sitting. For fit athletes, RHR is normally around 30 beats per minute (“bpm”) to 50 bpm. RHR measurements should be taken early in the morning when a player wakes up.

How Do I Use My HRM to Maximize My Fitness?

Ideally, to take your fitness to an optimal level, it behooves you to find a fitness-coach that (1) understands the science of exercise physiology, which entails being conversant with biochemistry (i.e., knowing how the body produces and regenerates ATP to make the muscles perform their functions) and (2) knows how to manipulate the four, basic elements of training – mode, duration, frequency, and intensity – in order to produce fitness gains, whether in endurance, speed, or strength. “Mode” is the type of exercise, whether running sprints, running uphill, jogging, swimming, biking, etc.; “duration” is the amount of time required to perform a given exercise, such as 45 minutes, 60 minutes, etc.; “frequency” is the number of times that a player performs such exercise during a given period, whether it is daily, weekly, or monthly; and, finally, “intensity” (a hard-to-define term) is generally defined as the amount of effort (very hard, hard, medium, and easy) required to perform a given exercise in light of the degree of difficulty of such exercise.

A good fitness coach will know how to manipulate these training-elements to create a top-shelf fitness program based on periodization, which divides the season into base-training, build and peak macro-cycles and micro-cycles, and a taper period prior to competitions. Each of these cycles has a specific training-purpose, whether it is building aerobic or anaerobic endurance, speed, or strength, as applicable. There should be a different training focus during the pre-season, during the season, and during the post-season. Accordingly, if you wish to become optimally fit, hire a fitness coach and buy yourself a good HRM.

© 2019 Rafael A. Castro, III, Esq.,

CEO of RAC Elite Soccer Services, Inc. and

O.R.T.A. Professional Soccer Academy

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