5 ways heart rate training will improve your hiking

1)    Learn your comfortable hiking pace

The idea of using a heart rate monitor to gauge effort seems like a strange idea – after all don’t we all know how hard our heart is working? The truth is that often when we hike, we are so busy chatting or enjoying our environment that we pay little attention to our bodies. Using a heart rate monitor for training is useful because it helps you to learn what your body’s comfortable hiking pace is.

On an all-day hike, your heart rate should be low. Keeping a low heart rate reduces fatigue and decreases your recovery time. This is particularly important on multi-day hikes like the Tour du Mont Blanc or Haute Route. With practice, you will become more attuned to your body and be able to feel more acutely if you are pushing yourself too hard or not hard enough.

Using a heart rate monitor also helps you to learn the effect of external factors on your body such as humidity and heat and, which require your heart to work harder.

Read how to work out your heart rate zones for hiking

2) Fat Burn

A few extra pounds can really make a difference to your uphill fitness and put more pressure on your joints on steep alpine descents. Contrary to what you may think, it’s not sprints or gruelling circuit sessions that will help most with fat loss, but low intensity cardio work-outs.

This is because at an easy walking pace, the body burns about 70% of it’s calories as fat. Whereas when you start running, the amount of fat burned reduces to 50%. The higher your heart rate, the more your body will use carbohydrates compared to fat for fuel.

Despite this, it’s important to remember that losing weight ultimately comes back to the calories in vs calories out equation. Therefore, although your body burns fat more efficiently at lower intensities, you need to maintain this low intensity workout for a longer time to gain the fat burn advantage. If your goal is to burn fat then it’s much better to hike all day on the weekend at a low intensity heart rate, than it is to run for half an hour twice a week.

3) Improve your lactate threshold

If you’ve ever been stopped on an uphill hike by burning in your quads or calves, you have probably hit your lactate threshold. Your lactate threshold is the intensity at which your body is building up lactic acid faster than it can flush it out. The fitter you are, the higher your threshold and the longer and faster you can hike without cramping up.

One of the best ways to improve your lactate threshold is interval training. Hiking specific interval training looks something like – find a big hill, hike up at your maximum hiking heart rate for two minutes, walk back to the start slowly, and repeat several times.

heart rate training
If you don’t have a big hill nearby, then find the longest set of stairs you can instead. Photo by David Thexton Photography.

4) Measure your fitness improvements

The fitter you get, the lower your resting heart rate and the faster you can hike without hitting your maximum heart rate. Most heart rate monitor watches allow you to track your hikes on a map and see detailed statistics regarding your speed and heart rate. Although this may be too in depth for some, it can be a good source of motivation to see your progress over time.

5) Be your own personal trainer

It can be easy for us to make excuses for ourselves when we’re training on our own, but the heart rate monitor doesn’t lie! When I want a hard work out, I will head to a hill and tell myself I am going to maintain 70% of my maximum heart rate until I am at the top. By keeping an eye on my heart rate and not letting it dip below this level, I become my own personal trainer and don’t allow myself to slack.

Jennifer Stretton
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