Runners and cyclists have been using heart rate monitors for years – but are they only useful for athletes? Or can heart rate training provide real fitness benefits for all of us?
The basic idea behind heart rate training is to measurably exercise at certain intensities. A usual training week for a long distance runner for example will include; one interval training session with short bursts near their maximum rate, mid-distance runs at a moderate rate and one very long run at a low rate. Training at different heart rates targets different fitness goals and is useful for everyone, not just those running marathons.
How to find out your hiking heart rate zones
If you want to start using a heart rate monitor to improve your hiking fitness, you’ll first need to discover your maximum hiking heart rate. Your maximum ‘hiking’ heart rate is lower than your maximum heart rate. This is because to hit your actual maximum heart rate you would have to break into a run. Running fitness does directly translate across to hiking fitness, however this article assumes that you aren’t a runner and so focuses on hiking training.
To find out your maximum hiking heart rate, warm up by hiking at a moderate intensity for twenty minutes to the start of a steep hill/long flight of stairs. Increase your speed gradually up the hill until you are at your fastest hiking pace without running. Keep this speed for two minutes. The highest number on your monitor during this time is your maximum hiking heart rate.
Low intensity hiking
60-70% of your maximum hiking heart rate: This is a comfortable hiking pace that you can easily talk at and walk at all day. This is the intensity your heart works at on descents and flat trails.
Moderate intensity hiking
70-80% of your maximum hiking heart rate: At this pace you can still hold a conversation but it’s more difficult. This is the intensity your heart works at on steep alpine ascents.
High intensity hiking
80-90% of your maximum hiking heart rate: At this pace you can only talk in broken sentences. This heart rate should be used only for training. You don’t want to hit this intensity on a multi-day hike as you will fatigue your body.