You may think that heart rate monitors belong in the world of heart disease patients and marathon athletes, but whether you're training for muscle size or strength, it's hard to argue with the assertion that the most effective way to improve performance is to listen to your body. Knowing instinctively how hard you're pushing, and whether it's enough or too much, is really only something that comes with a lot of experience. Heart rate monitors provide a shortcut to this kind of insight into your body's limitations.
In addition to conventional sport watch features such as a stopwatch and lap timer, heart rate monitors include advanced features that offer a convenient way to monitor your maximum heart rate, VO2 Max, recovery rate, calorie consumption and optimum training zones. Used correctly, they can be highly beneficial for strength training.
By utilizing a heart rate monitor to determine your heart rate zones--namely, your healthy heart rate zone, fitness zone, aerobic zone, anaerobic zone and red-line zone--you may focus on training within the specific heart rate zone conducive to the physiological aspects you wish to improve. For the strength trainer, according to Joe Friel, author of “Total Heart Rate Training,” this means honing in on your anaerobic heart rate zone.
While training in your anaerobic zone--80 percent to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate--your body lacks the ability to supply muscles with sufficient oxygen and compensates by increasing the maximum amount of oxygen you can consume, otherwise known as VO2 Max. This process leads to a build up of lactic acid in the muscles, often described as “the burn.” The result of training in this zone is improved strength. The benefit of using a heart rate monitor here is that you can monitor your VO2 Max and recovery rate, and therefore optimize your workout by timing your breaks between each set with precision, allowing the lactic acid to be cleared from your blood. Ultimately, this will prevent you from overworking your muscles to fatigue and ensure that you are able to endure the full duration of your session.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, by using a heart rate monitor to ensure that you are training within your anaerobic zone, you should perform eight to 12 reps of eight to 10 strength exercises at least twice a week. Furthermore, to gain lean muscle mass, these exercises--which may incorporate resistance bands, free weights, medicine balls or weight machines--should target all major muscle groups and increase in intensity as your performance improves.
Anaerobic training demands a lot from your body in terms of oxygen expenditure. Therefore, it's essential that you include aerobic exercise in your routine, once again, by utilizing a heart rate monitor to ensure that you stay within your anaerobic zone, as it will increase your cardio-respiratory capacity. Simply put, your body will be able to transport more oxygen to muscle cells as well as remove carbon dioxide from cells, which in turn will improve overall muscle endurance. By combining these two forms of exercise, you will ultimately be able to train harder for longer; and the proof will show in the readout on your heart rate monitor.