Heart Rate Monitoring for Lifters

Tuesday, 07/10/2018

Heart rate monitors have been around for a while. The first wireless EKG heart rate monitor was actually invented in 1977 by Polar Electro as a training aid for the Finnish National Cross Country Ski team.

Since then heart rate training and activity trackers have exploded and it is now one of the most popular fitness monitoring tools out in the market.


Heart rate tracking is mainly used by endurance athletes, and it is a great tool for them to help ensure they accomplish their objective for a particular training session.


Let’s take for example a marathon runner’s weekly training schedule. This person may want to run six times per week with two of those runs being slow long distance runs, two tempo runs, and two interval runs. A general template for this type of training would be as follows:

Slow Long Distance Runs

  • Exertion Level: Easy.
  • 60 – 75% of max heart rate
  • Person stays in a fat burning zone and can maintain a pace where they can talk comfortably

“Tempo” or “Stamina” Runs

  • Exertion Level: Medium to Hard
  • 75 – 85% of max heart rate
  • Breathing will be heavy, and it is difficult to talk

Interval Runs

  • Exertion Level: Hard
  • 90 – 100% max heart rate during work intervals
  • These sprints are anaerobic. The person should feel a buildup of lactate in the muscles. This type of training teaches the body to rid itself of lactate buildup more efficiently



Considerations for Lifters

If you are a lifter, heart rate monitoring poses an obvious problem. Weight lifters do 3-5 sets of approximately 3-12 repetitions of an exercise based on their goal. They rely much more on our ATP-PC system than they do their aerobic energy system when they are performing their sets.  This clearly has different demands from the person who runs 10 miles in a training session. Lifting weights causes a large increase in blood pressure, reduces breathing frequency and can require long static muscle contractions. When you lift, your heart rate can be affected by a variety of different factors including:

  • Holding your breath during heavy lifts (aka: Valsalva maneuver)
  • Complexity of the lift (ex: Back squat vs. a Tricep Extension)
  • Upper Body vs. Lower Body Movements (Upper body tends to fatigue more quickly)
  • Speed of movement (Olympic lifts vs. Tempo Training)
  • Supplementation (taking a few scoops of pre workout will get your heart buzzing pretty quickly).

When you put all these factors together you get the result of a blunted heart rate response to an immediate bout of exercise. This means heart rate is not the best way to gauge intensity during weight training. This is why we get broad ranges like the following table for rest recommendations.

Load and Repetitions Based on Your Training Goal

Training Goal

Load %

Goal Sets

Goal Repetitions

Rest Time Between Sets


> 85


< 6

2 min -5 min





1 min – 1 min and 30 sec

Muscular Endurance

< 67


> 12

30 sec – 1 min


Can You Still Use a Heart Rate Monitor?

The answer to this question is a resounding yes. Most of us would like to have an improved body composition and good conditioning to go along with our defined muscles. In order to be as scientifically accurate and efficient at accomplishing your goals try some of the following protocols to assist you during the conditioning portion of your training session.  

Fat Loss for Body Builders

Let’s say you are a body builder and are interested in maximizing fat loss while trying to retain as much muscle as humanly possible. You are generally going to want to work at a lower intensity to make sure the fuel source you are burning during your “conditioning” is coming from fats.

This zone is generally around 60 – 75 percent of your max heart rate and your rate of perceived exertion should be “easy.” This can be done after a training session for an extended amount of time as long as you are refueling properly after you lift.

Increasing Stamina

Interval workouts can be designed to elevate your heart rate into a special stamina-development zone of 75 to 85 percent of your max hear rate. Two or three times a week a workout of running half a lap around the track or field several times (6 or 8 ×  200 meters) with a half-lap jog to recover would be perfect for developing the stamina you need to still be running fast after several quick trips back and forth on the court or field.

Increasing Speed

Speed can be improved by performing classic wind sprints at 85 to 90 percent of your max heart rate. Once you reach this percentage of your max heart rate, make sure you reduce heart rate to less than 60 percent MHR so each repeat can be at full sprint speed. Sprinting all out from a running start over distances less than 50 yards is ideal for this sort of fitness. Be sure you take the recovery component seriously. Remember your objective here is speed, not vomiting.

How to determine your max heart rate

If you are needing to burn some extra fat, or increase your cardio for a particular sport then you will need to know your max heart rate to hone in on the percentages you need to work at. Instead of just doing the general estimation of 220 minus your age, you should actually test out what it really is to make sure you are being as accurate as possible. Accuracy is key if you actually want to reach your goal. Below are five steps for a running protocol that will give you a good idea of what your max heart rate is.

Testing your Running Max Heart Rate

1. Locate a track that goes for about 400 meters and put on your heart rate monitor.

2. Jog approximately 0.5- to 1-mile in order to warm-up and get the juices flowing.

3. Sprint one lap and check the number on your heart rate monitor at the end.

4. Take a 2-minute recovery walk or jog, and then sprint another lap.

5. Take a 2-minute recovery and repeat the sprint again. Your heart rate at the end of this third trial will be a pretty good indicator of your max heart rate as well as good indication that you will never want to do this test again.

Things to take into consideration

Heart rate responses and how you feel at various heart rates vary across exercise modes. Running at 60 percent of your max heart rate can feel very different than biking at 60 percent of your max heart rate. If you are a, multisport athlete you should have different heart rate values for different activities. Your familiarity with an activity and the specificity of the activity affect your heart rate response.

Use an Accurate Monitor

Also, make sure you are using an accurate monitor. A general rule is that monitors that go around the chest are more accurate than ones that go around the wrist. The closer the monitor is to the heart, the better off you will be. The more accurate your numbers are, the better your results will be.


Benson, R., & Connolly, D. (2011). Heart rate training. Champaign: Human Kinetics.

Haff, G., & Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Fourth edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.