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Heart Rate Monitoring And Swimming
With A Heart Rate Monitor

by Kathy Kent - Heart Zones Training and Education Company

Talk to the swimmer in the lane next to you sometime and ask them what their heart rate is when they’re swimming.  Chances are, they have no idea.  Why?  The next time your coach says to swim the following set of 50s hard, do you ask, How hard?.   The next time the coach says to swim the next set of 100s at 80% effort, exactly how hard is that?  What is 80%, 90%, or even 100% effort for that matter? Heart Rate Monitoring and SwimmingThese are all excellent questions to ask both yourself and your coach next time you hop in the pool.  Heart rate monitoring has been a very successful measure of effort or exertion for a very long time.  Why, then, arent swimmers using their heart rate monitors?  Lets look at the following reasons: 

  1. Myth:  Heart rate monitors are too expensive.

Truth:  Heart rate monitors can be purchased for as little as $50.00.

  1. Myth:  Heart rate monitors are not waterproof. 

Truth:  Almost all heart rate monitors are waterproof, with the following recommendation:  do not press the buttons underwater as this may break the waterproof seal.

  1. Myth:  Heart rate monitors are too hard to program and understand. 

Truth:  Sure, some instructions can be as confusing as programming your VCR, but you read it once or twice until you finally get it.

  1. Myth:  Heart rate monitors are difficult to wear and use.

Truth:  With the information available these days, all it takes is either a few minutes on the internet, or a few hours with a good book to understand how to read the results of your heart rate monitor and plan an exercise or training program accordingly.

  1. Myth:  Heart rate monitors give inaccurate information in the water. 

Truth:  To this we can only assume that the monitor is being worn incorrectly or the battery needs to be replaced.  Occasionally, a monitor may shift in the water losing contact with the chest (or back).  In this instance, give the monitor an extra few seconds to record data.

 Heart Zone Training is a concept developed by Sally Edwards, author of The Heart Rate Monitor Book, which is used by world-class athletes (and fitness enthusiasts) around the world.  Heart Zone Training applies predetermined zones to applied principles of training.  Refer to the attached chart.  The following are very basic principles of training.  Ones training can be taken to an elite level using the following principles and using a heart rate monitor to measure workouts. 

  1. An athlete should spend approximately 60% of the week’s total workout in an aerobic zone (zone 2 and zone 3). 

  2. An athlete should spend approximately 25-30% of the week’s total workout developing the anaerobic system (zone 4).

  3. An athlete should spend only 10-15% of the week’s total workout in the “redline” zone (zone 5) which develops speed.

  4. An athlete should allow 48 hours between workouts in the redline zone.

 All of the above principles of training should be applied seasonally as well to provide for maximum benefits.  For instance, the early season might consist 100% of aerobic work, building an endurance base.  As the base is built, anaerobic threshold work can be added.  These workouts are done at 80-90% of maximum heart rate.  The purpose of these workouts is to adapt the body to increasingly more difficult workouts.  Eventually, time in the anaerobic zone will become a comfortable place to be as the anaerobic threshold moves closer to ones maximum heart rate.  Finally, time spent in zone 5 should be added as the race season nears.  Zone 5 is speed training.  Because of the difficulty sustaining 90-100% maximum heart rate, time spent in zone 5 is limited to just a few minutes with a longer recovery period required.

 Have you encountered the swimmer who always swims at the same speed?  Perhaps you know the swimmer who does everything hard everyday?  Maybe you know the opposite swimmer, one who swims everything too easy.  Actually, most athletes fit into one of these two categories:  they either train too hard all the time or too slow all the time.  Proper scheduling of workouts can further increase the athletes benefit.  For instance, it is an inefficient use of time to do a zone 5 workout when fatigued by the previous days workout.  Proper recovery is essential if the athlete is to truly work through zone 5.  Additionally, an easy aerobic workout should follow a zone 5 workout.  This not only aids in improving performance in zone 5, but also allows for proper recovery and helps prevent unnecessary injury and/or illness from over training.


No problem!  But, you need to do a test or two knowing the following:

1.      For maximum accuracy, perform a swim max test, which will take you to complete exhaustion (you will feel like puking, if youve done it right).

2.      Your maximum heart rate on land (either running or cycling) is the point at which increased effort does not result in an increase in heart rate for one minute.

3.      Only as a last resort, use this preferred formula: 

  210 - (.5 x age) (.05 x body weight) + 4 (men only) = maximum heart rate

This formula assumes that fitness declines with age (not necessarily true).

4.      Your maximum heart rate in the water may be 10-15 beats lower than your heart rate on land due to the cooling effect of the water, buoyancy, gravity, etc

Some individuals should consult a doctor before taking a maximum heart rate test.  There are a few good sub-maximum tests available.  Good luck in your training!

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