Heart rate monitoring: applications and limitations.
Achten J., Jeukendrup AE.
Over the last 20 years, heart rate monitors (HRMs) have become a widely used training aid for a variety of sports. The development of new HRMs has also evolved rapidly during the last two decades. In addition to heart rate (HR) responses to exercise, research has recently focused more on heart rate variability (HRV). Increased HRV has been associated with lower mortality rate and is affected by both age and sex. During graded exercise, the majority of studies show that HRV decreases progressively up to moderate intensities, after which it stabilises. There is abundant evidence from cross-sectional studies that trained individuals have higher HRV than untrained individuals. The results from longitudinal studies are equivocal, with some showing increased HRV after training but an equal number of studies showing no differences. The duration of the training programmes might be one of the factors responsible for the versatility of the results.HRMs are mainly used to determine the exercise intensity of a training session or race. Compared with other indications of exercise intensity, HR is easy to monitor, is relatively cheap and can be used in most situations. In addition, HR and HRV could potentially play a role in the prevention and detection of overtraining. The effects of overreaching on submaximal HR are controversial, with some studies showing decreased rates and others no difference. Maximal HR appears to be decreased in almost all 'overreaching' studies. So far, only few studies have investigated HRV changes after a period of intensified training and no firm conclusions can be drawn from these results. The relationship between HR and oxygen uptake (VO(2)) has been used to predict maximal oxygen uptake (VO(2max)). This method relies upon several assumptions and it has been shown that the results can deviate up to 20% from the true value. The HR-VO(2) relationship is also used to estimate energy expenditure during field conditions. There appears to be general consensus that this method provides a satisfactory estimate of energy expenditure on a group level, but is not very accurate for individual estimations. The relationship between HR and other parameters used to predict and monitor an individual's training status can be influenced by numerous factors. There appears to be a small day-to-day variability in HR and a steady increase during exercise has been observed in most studies. Furthermore, factors such as dehydration and ambient temperature can have a profound effect on the HR-VO(2) relationship.