I am a huge proponent of tracking exercise program progress. Whether by heart rate monitors or other more interactive activity tracking devices, understanding your intensity level, caloric expenditure, exercise duration and frequency and how this applies to your exercise program, is a crucial element when discussing exercise maintenance and progress.
However, when I am training a client, my goal for them is to eventually become intuitive about these components of exercise. Training with tracking devices allows them to contrast and compare how they feel with the actual physiological response of their body to exercise recorded on their devices. When clients are able to accurately predict that at a specific rating of perceived exertion of 5-6 (which is heavy exertion), their heart rate is a specific number or within a certain range and which training zone they are currently training in, then they are beginning to exercise intuitively.
While activity feedback is important, it should not become distracting. When distracted, your exercise outcomes may be negatively impacted. Consequently, follow the guidelines detailed below to begin experiencing the plethora of rewards training intuitively provides. As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.
Guideline #1 When wearing your tracking device, refer to it occasionally rather than constantly.
Particularly when you are in the middle of a high intensity interval, you should be 100 percent focused on your all out exertion and not the heart rate number that is displayed. This is true for two reasons, one the heart rate generally does not peak until you have completed the exertion interval and two, you could not possibly be 100 percent focused on the exertion if you are looking at your tracking device! Once the interval is over and you are in the midst of active recovery, the most important information will be how quickly you recover to pre-exertion heart rate levels. The fitter you are, the quicker you generally recover and you should know this intuitively without constantly` referring to your device.
Guideline #2 To master the art of intuitive exercise, play the intuitive game!
Look at your heart rate on the tracking device right before you begin a HIIT drill and predict, what your heart rate will be when you recover. Then, see how close you come to achieving that goal once the exertion is complete. If your intuitive “guess” is within a heartbeat or two of the actual active recovery heart rate displayed on your device, you are “feeling” the physiological response rather than relying solely upon your device to inform you which is a great step toward exercising intuitively. *You can play this game with power meters as well!
Guideline #3 When you are in the middle of a workout, check in with your device to see how many calories you have expended. You should always set a goal regarding your caloric expenditure prior to each workout, even if caloric expenditure is not a specific goal, because this is one important indicator of intensity level (i.e. the harder you work, the more calories you expend as a general rule). If you are not approximately halfway through your set caloric expenditure goal, halfway through the workout, then you need to kick it up a notch.
Over time, this should become intuitive as well!