Sports Medicine

, Volume 33, Issue 7, pp 517–538 | Cite as

Heart Rate Monitoring

Applications and Limitations
  • Juul Achten
  • Asker E. JeukendrupEmail author
Review Article


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 (V̇O2) has been used to predict maximal oxygen uptake (V̇O2max). 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-V̇O2 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-V̇O2 relationship.


Heart Rate Heart Rate Variability Exercise Intensity Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia Maximal Heart Rate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors would like to thank Dr Raija Laukannen, Hannu Kinnunen and Dr Mike White for their careful and critical reviewing of this manuscript. No sources of funding have been used in the preparation of this manuscript and there are no conflicts of interest directly relevant to the content of this review.


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© Adis Data Information BV 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Human Performance Laboratory, School of Sport and Exercise SciencesUniversity of BirminghamEdgbastonUK

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