Not Missing a Beat
Why You Should Train Using Heart Rate
If we could identify one single physiological variable that identifies the total stress on a runner’s body while performing, it would be heart rate. Unlike traditional training methods utilizing speed and distance, which measure the body’s performance, heart rate measures the body’s response to training. Identified as 1-5, each heart rate zone has a specific purpose: aerobic conditioning, anaerobic conditioning, aerobic capacity and anaerobic capacity. The astute reader may note that only four zones are identified, not five. Zone 1 workouts include sitting on the couch, strolling leisurely or lying in bed—i.e., very little activity. By using heart rate, one can structure training in a manner not only to achieve a given race or time goal but also to break down training into cycles that elicit the training response one wants—for example, a faster 10k pace.
Aerobic conditioning is the base of any aerobic sport and many non-aerobic sports. Distance running is primarily an aerobic sport—in a 10k, the aerobic system is utilized 80% of the time and in a marathon or half marathon, 95% of the time (Fox and Mathews, 1974). An aerobic pace for runners is usually expressed as 70% of VO2 max pace or 70%-85% of lactate threshold—in terms of perceived exertion, a conversational pace. A self-test to determine VO2 max can be administered by running as fast and as far as one can for 10 minutes, but most people cannot pace themselves properly to get a useful result. A treadmill or track test monitoring lactate levels, HR and speed is the best way to identify lactate threshold, as well as the HR zones associated with different percentages of lactate threshold. Contact me if you are interested in such a test.
Training at higher intensities results in anatomical adaptations in the cardiopulmonary system and muscles, and these adaptations can be stimulated only at those intensities. Thus, careful inclusion of those intensities (i.e., intervals) are essential for runners looking to improve their times or be more competitive. Workouts paced above aerobic conditioning should be monitored by heart rate, as there is a narrow zone in which one must stay to elicit the desired training result. Steady-state, or tempo, training conditions the body to be more efficient at its aerobic limit, thus improving anaerobic conditioning. To put it a little more simply, tempo training builds endurance to give you strength over the distance you are training. It is important to not only maintain the proper pace but also choose a proper distance to maintain that pace. Tempo training is 84%-94 % of lactate threshold as defined by heart rate. Such runs are often longer interval sessions of 20 minutes with one-mile recoveries. The most effective marathon run is just slightly slower than tempo pace.
Now that we’ve addressed aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, we turn to aerobic capacity. This training challenges aerobic capabilities and is done at paces found in 3000m to 10k events. The pace is 90%-100% of VO2 max, or 92%-105% of lactate threshold. Typical durations are 1000m-3000m, done in 4- to 5-week blocks. Increasing distance rather than speed improves aerobic capacity.
Anaerobic capacity training is the most intense. It is done above VO2 max, at or near maximal heart rate. It is at heart rates 106%+ of lactate threshold. Distances are short—typically 200m-800m. The shorter (200m and 400m) intervals can be done at or near the runner’s personal best, but repeating an 800m interval at a personal best is usually outside a runner’s capabilities.
Heart rate monitoring is useful not only in comparing data from specific sessions and seasons but also in seeing increased fitness as shown by lower HR during training or a quicker recovery to a resting value. HR monitoring is also valuable in keeping pace and not overdoing it on an easier workout day. As with any measurement of performance, don’t get too carried away with the numbers, and as everyone has different HR responses, don’t compare heartbeats with your training buddies.
Jonathan Siegel, Director of Coaching
JDS Sportcoaching, LLC
Jonathan Siegel, CSCS, is an RRCA-certified running coach and certified cycling coach. If you have training questions or comments or are interested in a Lactate Testing, contact JDS Sportcoaching,LLC.
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