Knowing my heart!

Knowing my heart, or more importantly my heart rate has been, for me, almost more important that putting on underwear.  I say this as the improvement that can be gained by monitoring your heart rate and training in the right zone are immeasurable.  There is a mountain of research out there about heart rate and heart rate zones.  Perhaps the most important thing to remember is EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT.  I’ll try and give you a little insight into how I adopted my heart rate zones.  Are they perfect?  Absolutely not, but they work for me!  I have settled on these numbers now, however I am continually reviewing and checking my zones based on two numbers:

1. My resting heart rate, &

2. My maximum heart rate.

My maximum heart rate has (and continues) to adjust marginally during my training blocks.  How to determine your max heart rate is really uncomfortable but very important to do.  I determine mine by doing a short 30 minute session with 3 to 5 intervals of about 1 to 2 minutes generally as hard as I can go (zone 5).  Oh the burn, totally anaerobic and painful beyond all belief.  After I look at the data and take the highest heart rate sustainable over the minute efforts.  It’s important to do multiple efforts as generally the first is not necessarily the highest heart rate reading.  Obviously through consistent training and improved fitness both numbers can be influenced.  During my journey to ironman I found my resting heart rate even dropped a couple of beats.

How did I determine my resting heart rate, simple really, when I first wake up in the morning, before I get out of bed I take my heart rate, either using a device, an app on my phone or manually from my wrist or neck.  I do this most mornings.  Why?  I have found that my resting heart rate is a great indicator about illness and fatigue / overtraining.  If my morning heart rate rises I need to look at my current training load or expect to be sick in the next couple of days!

Through trial and error (over the years) I have adopted a very simple method of calculating my zones using, what I term my total working heart broken into 5 zones based on percentage.  Confused?  Me too trying to explain this, really its this simple:

Max Heart Rate – (less) Resting Heart Rate = Total Working Heart Rate (TWHR)

50% of my TWHR + (plus) Resting Heart Rate (RHR) = Base of Zone 1

60% of my TWHR + RHR = Base of Zone 2

70% of my TWHR + RHR = Base of Zone 3; as so on.

The heart rates I train to are laid out as follows:

Resting HR 55 Running Cycling
Max HR 183 178
Zone 1 50% to 60% 119 131.8 116.5 128.8
Zone 2 60% to 70% 131.8 144.6 128.8 141.1
Zone 3 70% to 80% 144.6 157.4 141.1 153.4
Zone 4 80% to 90% 157.4 170.2 153.4 165.7
Zone 5 90% to 110% 170.2 195.8 165.7 190.3

Zone 1 is my recovery zone, used for really relaxing social sessions and concentrating on technique.  Zone 2 is a magical place I train at the most, it’s easy to do long sessions in this zone and maintain technique the whole time.  Zone 3 is still an aerobic zone but hurts a little more, this is a good zone for my longer interval sessions 20 to 30 minute intervals.  Zone 4 is uncomfortable and I don’t like training here, my 5 to 20 minute intervals are generally here and they hurt a lot.  Zone 5 is a zone I rearly venture into, I’m an endurance athlete, who’s heart rate needs to go this high anyway!  Heart rate zones are also applicable across all disinclines of my chosen sports, swimming, cycling and running (noting my zones are calculated individually for each discipline, as my max heart rate is different for each sport).

I have found that training to heart rate, even for me a weekend warrior, allows me to build consistency and achieve basic session goals and feel really good about myself!  There is no better feeling then setting out to do a session in Z2 (or any particular zone) and analysing the data at the end and successfully achieving the target.  Clearly I am a success driven person, needing goals, achievements and rewards along the way.

The best thing about heart zone training is everyone can do it relatively cheaply and easily, most GPS devices on the market today have a heart rate monitoring function.

So if you are searching for a way to change your training regime and find consistency and improvement maybe heart rate zones are your next step and tool.  Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any question or need more information!

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