Better Living Through Big Data

Get fit or die trying: heart rate training explained


I’m one of those people who loves the idea of being a fitness fanatic, but getting me into that lycra to run hell for leather takes more than a just little will power. Saying that, once I’m clad in spandex, I love a good workout. I’ve even done Tough Mudder. But recently, I started questioning my fitness, asking myself: what does my resting heart rate tell me and why is my heart rate always so high? Am I working at the right intensity and perhaps most importantly, am I getting the most from my training? This thought process was in part bolstered by my new 50 Cent-flavoured SMS Audio BioSport in-ear headphones, and in part down to my feelings of inadequacy in the running department; that I’m breathing heavier, sweating more and generally just not as fit as everyone else! I started to wonder: am I working myself more than I need to and is it even necessary to push myself to the very end of my capacity to see the best results? Clearly in need of some help, I turned to my heart rate monitor.

A heart rate monitor will make you a better runner by giving you a more accurate idea of what your body is actually doing when you train –not what you think it should be doing. If you’re feeling tired – or that you might not make it off that treadmill/road alive – a heart rate monitor will help let you know if you’re on the verge of burning out, if your engine is running too fast or whether you should ease back. Equally, it’ll also give you the green light to go faster, too. Your heart rate can tell you how fit you are, how much you’ve improved and whether you’ve recovered from the previous day’s workout. Your heart rate provides an objective gauge of exertion – which is much more exact than your own perception.

One of the best ways to analyse your training is to work out your heart rate training zones to make sure you’re putting in the right amount of effort for the session you are doing. Without heart rate monitors you will struggle to spot when you’re running at the right–or the wrong – intensity and getting it right is an important part of achieving your health and fitness goals. So what heart rate do you aim for during a workout?

Heart rate zones are fitness ranges that have been calculated based on your working heart rate (WHR), which is your maximum heart rate (MHR) minus your resting heart rate (RHR). A great way to work out your MHR involves hooking yourself up to a heart rate monitor and going for a run. But I’m not talking light jog here, you’ve got to really go for it. Start by warming up for around five minutes, then run flat out as fast as you can at an even pace for three minutes; take it down to a gentle jog for two to three minutes, then repeat that three minute sprint of maximum exertion. Try to look at your heart rate monitor during or as soon as you can after – the highest number will be your maximum heart rate. Next, you need to calculate your RHR, which is easy – simply lay still with your heart rate monitor on.

So now you have your maximum heart rate and resting heart rate, you calculate your working heart rate by subtracting RHR from MHR. This is where things get confusing, so here’s a handy guide to help get you started.

Different types of training zones require different amounts of effort based on a percentage of your WHR. In order to work it out you’ll need to multiply your WHR by the percentage goal in each heart rate zone, and then add your RHR. This final figure is your personal target heart rate for each training zone.

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Light exercise – 50-60%

If you generally like to take it easy and maintain a healthy heart and keep fit, this is a great zone to work out within. Fat metabolism requires oxygen, so training in this zone ensures you’re able to take in plenty of oxygen, which will help with losing weight.

Endurance training – 60-70%

This zone is great for developing endurance and burning calories. When training in this zone your body will rely on both carbs and fats for energy and overall, is a great zone to be in for building general fitness. With the right amount of endurance training you’ll eventually be running faster, feeling fitter, fat burning and even losing weight.

Aerobic base building – 70-80%

This zone is ideal for increasing stamina and endurance, developing your cardiovascular system and maintaining an excellent fitness condition. This is all about slowing things down a bit and putting in medium effort but for longer periods of time. As you become fitter this zone will gradually become easier to maintaiLucy strecthn.

The anaerobic zone – 80-90%

Otherwise known as race pace, this zone is your anaerobic limit where your body switches from using oxygen as its primary source of energy to using stored sugar and is producing large amounts of lactic acid, which means things are going to start to burn and you may find yourself out of your comfort zone. This means higher intensity workouts and that your body will only be able to maintain this level of intensity for short periods of time.

Maximum effort – 90-100%

This is the highest limit of physical capacity and the toughest zone for your body to work out in as you’re working out as hard as you possibly can, usually in all out sprints. This zone is usually reserved for the more advanced fitness fanatics and is designed to achieve a superb athletic condition.

Here’s another tip: keep your heart rate monitor running for two to three minutes to analyse your recover rate retrospectively, which should hopefully improve over time.

Beginners should stick to the lower end in order to move along comfortably for longer periods of time and with less chance of injury. As your fitness and confidence increases you may want to gradually work your way into the other zones.

Once considered the gadget de jour for hard-core professional athletes, the heart rate monitor has gone mainstream and now anyone can add heart rate training into their regime. Being aware of exactly how hard you are working means you can determine when to push yourself harder or when to take it down a notch and soon enough you’ll come to know your zones and where you should be for any given effort to help you train more effectively.

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