What are the main benefits of heart rate-based training?
Wearing a heart-rate monitor means you can get detailed feedback on how hard you’re working. This enables you to train smarter, allowing you to get the desired training effect out of each workout. The first thing to work out is your maximum heart rate (MHR). A rough guide is 220 minus your age. Or there are field tests that can be done to get an approximate reading – such as doing a two-mile time trial on a track or level ground with a heart-rate monitor at the fastest pace that you can sustain, trying to run each mile or lap at roughly the same pace. Look to see the MHR that was hit. You can then work out your heart-rate zones, allowing you to train at different intensities based on percentages of your MHR (see below). This is sometimes referred to as ‘zone training’.
This prevents you from running too hard on your easy/recovery runs, reducing the risk of fatigue and overtraining; it also helps you to recover. By recovering properly during your easy runs your legs will also be fresher for your next hard session or race. Equally, you will be able to accurately track your effort in interval sessions, when you want to be working at a higher intensity. Heart-rate (HR) training is particularly useful for tempo runs, when getting the exertion level right is important for reaping the benefits from the workout. Training to heart rate also helps you moderate the influence of external factors such as heat and humidity, which require your heart to work harder. Remember that although HR training is useful, being able to instinctively ‘feel’ pace and effort is also a valuable skill.
Work out your zones
Zone 1: Easy – 68% to 73% of max HR. Useful for encouraging blood flow, to aid recovery after a tough workout.
Zone 2: Endurance – 74% to 80% of max HR. Training in this zone will boost endurance and the efficiency with which you use fat and carbohydrates as fuel.
Zone 3: Moderately – 81% to 87% of max HR. Training in the upper end of this zone is thought to enable you to delay fatigue caused by lactic acid. Repetitions should be 10-20 minutes long, with relatively short recoveries of 1 to 3 minutes.
Zone 4: Threshold – 88% to 93% of max HR. Boosts lactate threshold, but training in this zone will soon lead to fatigue. Use this zone for 3 to 10 minute repetitions with 1-2 minute recoveries.
Zone 5: Vo2max – 94-100% of max HR. Training in this zone is only possible for short periods, and helps you develop top-end speed. Train at this intensity for short repetitions of 1 to 3 minutes, with a similar amount of time as recovery.
You can use our Training Zone Calculator to find out your training zones:
Further Heart Rate Zone Tips
- Once you have your own set of zones, you can start to differentiate between your training intensities. As a general rule of thumb, for endurance sports such as running, cycling and triathlon you should aim to do 80% of your training in Zones 1 to 2 (mainly Zone 2). And the remaining 20% of your training in Zones 3 to 5.
- Note that your heart rate zones may differ between sports, such as cycling and running. For example, cycling heart rate zones are commonly 5-8 beats lower than running heart rate zones. If you do both sports, you may need to create two different sets of zones, based on your max heart rate in each one. Or create yourself a set of running zones, and then subtract 5 to 8 heart-beats off each zone, as an estimate of your cycling zones.
- Your heart rate is a reflection of how hard your body is working, in a given moment. Heart rate monitoring is most useful during steady-state workouts, in which you mostly train at one intensity throughout.
- Heart rate monitoring is less useful during workouts that involve short, sharp efforts. This is because your heart-rate may take minutes to fully reflect changes in your intensity. For example, you could run at a steady-state fast pace for 30-seconds, where your heart rate would be continually climbing throughout. Therefore, during short, hard efforts, it’s good to include other measures like pace, power output or Rate of Perceived Exertion to help gauge your intensity.
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