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The value of training to heart rate

Algarve Track Running

At Full Potential, we are really enthusiastic about training to Heart Rate.

This all started with Keith using heart rate and lactate threshold testing as part of his training, and as a coaching unit, we've really taken this forwards.

Why do we like to train to heart rate?

The best thing about using heart rate for training is that the sessions become specific to you.

Everyone's heart works slightly differently. By training to your heart rate zones, we are making the training sessions specifically for you.

There are so many outside influences on a given day that will affect your running. Fatigue levels from a previous day training to how well hydrated and fed you are. The surface you are running on, and the weather conditions you are dealing with.

By monitoring your heart rate, you control the training intensity by taking those outside influences out of the equation.

Running uphill, you will have to slow down to maintain the correct heart rate zone. Running into a headwind, you are going to have to slow down. Got a tailwind behind you, you'll probably start running faster than usual for that same heart rate zone - it isn't all bad news!

If you do this for each training session, you will be doing the right intensity of training each day. Have training that contains the correct frequency, intensity, and volume of sessions. Not only do we avoid over-training, but we can also reduce common frustrations runners experience.

Often we get back from a run, upload the data online, and conclude that we are getting worse at running.

All because they were two seconds a mile slower than last time. If this sounds a bit like you, don't worry, you aren't alone. (I spoke a little about this in the Expectations Blog)

If this sounds like you, we understand the frustration and demotivation that comes with these feelings. You aren't taking into account external factors that might have slowed you down.

This can often lead to runners going out the next day to prove they are still fit by running way too hard.

In an alternative world, if the session was run at a heart rate value of 140 - 150, you could come back from a run and make sure you were between 140 and 150. Do that, tick the box and move on.

You may be a little annoyed that the pace isn't quicker, but that isn't the way we want you to look at the session. We want to analyse the session by which heart rate zone you were in!

Training sessions aren't designed to show you how fit you are. They are there to stress a specific physiological system. Start to look at the bigger picture of your training and remember each session is just one part of everything you are doing.

When you have been training with heart rate for a few weeks, it becomes a great way of tracking progress. You'll start to run faster for the same heart rate zone and feel yourself improve.

It's a great way of getting feedback from athletes. Seeing how well they handle training load, recovering from training and looking at whether it is time to push on or not.

It can also provide critical insights into whether an athlete is overtraining (often seen by a failure to get the heart rate up to previous levels) or picking up an illness (again, slightly lower heart rate values than usual or elevated heart rates for a slower pace)

Heart Rate training only works if the information you have is correct. We have covered how to work out your heart rate training zones extensively in another article. You don't want to use any generic calculations to work out your Heart Rate zones.

This image of max Heart Rates from a set of athletes shows wild variations at various ages.

If you don't have accurate data, you won't be working at the correct heart rate zone and getting the physiological benefits from your training sessions.

Heart Rate Training Requires a few things to get right.

You'll need a training plan to follow and have total belief in that plan to get started. You have to commit to heart rate training, not pick and choose when to follow it (apart from a few instances, as we'll discuss in heart rate training limitations below). Just because you don't like the numbers you are getting on a particular day doesn't mean you throw it all away.

Each session in your plan will be designed to interact with the others, and you need to do them at the right intensity.

You'll need to have plenty of patience. Physiological change takes time and is not an app you buy on your phone for instant success. Be consistent over a long time, and you will enjoy the results. If you aren't patient and let the training take effect, you won't see results.

Heart Rate Training isn't perfect.

An increase in effort won't have an instant increase in your heart rate number. It takes time for the body to adjust.

On shorter repetitions (1 to 2 minutes long), you might not reach the "correct" heart rate zone until near the end of that repetition. As you progress through the workout, this will change, and you'll be spending more time in the correct zone.

When working in upper heart rate zones (Zone 5, you might use some pace values to complement the training.

If my session was 1km reps at 10km pace, I'd take my 10km time, work out how long each kilometre would take, and aim to run that for the reps.

I'd then use Heart Rate to make sure I wasn't running too hard for 10km effort. Keeping in mind that it will take a few reps to get into the correct zone.

I won't look to be in the correct Heart Rate zone on a more extended threshold session (8 to 10 minutes) until at least a few minutes into the first rep. If I tried to get to the correct number over the first 30 seconds, I'd be running way too fast!

You don't need to train to heart rate, and some of the best runners in the world don't. However, we've seen real benefits for the athletes we have coached.

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