If you have a heart rate monitor or access to one
you should be wearing it whenever you are training. That includes all aerobic
and anaerobic training days. It is also a useful tool during races as it will
allow you to pace yourself over longer distances or it can be used before the
race to ensure a proper warm-up. On top of training, the heart rate monitor
allows you to monitor your resting heart rate if you wish. This information can
be used to monitor improvements in fitness, watch for signs of overtraining, or
even warn you if you may be coming down with a cold or other illness. As you can
probably see by now, using a heart rate monitor properly is like having a
physiology lab at your personal disposal.
To train properly
with your heart rate monitor you have to know where to set your upper and lower
heart rate limits. This is especially true for your aerobic training limits.
Most people make the mistake of setting their limits too high which puts them
out of their ideal fat burning range. This is graphically illustrated on page 3;
here we will focus on how to set your limits and use your monitor to itís full
The best way to
calculate your upper aerobic limit (i.e.-heart rate you want to stay under while
training aerobically) is to use the 180 Formula. This formula works best because
it factors in information about your current level of fitness as well as
insuring that you stay in an aerobic, fat burning range. The formula works as
Step 1- Subtract
your age from 180, to this
number make one of 4 modifications:
- If you have never
trained before, are recovering from a major injury, operation, and/or
illness, or are taking medication, subtract 10 from the number in Step 1.
- If you are currently
exercising but not making gains, if your workout routine is inconsistent, or
if you have suffered an injury (even a minor one) or if you have more than 2
colds or cases of the flu during the past year, subtract 5 from the number
in Step 1.
- If for the past year you
have worked out consistently (4 or more times/week) you have made gains in
your fitness, and have not suffered any injury or experienced no more than 2
colds or cases of the flu, subtract 0 from the number in Step 1.
- If you compete and your
performance has improved over the past two years, you have not suffered any
injuries or experienced more than 2 colds or cases of the flu during the
past year, then add 5 to the number in Step 1.
The number you have just calculated is the
upper limit of your aerobic range. The lower limit can be found by subtracting
10 from your upper limit. This gives you a 10 beat range to train in while doing
aerobic workouts. If this heart range is lower than what you are used to for
aerobic training then you should expect to find this new pace slower than what
you are comfortable with. Do not worry! Your body will quickly adapt and you
will soon be running quicker aerobically than you ever thought possible. You can
measure these gains in aerobic fitness by doing what is called a Maximum Aerobic
Function (MAF) test. Every 3-4 weeks, run, swim or bike a measured route (1-2
miles running on a track works well) at or below your aerobic maximum. Time
yourself and record the time. Compare with your time in 3-4 weeks and all
subsequent times. You should see improvements in your mile regularly. You may
not feel much faster as you continue to train in your aerobic range but the MAF
test will let you know that you are improving.
As stated earlier,
your heart rate monitor is more than an expensive wrist watch; it can be used
during all aspects of your training. If you like to do your speed work on the
track, then you can benefit from wearing your heart rate monitor. Letís say
you are doing 400m repeats with 200m recovery.
How do you know if
200m is long enough for a recovery? How can you prevent a hard training session
from becoming an overtraining session? Simple. Use your heart rate monitor.
First, get rid of the idea of a set distance for recovery after each interval.
You should base your recovery on how long it takes your heart rate to recover to
your aerobic range before beginning your next interval. For example, Joe
Triathlete has an aerobic range of 145-155 b.p.m. Heís running 400m intervals
and after his first interval his heart rate is 165 b.p.m. He jogs his recovery
and after about 150m his heart rate dropped to 153 b.p.m He is now ready to do
his next interval. For simplicity sake he waits until heís done 200m recovery
so that he runs a lap from the middle of the track. Now, he had planned on doing
10x400m repeats, but after his 8th repeat he requires more than 400m
to bring his heart rate down into his aerobic range. This is his signal that
heís done as much training as his body requires to get in a good anaerobic
workout. Anything more would not benefit him and might push him towards
overtraining. So, as far as track workouts are concerned, use the heart rate
monitor to gauge recoveries and also to signal when your body is getting tired.
If a recovery lap is much longer than the distance of the interval itself,
thatís a strong signal that youíve accomplished all you need to and you
should pack it in for the day. Cool down and go home.
You can also use
your heart rate monitor to measure your state of fitness and heath on a regular
basis. As your fitness improves, your resting heart rate decreases. Itís a
simple fact that people who are fit have better conditioned hearts that donít
have to beat as often when at rest. If you regularly measure your resting heart
rate you can get some real insight into your health. Resting heart rate is best
measured first thing in the morning before arising out of bed. Once you get up
your heart rate goes up and you can no longer get as accurate a reading. Resting
heart rate will also be elevated in response to overtraining, illness or even an
approaching illness. If you regularly chart your resting heart rate and one day
you notice that it is elevated it may be a signal that something is less than
ideal in your training or your fitness. If you get an elevated reading, take it
again the next day (the first one may be an aberration) and if it is still
elevated you should then begin to look through your training log to see if you
might be overtrained. If you can rule out overtraining then you may be on the
verge of getting a cold. This would be a good
time to take some extra rest in your schedule, take in extra fluids and
vitamins, as well as try to eliminate other stressors in your life that may be
contributing to a decreased immunity. Often you will have enough warning to
avert any serious problems from an illness or from over training.
So as you can see, a
heart rate monitor is a powerful tool which can be used in a variety of ways to
improve your training. If you have one, take it seriously and use it as often as
possible. This is the single most important tool in improving your fitness and
The purpose of aerobic training is to condition
the body to burn fat efficiently as a fuel source during exercise. Now, even
though you will be racing in your anaerobic zone, proper aerobic conditioning
will be able to burn fats easier, therefore fats play a bigger role as a fuel
source as your heart rate increases.
The formula we used
to calculate your aerobic maximum heart rate is called the 180 Formula and it
will actually set your aerobic heart rate a bit lower than what a treadmill test
in a physiology lab might calculate. What you have to understand is that a lab
calculation finds the heart rate at which you change primarily burning fats to
primarily burning carbohydrates. You never burn only fats or only carbs, the two
happen together. What we are interested in is training in the aerobic range
which ensures that you are burning more fat than carbohydrate. Thatís what the
180 Formula will do for you. Iíve tried to outline this graphically below. All
the values are fictional and are just to help illustrate my point.