Today on this episode of Runner’s High, I’m going to talk to you about listening to your heart. And we’re going to talk about heart rate training for running and what all the heart rate training zones actually mean.
The whole goal of heart rate training is to use your heart as a measure of effort instead of solely relying on your watch and just saying I want to run this particular pace, so I have to listen to my watch. It’s using your body as that feedback. I actually prefer using RPE or rate of perceived exertion, which I talked about in another video. But we’ll dive deeper into heart rate training in this video, so be sure to subscribe so you can make sure you can see that other video and RPE later on.
The first step in actually using heart rate training is figuring out what’s your max heart rate? All the zones and all the percentages are calculated off of whatever your max heart rate is. And the cheat sheet way of doing this is 220 minus your age.
The problem with that being that if you’re somebody like me who’s been in shape for quite a long time, my heart rate max is over that. So, I’m 30 right now, 220 minus 30 190 is my max. That actually doesn’t work, my max heart rates higher than that.
Conversely, if you’ve been out of shape for quite some time, your max heart rate might be lower than that cheat sheet says. You can look up different measures you can use, field tests so to speak, you can use a track. Essentially, they all involve gradually increasing your pace until you’re at maximal effort running. And that can be through on the track, I’ve seen hill repeats.
There’s a bunch of different ways to go about it. But doing the field test is going to give you a more reliable number to work off of. So, I suggest doing that. If you don’t have the ability to do a field test, you’re probably not running. But if you want to get started a little bit sooner without doing the field test, use the 220 minus age. But do do that field test because in your trainings it’s going to be more accurate.
There are three basic heart rate zones and then the second and third actually can be broken up, depending on how advanced your training gets. So, let’s assume that my max heart rate is 200 beats per minute, it’s just a nice easy number to work with. The bottom zone is going to be 50% of that to 70% of that or roughly 100 to 140 beats per minute.
That’s all your aerobic effort where you’re not working too hard, but your bloods pumping a little bit. The second zone is going to be 70 to 85% or 140 to 170 beats per minute. That’s where you’re going to get a lot of your fitness in for competitive racing. And then the top zone is going to be used for people who are sprinting or if you’re working on top end speed for 5K, and you really been in shape, 85 to 100% of your heart rate, or 170 to 200.
To take the most advantage of heart rate training, most often people are going to be buying a heart rate monitor. And the price of them have come down significantly over time, 50 to $100 will will get you an entry level model. And then you can get real time feedback to what’s going on with your heart. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, that’s okay you can actually still do heart rate training. And this is what I do partially because I’m interested in that RPE more than specific heart rate training. I use heart rate as one measure of my overall exertion. I take a 10 second measure after I complete a rep.
So, the way to do this is complete your rep, look at your watch, just any watch you want to use because all we need is 10 seconds. Start the count at zero when your interval starts on the watch, and then count up. What are you at? Take that number and you multiply by six, and then that gives you your heart rate because there’s six 10 second segments in a minute, so you [??? 4:16] beats per minute. The other way to do it is actually to just memorize what the equivalent 10 second split is of your heart rate. That’s probably the safer way to go because then you don’t have to do the multiplying in your hand later on.
Much of distance racing happens in that 70 to 85% heart rate zone. So that’s where you’re going to spend a lot of your time training, tempo or what I refer to in RPE as quick but easy. It’s a pace where you’re working hard, but you’re not really breathing hard, it is near that 70% end. Your 5K pace is going to be closer to 85%. And then some people can hold a high heart rate for 5K, and those people are in better shape than most of us. And that’s where high performance comes in is beyond that. But the vast majority of your training and racing where you’re going to get the most gains are going to be in that 70 to 85% zone when you’re not working on just your aerobic capacity.
One of the problems I personally find with heart rate training is that as you get more fit your cardiovascular system can way outperform your muscular system. So, that feedback that you’re getting from your heart and in conjunction, the rest of your cardiovascular system may not be accurate, so the amount of fatigue that your muscles have.
So, if say your cardiovascular system is in really good shape, but your muscles are really out of shape, then your cardiovascular system may not actually have to work that hard because your muscles simply can’t use any more load. Conversely, you can be carrying a lot of fatigue, your heart rate is way up, and you’re not going to hit those intervals.
It is a little bit useful in the sense that if your heart rate is way up, and you should be hitting a certain time, that’s probably an indication that one you’re out of shape or two, you may be overtraining and over fatigued, and you need to back off and get a little bit more rest.
Another problem I find with relying solely on heart rate for training is heart rate drift. And this happens for several reasons. But studies have concluded there are a couple usual culprits, and one of them is going to be accumulated fatigue, and that’s where the drift comes in. So, maybe earlier on the set, you’re hitting your time and you’re hitting your heart rate target.
So, you’re at say 25 beats for that 10 seconds, you doing that 10 second count. And then as you accumulate fatigue, maybe you [??? 6:59] up 26, 27, 28, 29 you’re still able to hold your target time, but your heart rate has gone up. And that’s part of being an endurance athlete is resisting fatigue. If you relied on solely that heart rate, and you said, I can only be at 25 for 10, well, then you’re going to slow down over time, versus trying to train your body to stay at that pace and deal with the heart rate drift.
The other causes of drift can be overheating and dehydration, which both kind of goes along with that accumulation of fatigue throughout a workout or a race. What I love to do and I like to train any of the athletes I work with to do is use heart rate training in conjunction with RPE, that rate of perceived exertion. Because you need to figure out how do I feel whole body wise?
Are my muscles warmed up? Is everything feeling good? Do I feel overly tired? And using that along with the indicators of what your cardiovascular system are telling you to figure out do I need to warm up longer? Am I already warm enough? Do I need more rest on you? Can I handle less rest or harder workout? All these things help you dial in exactly what you want to do for workout. So, make sure to check out that video about RPE I made that explains a little bit more about what is rate of perceived exertion.
As always, subscribe to the channel for more episodes of Runner’s High, so you can keep track of all the things I’m sharing with you over my nearly 20 years of running experience to help you be a better runner. Now, just like with running, I need more practice so I’m going to get back to it. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.