Doing heart rate based training is one of the best ways to help you become the best runner you can be. It’s ideal for improving athletic performance, reaching new fitness heights, and can also add an element of science to your training program.
That’s why, dear reader, I decided to share with you a few practical tips and training guidelines to help you get started with heart rate training. And hopefully, today is going to be the day you stop putting off using a heart rate monitor.
So, are you excited? Then let’s get the ball rolling.
Step 1. Get a Heart Rate Monitor
There are so many devices on the market. Some of the well known include (but not limited to): Fitbit Surge, Garmin Forerunner 225, and TomTom Spark.
Step 2. Figure out your Heart Rate Zones
The first thing you need to do is to come up with your Maximum Heart Rate, or MHR for short.
Why do you need to do this?
Well, calculating your MHR will help you determine the ranges that define your heart rate training zones.
So, what’s the best method for figuring out MHR?
Emm, the answer really depends on whom you ask and your own fitness level and preference.
But all things being equal, you have three options here:
Option I: The classic option of 220 minus your age.
This is the most common method for measuring MHR.
For example, the HRMx for a 30-year-old would be 220 – 30 = 190.
Nonetheless, this method is outdated, but it’s a start.
Option II: The Karvonen formula
For more accuracy, I highly recommend the Karvonen formula.
But before you do this, first you need to determine your resting heart rate RHR.
To figure this out, take your pulse before you get out of bed in the morning, then count the number of beats in a minute.
Average your heart rate over three mornings to get your average resting heart rate (RHR).
You can do this by adding the three readings together and divide that number by three to get the RHR
For example, (68 + 66 + 67)/3= 66.
Next, use the formula on this link to determine your Target Heart Rate.
Option III: Take a Test
For the most accurate reading, especially if you are in an extremely good shape, is to conduct a real life test.
Here is how to proceed:
Put on your heart monitor, then after performing a thorough warm-up, perform a couple of 800 meters on track at a challenging pace. Take one minute of rest between each round.
Next, sprint as hard as you for another 800 meter. Leave nothing in the tank. Go all out.
The highest heart rate you reached at the end of your last sprint would approximate your maximum heart rate.
Know your Heart Rate Zones
This is where the rubber meets the road.
Once you start using an HRM, your primary objective should be work out within a specific zone.
As a general guideline, there are five different heart rate training zones, 1 to 5. To make the most of your running program, you need to include running workouts in all these five zones.
Here are the main zones to consider.
Zone 1: The Recovery or Energy Efficient Zone
This is the recovery or energy efficient zone.
Percentage: Roughly 60 to 70 percent of your MHR.
Pace: Within this zone, your running effort is very comfortable, even dead slow at times.
Purpose: Exercising within this zone improves your heart’s ability to pump blood and your muscle’s ability to use up oxygen, more efficiently.
This is your easiest, maybe shortest, workout of the week.
Perform all of your recovery runs—easy and short sessions between hard workout days—at no more than 65 percent.
No more than 30 to 40 minutes workout sessions.
Do this workout typically the day after an interval session, a long run, or a race.
Zone 2: The Aerobic Endurance Zone
As a runner, do the bulk of your training within this important zone.
In fact, any continuous, non-stop cardio workout lasting for 45 to 60 minutes, or even longer should be performed within this zone.
Percentage: 70 to 80 percent of MHR.
Pace: Most workouts performed within this zone must feel comfortable enough to hold a conversation without panting for breath.
Purpose: These runs can help you increase mitochondrial, capillary volumes as well as triggering other cellular changes within your running muscles.
Also, during the building phase of a training cycle, make sure to perform most of your runs at this zone.
Run for 60 to 90 minutes while keeping a steady and comfortable pace the entire time.
Zone 3: The Lactate Threshold Zone
The lactate threshold effort is also known as anaerobic threshold, and is more universally, referred to as a tempo run. This is the point at which your body can no longer get rid of the lactic acid build as quickly as it is produced.
This typically occurs at approximately 82 to 88 percent of MHR, according to this research.
Percentage: Around 81 to 90 percent of HR.
Pace: The workouts within this zone should be performed roughly at 10K to half marathon race pace. The comfortably hard effort is sustained over a set period—usually 15 to 30 minutes
Purpose: The primary purpose of this zone is to teach your body to run hard for sustained longer periods, by increasing your lactate threshold, improving performance in the process.
Warm up for 10 minutes in Zone 1, then run for 15 to 20 minutes at exactly 85 percent.
To do this, program your heart rate device to beep whenever your heart rate slips over or under the limits of the 80 to 90 percent range.
Last up, finish your run with a 10-minute cool in Zone 1
Zone 4: The Anaerobic Power Zone
This is what commonly referred to as speedwork or VO2 max work in the running circles.
Percentage: Around 91 to 97 percent of your max HR.
Pace: The low limits of this zone are around 5K pace, and the upper limits are your typical full-out sprinting effort.
Running and exercising within this zone should be performed at near maximum, and should feel extremely hard. Also, you should only be able to run for a few minutes before you get completely exhausted.
Purpose: Great for developing anaerobic capacity.
After a thorough 10-minute dynamic warm-up, perform at least six 800m runs, at around 90 percent in each rep.
Zone 5: The Max Aerobic Zone
As the name implies, this is your maximal effort. This is the end of the line when it comes to training intensity.
Percentage: Roughly 97 to 100 percent of Max HR.
Pace: During this zone, your cardiovascular and respiratory system will be pushed to maximum capacity, exhausting yourself in the process.
Purpose: The primary purpose of Zone 5 workouts is boosting strength and power in your fast twitch muscles—key for top end speed.
Please, DO NOT engage in zone 5 workouts on a regular basis. Otherwise, you’ll be putting your body in a whole world of hurt, and you don’t want that.
After a thorough 10-minute dynamic warm-up, perform ten 400m sprints with 200m recovery jog between each sprint, with the heart rate slipping down to at least 70 percent during the recovery jogs.
Finish up the session with a 10-minute cool down.