29 Nov 2013

Heart Rate Training Zones

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Mel RydingSomeone recently asked me if I could explain what the benefits of heart rate training was, so I thought I would try and explain, from my own personal viewpoint. Firstly, what are the heart rate zones?

Zone 1: Energy efficient / recovery zone: the easiest workouts, used for recovery after harder workouts, or long slow runs / rides

Zone 2: Aerobic endurance: training your cardiovascular system, and when you get fitter, this is also the ‘fat burning zone’ meaning training at this intensity could be used to manage weight for example. Used for long, endurance workouts and easy speed workout; builds and maintains aerobic endurance

Zone 3: Tempo: Used for Tempo workouts, training in Zone 3 is usually done in the preparation and base phases. Generally, in the later phases you want to bump up to Zone 4.

Zone 4: Anaerobic / lactic threshold: Fuel used by your muscles switches to the glycogen stores at this level. The by-product of this is lactic acid (the muscle burn?) The Anaerobic threshold (AT) is in this zone. That is the point where the muscles produce lactic acid at a faster rate than your body can remove it. Used for Intervals, hill work, and tempo work. Intervals in this zone generally have work-to-rest ratio of 3:1 or 4:1. Training at or slightly below your Lactate Threshold (a.k.a. Anaerobic Threshold) helps your body lean to “recycle” the lactic acid during high intensity work

Zone 5: The Red Line: your body can only work in this zone for very short periods of time. This is fast twitch, lat out sprints. Workouts in this zone are very short because it is very difficult to maintain, e.g. 20 second sprints.

What does it mean? An effective Metabolic assessment will determine accurately what the zones are for you, and this can differ tremendously from person to person, and between the disciplines too. For example, I have two very different heart rate zone results for cycling and running. My training is tailored towards them all the time. For example, if you are anything like me, (sprint athlete) you might not like to ‘pootle around’ at a slow pace on the ‘recovery’ sessions, because, after all what is the point? Or, perhaps your recovery intervals in interval training are never wuite ‘recovery’ because you don’t like going that slow? If that is the case, as was with me last winter, what will happen is you have a very good aerobic threshold, but a very weak aerobic base, therefore you will tire quicker as the race progresses, regardless of the fact that you ma be good at the short AT intensity intervals. You will be knackered before you get to the line, most likely. If, however you are an ironman athlete, you would want your aerobic base (fat burning) to be very very good. Your body needs to be as efficient as it can be when you are racing, because the glycogen stores in the muscles are finite. Therefore you must train your body to effectively ‘fat burn’ for fuel to keep you going for all those hours. An ironman does not need to sprint, but an athlete over shorter distances will need to pay more attention to the AT because the higher you can push this, the faster you get. How do you know which is your weakness? You won’t necessarily. The generic calculators are what they are: generic. You will only be guessing at it. But, if you have a rough idea at least, and tailor your training to work on the aspect that best suits your racing needs, then you have a fighting chance. In my case, my aerobic base is very good, I am an efficient fat burner. That means that at the moment, my training can all be quite high intensity, however if I don’t heed the training zones and execute recovery sessions at the right intensity, I will effectively be knocking out ‘junk miles’ because I will not be going fast enough for it to be of anaerobic benefit, yet will not be going slow enough to properly recover, likely become fatigued, and perhaps even overtaining syndrome will creep in.

My training as an example: Recovery training: Zone 1/2 (no more than 50% in zone 2) Tempo training: zone 3/tipping into zone 4 on occasion Interval training: intervals executed in zone 4, recovery in zone 1/2 Sprint training: zone 5 (intervals no more than 10-20 seconds, with zone 1 recovery in between) Hope this helps and makes it a little clearer. If you have any questions do feel free to email me or contact me through my web site. Melanie Ryding