For Heart Health Awareness month, we’ve been talking a lot about what it takes to keep our hearts generally healthy and firing on all cylinders. What we haven’t discussed is how paying attention to your heart during workouts can help you get more out of every training session.
Keeping an eye on your heart rate throughout your workout can help you keep track of what you’re demanding of your body and monitor how successfully you’re responding to various levels of intensity. Think of heart rate like the RPMs in a car – ranging from idle (resting heart rate) to red line (max heart rate). In between those two points is where most of your productive training will take place.
Here are some generally agreed-upon ranges for various heart rate training zones. Keep in mind you might see these elsewhere under slightly different headings with slightly different percentages.
Endurance Zone (60 – 70% of max)
You should be able to plug along at this pace for quite a while. It will help you build endurance for greater distances and burn fat while you’re at it. If you’re feeling sore thanks to a higher intensity workout the day before, an Endurance Zone run can help you rebuild and recover.
Aerobic Zone (70 – 80% of max)
This is where you do your cardio training, improving your body’s ability to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Pushing the envelope from the Endurance Zone into the Aerobic Zone is going to help you improve your fitness and build to a faster race pace.
Anaerobic Zone (80 – 90% of max)
This is where you are pushing hard enough that (basically) your cardiovascular system can no longer handle the load efficiently and your body starts tapping more into your muscle strength to keep you moving. This is where lactic acid starts coming into play and you feel the burn in your legs and elsewhere. This will help you build muscle, but won’t do anything for your cardio.
Max-Out Zone (90 – 100%)
This would be the redline we were talking about earlier. You won’t be able to perform at this level for any length of time, but it will help train your muscles to perform at the outer limits of intensity. Unless you are an advanced runner, spending much time pushing the redline is most likely counterproductive to your training.
So what’s the point of all this, aside from knowing a little bit more about all those little graphs they always put on treadmills? Paying attention to your heart rate and getting a feel for where you are compared to your max can help you focus your workouts and train more efficiently.
Heart rate doesn’t lie. That means that if the numbers are saying you should be pushing a little harder to stay in that productive Aerobic Zone, you probably do have a little more to give. If you find you’re spending any amount of your distance running in the Anaerobic Zone, you might benefit from backing off and building your basic cardiovascular strength.
All this week we’ll be talking about heart rate training and what you can do to integrate it with your workouts. If you have a heart rate monitor, make sure you’re fully charged and ready to start paying attention! If not, remember you can always get plenty of information from two fingers and your watch. We’ll talk about both approaches as we go.