Make Your Conditioning Workouts More Effective with a Heart Rate Monitor
Objectivity is an essential component to getting results in just about every endeavor. In strength exercise we increase our objectivity by recording weights, reps and sets for each workout. For Energy System Development or Conditioning we have a handful of tests (i.e. VO2max, Lactate Threshold, etc), and calculations that can be used to help determine your optimal intensity.
Experienced athletes will typically use “pace” or “perceived exertion” to determine how hard they need to work to optimize their Training Sessions. Long term training results in a greater overall awareness of how hard or fast you’re moving at a given intensity. For example, you could tell an elite runner to maintain a 6:15 per mile pace for 5 miles and they will hit it give or take a second or two. Most trainees, however, are better off using continuous heart rate monitoring along with perceived exertion to ensure that they are working at the correct intensity.
Continuous heart rate monitoring provides you immediate feedback regarding your intensity, and can be helpful in confirming when you are adequately recovered during an interval training workout.
Calculating Training Heart Rates
To find your training heart rate you must begin by calculating your “estimated maximum heart rate”, the predicted maximum number of beats per minute that your heart can produce.
The traditional formula used to determine HRmax is:
220 – age = HRmax
Recently, researchers have found that this formula either under or over-estimates HRmax for younger and older populations, and modified the calculation as follows:
206.9 – (.67 * YOUR AGE) = MAX HEART RATE
We use this equation at The Shop.
The downside to using either of these equations is that they rely on the “average” infant maximum heart rate of 220 for all individual predictions. They do not take into consideration the outliers who have a lower or higher maximum heart rate at birth and consequently throughout life. This is another reason we recommend a combination of heart rate and perceived exertion.
Now that you at least have a starting point, you need to calculate your goal or target heart rates at the appropriate intensity for your workout design.
Steady State Training Heart Rates
Your Training Heart Rate for Continuous Pace workouts will vary based on the goal of the workout.
For a typical “easy” or “recovery pace” steady state workout you should aim for a Heart Rate between 50 and 65% HRmax.
For a moderate intensity steady state workout you should use 65-80% HRmax.
Threshold Training Heart Rates
The objective for a Threshold Workout is to get your pace up to or near the pace you would run, bike, swim, etc in a race. A Threshold Pace will typically occur just below what is referred to as your Lactate Threshold.
Your lactate threshold is the point at which your intensity has exceeded your body’s ability to clear lactate (a by-product of muscle contractions), away from the working muscles. Above this point, you have a limited amount of time that your muscles will continue to work before they no longer have fuel, and the burning and stiffness you feel becomes limiting. For most people this occurs between 80 and 85% HRmax. For elite athletes, this point can actually push up to 92% HRmax.
To perform a Threshold Workout, first warm up for 10-15 minutes, then maintain your “threshold” pace | heart rate for 20-30 minutes. Some of our White Board Conditioning Workouts are designed to be Threshold Workouts.
Interval Training Heart Rates
For Interval Training Workouts you need to calculate two HR values:
1. Work Interval Heart Rate
2. Recovery Heart Rate
Your Work Interval Heart Rate goal for High Intensity Interval Training or Aerobic Interval Training will be 85%-95% of HRmax. For Supra-Maximal Interval Training the goal is to push close to 100% so it is not necessary to calculate your work intensity once you have your HRmax.
There are a couple different ways to approach your recovery intervals when using heart rate as a guide.
1. You can simply subtract 30 beats per minute off your peak training heart rate, or
2. Wait until your heart rate recovers to 65% HRmax before starting the next interval.
Example: 42 year old
206.9 – (.67 x 43) = 178 bpm
85% of 178 = 178 x .85 = 151
65% of 178 = 178 x .65 = 116
Individual Variability in Maximum Heart Rate
As mentioned above, we’d love to tell you that the above calculations will provide all the information you need to optimize your training. Unfortunately, the equations do not account for outliers so some of you may have some additional work.
I’ll always remember that my advisor in graduate school had a measured maximum heart rate of 236 bpm at 55 years of age. If he were to simply estimate his HRmax, he would’ve come up with 165 bpm. Consequently, if he’d used the calculation to determine his training heart rates he would be off by about 50 bpm at any given intensity. That wouldn’t make for good results.
How do we work around this? You could always have a Cardiologist perform an EKG monitored Treadmill Test on you in which they physically work you to HRmax. We could have you push the Prowler back and forth until you drop and record your maximum HR 🙂 Or, you can simply incorporate a rating of perceived exertion and compare it to your measured heart rate during training.
There are a couple RPE (rating of perceived exertion) scales available. We prefer the scale from 0 to 10, with 0 referring to no effort and 10 being the hardest effort you can imagine (i.e. being chased by a rapid dog). The numbers on this scale should correlate well with the % HRmax values at a given intensity. For example, if you are at an 8 on this scale during a workout, it should correlate to ~ 80% HRmax.
Track your RPE and HR during your steady state workouts for a few sessions. Try to manipulate your intensity and become aware of how your RPE and HR adjust. Record and compare to determine whether you are on the right path.
If during a moderate intensity run you perceive that you’re at a 7, and your HR monitor reading is equivalent to 70% HRmax, you’re on the right track. If, however, you perceive that you’re at a 6 and your HR monitor reading equates to 80% HRmax, you have some adjustments to make.
Remember, this works best during a steady state or continuous effort (run, bike, climb, swim, etc.). Once you’ve determined the accuracy of your HR predictions you can begin to make adjustments to your target heart rates for any type of training.
If you have a Heart Rate monitor, please bring it with you and wear it during class or training, especially for conditioning workouts. We’ll help you understand how to use it to make your workouts more productive!