Running is a very popular form of exercise of a lot of people. I’ve never been a big long distance runner myself. Instead, I’ve focused on distances under 400m. I was always a sprinter in track – running the 100m, 200m, and 400m sprints/relays. Lately though, I’ve discovered a new-found passion for running, and I’ve been implementing heart rate training with great success.
What is Heart Rate Training
It’s when you base your workout around your heart rate. In other words, instead of using time intervals, such as 1 min on and 1 min rest, you use your heart rate as a guide. Of course, you’re going to need to get a heart rate monitor. I highly recommend it though, as it’s very eye-opening to see the difference between what is physical exertion compared to what is mental exertion. If you’ve ever wondered if it was your mind or your body giving up on you during a run, a heart rate monitor will show you.
How To Do It
There are endless ways to implement it, and it’s really going to depend on what you’re trying to accomplish. Here are some ideas:
- To work on speed, you can set a work interval time of 1 minute. You will run as hard as you can for that minute, and then you’ll rest until your heart rate returns to a predetermined level. If that predetermined level is 150 bpm (beats/minute), then you’d run hard for 1 minute, and then walk until your heart rate returns to 150. Then repeat the intervals over and over until your workout is complete. This works well for improving your interval recovery times (the amount of time it takes to recover).
- To work on endurance, you can set your heart rate to be just under your anaerobic threshold. This number is highly variable, but a good guide is somewhere around 180 minus your age. So, if you are 30 years old, you’ll train at around 150 bpm. This trains your body to more efficiently utilize oxygen so that you can primarily use fat for fuel. Since fat stores are theoretically endless, you have the potential to really increase your mile pace times. If you see your heart rate going up, you slow down your pace, and vice versa if you see your heart rate go down.
- You can also use it to improve your lactate threshold. This is the point at which lactate accumulates in the bloodstream. If you’ve ever felt that burning sensation in your muscles, this is why. Lactate levels increase as you reach your anaerobic threshold. This is where you start using a higher percentage of muscle glycogen for fuel instead of fat, and you can improve (raise the heart rate at which you start using glycogen as fuel. To do this, you’ll need to run at a pace where you feel the burning sensation take hold. Look at your heart rate monitor and note the beats per minute. You’ll want to exercise as close to this heart rate as possible for the duration of your workout.
Benefits of Training Based on Heart Rate
Besides making exercise more interesting, it also gives you the ability to add a little variety to your workouts. Not to mention, anytime I buy a new electronic fitness device, it always sparks a new-found level of motivation. This time around it’s the Omron heart rate monitor. Besides the mental benefits, heart rate training also has these physiological benefits:
- Improved mitochondrial density – mitochondria are where fatty acids go to die. They are the cell powerhouses that take fatty acids and eventually convert them to ATP (energy). Heart rate training improves the density of mitochondria in the muscle (increases the number of them) so that your body is better able to utilize fat for energy.
- More efficient fat burning – it raises the level at which your body begins to predominantly use glycogen for fuel. For example, before heart rate training, you might have had a fat/glycogen “crossover” of 150bpm (note that the crossover isn’t a sudden switch. It’s a gradual progression). After a period of training, you might be able to eventually increase this level to 160bpm. What this means, is that you can now work harder, run faster, and maintain that pace for a longer period of time since your body is able to utilize oxygen and fat more efficiently.
If you haven’t already given it a try, I highly recommend it. It’s always nice to monitor your body in new ways during exercise, and a heart rate monitor does just that. For a change of pace (pun intended), give it a try.