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How to Use Heart Rate Training to Improve Cardiovascular Endurance

Heart Rate Training for Improved Cardiovasuclar FitnessRunning 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

Heart rate training is where 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, to do heart rate training, you’re going to need to get a heart rate monitor (the one I use). 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 Heart Rate Training

There are endless ways to do heart rate training, 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 heart rate training 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. You can use heart rate training to improve (raise) the heart rate at which you start using glycogen for 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 Heart Rate Training

The benefits of heart rate training are numerous. 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. My last device to spark that kind of motivation was the BodyMedia FIT calorie tracking armband, and 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 – heart rate training 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 heart rate 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.

There are so many more benefits to heart rate training. 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. Already utilize heart rate training? Let us know what you do for your workouts in the comments below.

  • Michelle

    I have a heart rate monitor that my old trainer set up for me….but I monitor my heart rate by percentage of maximum heart rate instead of beats per minute. What percentage should I be at when I hit the anaerobic threshold?

    • Coach Calorie

      That’s a good question Michelle. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits all heart rate. Untrained individuals might have an anaerobic threshold around 50% of Vo2 max, while endurance athletes might be up to 90% of Vo2 max.

      Your best bet would be to just get out there and start running and pay attention to what your heart rate is when you start start feeling lactate accumulate in your muscles (“burning” sensation).

  • Guillermo Schaeuffler

    Hello, good article! as always.

    I have been trainning now for a while – around 30 to 40 minutes of weight lifting at my 80% force + 30 to 40 minutes of cardio, either street running, eliptic machine or running inside the gym on the machine 5 times a weed. So far I have gone down from 31% body fat to 20% body fat in a period of 5 months. My waist has gone down from 38 to 33.

    I am always trying to do cardio at a high heart rate pace, however your article confuses me a little. My objective is to reduce below 15% of body fat (hopefully 8% some day), and reduce my waste to 30.

    From your article, I understand that I should probably reduce the intensity of my cardio in order to bring down my heart rate, hence burning more fat instead of muscle glycogen.

    Some clarification would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you, Guillermo

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Guillermo, this article is about using heart rate training to improve cardiovascular endurance. It’s an exercise goal, and not so much a weight loss goal. Training for endurance and improving mile paces are a lot different than training specifically for weight loss.

      Your best bet is going to be to continue weight training, focusing on your diet, and adding in cardio as-needed. Whether that is high-intensity or low-intensity is up to you. I like high-intensity interval training, but I also mix in some trail running and 5k training to keep things interesting.

  • Ashley

    It’s actually possible to work out what your maximum aerobic heart rate is, my son is a semi professional athlete and one thing they get all of them to do is find out what this is and to train to just below it.

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Ashley, yes – it is possible to determine your aerobic threshold, but you won’t be able to do it with any formulas. Formulas will give you a general idea based on averages (similar to calorie counters), but unless you are being tested in a lab setting, it’s impossible to accurately determine that heart rate.

  • Kelly Judkins

    I have just found that I had been working out at a really high intensity, and my new trainer likes to work in ‘the zone’ for fat burning. So my heart rate is currently sitting between 113 and 140bpm to burn fat. Is it possible that I could feel less ‘fit’ trying this new method out? It is so different to HIIT!

    • Coach Calorie

      There’s a lot of measures for fitness, and you get better at the things you train for. Expect a decrease in your anaerobic capacity with that heart rate zone. Also expect some aerobic adaptations with your new training.