Getting the most out of training is not always about training faster or harder – it is at least as often about training smarter. One way to do that is to keep track of your heart rate. You’ll realize how much your body functions when you exercise with a heart rate monitor. You can adjust your training so that the workouts that are supposed to go smoothly really do it according to the body and the workouts where you want to run hard also let the heart work intensively.
By measuring your heart rate in real-time during the workout, you know how hard you work. And you can then evaluate afterward when you have information about the total effort and intensity during the session.
In a series of articles, we take a closer look at this with heart rate-based training and how we can use the heart rate monitor to optimize our training. In this second part, we look at how you can use heart rate measurement to control and streamline your training.
Endurance preparation has to provide a lot of cardiovascular training to be effective. It is measured by the amount of oxygen transported in the blood and pumped out of the heart to the working muscles and how efficiently the muscles use that oxygen. Improving their aerobic fitness means improving the heart’s capacity and the rest of the cardiovascular system during their most crucial task, namely to provide the body with oxygen and energy.
You improve your aerobic capacity by training calm distance sessions and high-intensity training, for example, in interval form. By training with different heart rate values instead of always keeping the same heart rate, you will improve your fitness more effectively. Your basic endurance is the basis of everything you build, and it is best built through low-intensity distance training.
Maximum oxygen uptake capacity (VO2MAX)
The maximum oxygen uptake capacity is the maximum speed at which the body can consume oxygen during the large muscle groups’ maximum physical exertion. You can tell a lot about an individual’s general fitness level from looking at their VO2max, which is a decent indicator of aerobic fitness and helps determine how well the person can do in sports such as distance running, cycling, cross-country skiing, and swimming.
A variety of different measures can be used to assess or calculate a person’s VO2max. These tests are conducted during preparation and in sleep mode. VO2max can be expressed in milliliters per minute (ml/min), and the value can also be divided by a person’s body weight in kilograms (ml/min/kg). For an individual engaging in complex submaximal exercise, the relationship between oxygen uptake (VO2) and heart rate (HR) is linear. As the heart rate increases, so does VO2.
Maximum and submaximal tests are often performed, for example, in a lab on a treadmill or exercise bike. Polar watches have a simple 5-minute fitness test that is performed in sleep mode.
The maximum heart rate is the highest possible heart rate that a person can achieve during physical exertion. When you reach your maximum heart rate during a workout, it means that your heart is working at its maximum capacity.
The maximum heart rate is, like the resting heart rate, an individual. There is a general formula for calculating it, 220 minus age. This is true for many people but can also go wrong with dozens of strokes. Therefore, you should find out your maximum heart rate in an actual training situation or by doing a fitness test (in or outside a laboratory).
Exercise heart rate can be expressed in beats per minute or as a percentage of your maximum heart rate. Polar divides the training intensity into five different heart rate zones from 50% up to 100% of your maximum heart rate. The strength of your exercise can be regulated by monitoring your heart rate. You’ll help meet your health objectives by knowing the various impact each heart rate zone has.
Your heart rate zones’ limits are personal to you, much like your resting heart rate and optimum heart rate. Therefore, they are generally defined as a certain percentage of your maximum heart rate.
Heart rate zone 1 – very light – 50–60% of maximum heart rate
Exercise in zone 1 improves your general health and helps you recover from hard training. When you train in zone 1, it feels straightforward. You can continue that way for several hours.
Heart rate zone 2 – light – 60–70% of maximum heart rate
Training in zone 2 develops your general endurance. It improves the body’s ability to use fat reserves as an energy source, that is, to burn fat. It still feels light and comfortable and like you can continue for several hours.
Heart rate zone 3 – average – 70–80% of maximum heart rate
Training in zone 3 improves your aerobic fitness. In zone 3, lactate (lactic acid) begins to form in the blood, but your body can use it as energy, and it has not started to affect your performance. You begin to breathe more deeply and exert yourself moderately.
Heart rate zone 4 – strenuous – 90% of maximum heart rate
Training in zone 4 improves the ability to maintain speed, and the body gets better at using carbohydrates as energy. It improves the body’s ability to cope with higher lactate levels in the blood. You feel tired in the muscles and breathe heavily.
Heart rate zone 5 – very strenuous – 90–100% of maximum heart rate
Training in zone 5 improves your maximum performance. A lot of lactate is formed, and you will not be able to continue for long. Breathing and muscles will feel exhausted.
Heart rate zones vary slightly between different sports. This mainly depends on how many and large muscle groups are used. For example, when cycling and running at the same intensity level, the cyclist’s heart rate will be lower than the runner’s in most cases. This is because cyclists do not have to carry their body weight, and the muscles can use the largest amount of available oxygen to move forward. This is also because fewer muscle groups have to work when cycling. When swimming, the heart rate is even lower, usually about 5 beats less than when cycling.
Train what you intend to train
Practical training consists of a combination of work in different intensity or heart rate zones. If you are going to run a long workout, the purpose is to train endurance, improve the local muscle group’s efficiency that works, and strengthen joints and ligaments. If you drive too fast on these workouts, there is a risk that you will get worn out and not achieve what was intended.
The heart is the fitness athlete’s most important muscle. The heart’s capacity to pump out enough oxygen in the body is improved mainly through training in high heart rate zones. Here it does not matter what activity you do, but you need to get your heart rate up to 90% of your max to get the best effect.
If you fail, you may be too tired and simply have to lie down and jog home. We want to avoid the “intermediate milk training” where all workouts end up in a semi-hard intensity. When you train with heart rate measurement, you can find the right heart rate zone for each training session and train at the planned intensity level—an effective way to train simply.
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