Heart Rate Training

This week I attended a presentation on heart rate or pulse based training. The presentation was held by a guy from Polar but the information was on a general level and applies even if you as I own a Garmin watch, or any other brand for that matter 🙂 Together with some real life examples I will try to summarize the presentation in this post. For calculations I will use me as an example to get some realistic numbers for the formulas.

So first of all, why do puls based training?

The benefits of puls based training are many and some of them are listed below. Depending on the goals you have with your training some are more important than others.

  • It strengthens the heart
  • Increases the number or blood vessles
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increased ability to absorb oxygen
  • Increased fat burn
  • More mitochondria
  • Better overall health values
  • Increased traning effect
  • Increased training motivation

The Vo2Max is the maximum volume of oxygen a person can consume during physical exercise and can be seen as a measure of a persons aerobic physical fitness. I will get back to this measure later in this post. First let’s look at some key numbers when it comes to heart rate traning. Keep in mind that all these values are individual, and you must use values specific to you.

“Most runners spend way too much time in zone 4 and 5. Instead focus on low intensity training and spend about 80% in zone 2 and 3.”

Maximum Heart Rate: This is the maximum number of beats ber minute your heart can accomplish. Some facts about heart rate:

  • HR gets lower with age
  • It does not say anything about physical fitness
  • Some people are genetically predisposed to have higher, or lower HR

The heart rate is a very important number to know to to heart rate based traning. There are a number of different methods to calculate or retrieve your MaxHR. Most commonly know is the formula know as:

  • 220 – age (for untraining men)
  • 226 – age (for untrained woman)

However, for men and women in better physical shape a better estimate can be calculated as:

  • 210 – (0.5 * age) (for trained men)
  • 215 – (0.5 * age) (for trained women)

For me (as a fairly trained man) this would meen: 210-(0.5 * 37) =  191.5 as maximum heartrate.
Note that this is an estimate! As you will see later, this is not a true value, but it can be used to get an idea of your maximum heart rate is.

To get a better estimate of the HRmax you can do a HRmax-test. This is a test performed under controlled conditions usually on a threadmill or on a bike. I did a test like this a while ago, and I can tell you that it is really tough! 🙂 The speed of the threadmill was increased every 4 minutes untill I reached my lactate threshold (this is where you start building up lactic acid) than the speed was kept contant and the angle of the threadmill was instead gradually increased untill I could not make it anymore. At this point the lower parts of my arms had started to go numb and I felt like I could not keep myself standing up anymore. My heart rate at this point was 195 bpm.

Resting Heart Rate: This is the lowest rate at which your heart ever beats at. Can easisest be measured early in the morning before getting up from the bed.

  • 70-80 bpm (Untrained persons)
  • 40-50 bpm (Elite athletes)

Deviation in resting heart can can be caused by a number of different factors such as sleeping deprivation, stress, eating habits, high coffein intake, dehydration and illness such as infections in the body. If the deviation of the resting heart is large (10 bpm or more) you should really consider ship training or do something very low intense.

Hear Rate Zones: When you know your HRmax and your HRrest you can calculate your heart rate zones. It’s first when you know what theses zones look like you can start the actual heart rate based traning.

<Include graph of hear rate zones>

  • Max 90-100% – Develops VO2Max and maximum speed (Maximum effort)
  • Hard 80-90% – Increases performance for shorter sessions (Hardcore training)
  • Average 70-80% – Improves aerobic fitness (Cardio training / Endurance)
  • Light 60-70% – Improves endurance and fat burning (Fitness / Fat burn)
  • Very Light 50-60% – Helps with recovery (Maintenance / Warm up)

The zones above can be used as a good starting point to get an idea of what your zones look like. Note that the values are calculated from the HRmax. So for me (with HRmax 195 bpm) this would be:

As a person gets in better physical shape their hearts becomes better and more efficient at pumping blood around the body and the resting heart rte gets lower. The “The Karvonen Formula” can be used to take this into account and adjust the zones accordingly. This formula can be used for men with Vo2max over 50 and woman for Vo2max over 40.

<code>(HRmax – HRrest) x (%) + HRrest</code>

Taking me as an example, Vo2max = 53 and HRmax = 195, HRrest = 43 and 70% of HRmax gives:
<code>(195 – 43) x (0.7) + 43 = 149</code>

With my heart rate zones adjusted according to the Karvonen formula I get:

Variations in Heart Rate:

Depending on internal and external conditions your heart rate might vary. The following can be good to keep in mind if you notice variations in heart rate:

  • Slow increase in pulse might be due to over training of tiredness
  • Unusual increase in pulse could be cause by dehydration
  • A unusually pulse increase could also be a sign that you have hit the wall

External factors that can leed to pulse variations are:

  • Very warm wheather can leed to increased pulse
  • Exercise on high altitude can leed to increased pulse
  • Pregnancy, higer resting pulse and work puls
  • Long endured stress can also leed to increaded resting heart rate
Max Heart Rate
Resting Heart Rate
LT Heart Rate
LT min/km

Lactate threshold:

“A useful measure for deciding execise intensity for training and racing in endurance sports.”(Ref Wikipedia) This is the point where the lactic acid begins to exponentially increase. The threshold can be seen as a sports dependent exercise intensity at which the concentration of lactic acid very rapidly starts building up since the body now longer can keep up and remove it from the blood. Therefore, knowing your lactate threshold (LT) and keeping the intensity of your excersie on, or below this threshold is crucial for long endurance, like a marathon, long triathlon or any other endurance sport.

Usually this threshold is somewhere around 70-85% of your maximum heart rate. For some elite athletes in endurance sports this threshold can be as high as 85-95%.  The higher this threshold equals more fit. To imporove the LT threshold, training on or just below the threshold is required. Some heart rate watches can give rough estimates of the threshold but for accurate values, tests must be made at a cliniques/sport labs that can measure the lactic acis threshold during increasing exercise intensity.

As an example my values can be seen in the diagram below. I did these tests in the end of 2015 and Idrottslabbet in Linköping, Sweden.


The diagram above show my session where I measured my lactate threshold. During the session I was running on a threadmill and the speed was increased each 4 minute. After each 4 minute my lactate was measured (see the blue dots in the blue line) and my heart rate (red dots on the red line). At each point I was also asked about my rate of perceived exertion (RPE) according to the Borg scale.

[km/h] Heart Rate [bpm] Lak [mmol/l] Borg/RPE
0 60 0.74 6
10 132 1.02 13
11.5 145 1.18 14
13 164 1.52 15
14.5 176 2.41 16
16 186 5.08 17

The acctual values that was measured can be seen in the table above.

The results of the threshold test is summarized in the table below.

2 mmol/l 4 mmol/l 6 mmol/l LT OBLA MAX
km/h 14.1 15.5 0 13.2 15 16
Lak 2 4 0 1.6 3.1 5.1
Heart Rate 173 182 0 167 179 186
% of Max 87.9 96.7 0 82.8 93.6 100
kCal/h 1196 1315 0 1126 1273 1360
min/km 4:14 3:52 4:31 4:00 3:45

In this table the most interesting column is LT where we can read that I am just on my threshold when I’m running at 13.2 km/h (4:31 min/km). My heart rate is at that point 167 bpm. If I go above this threshold I will quickly build up lactate since my body no longer is can remove it from the blood in the same rate at which it is build up. So for longer runs I should stay below this threshold.

Different Training Scenarios

  • Raising anaerobic threshold
  • Raising lactate threshold
  • Raising aerobic threshold

To be continued…

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