heart rate training 101

heart rate zones are simply a group classification of physiological processes, namely motor unit recruitment, fuel utilization and energy demand. incorporating heart rate training into a workout is a simple way to make training more convenient and effective, because it affords the opportunity to objectively individualize effort and add specificity to training. by understanding heart rate training, you will be able to make personalized decisions regarding your training regimen to optimize your health.

the simplest way to create an individualized heart rate program is to track your cardiac response to your body’s movement of choice. noting here, that different forms of exercise will place different demands on the cardiovascular system. this is to say that the cardiovascular demands of swimming look very different from the cardiovascular demands of jogging, and these look different from the cardiovascular demands of cycling or strength training! through observing the adaptations that reflect your responses, and no one else’s, you will be able to make optimized individualized decisions.

this post should help to dispel some of the confusion and answer the most common questions that arise regarding training within the five heart rate training zones. note some heart rate training methods, use three zones, others four heart rate zones, and others five zones. in all future posts, heart rate training will be discussed in five zones, the five zones are,

zone 1, recovery, very light intensity, 50 to 60% HRmax

zone 2, endurance, light intensity. 60 to 70% HRmax

zone 3, stamina, moderate intensity, 70 to 80% HRmax

zone 4, economy, hard intensity, 80 to 90% HRmax

zone 5, speed, anaerobic training, highest intensity, 90 to 100%+ HRmax

heart rate training provides immediate and consistent feedback about stress level, intensity level, and rate of adaptation in terms of overall fitness. heart rate responds to training intensity depending on factors such as fitness, overall health, recovery levels, as well as environmental factors. the beauty of heart rate training is that it relies on the cardiovascular system to reflect a body’s overall state of stress. the cardiovascular system will reflect when it’s tired, overtrained, sick, cold, hot, and so on, therefore it can guide an individual in making changes to their performance plan.

data that reveals an abnormal response can allow an individual to manipulate rest, recovery, and workload. this is done with the specific objective of maximizing performance, minimizing injury, optimizing rest, and ensuring adequate recovery within an exercise session, such as an interval workout. it is important to look out for subjective feelings of fatigue, and to adjust your training program accordingly. the body will adapt to the demands imposed on it, this is the purpose of exercising at a specific target intensity zone.

a bit on each training zone,

zone 1, recovery, training in heart rate zone 1 is done at a very low intensity. working in this heart rate zone will accelerate the recovery process. the main training principle is that performance improves when recovering after, as well as during a training session. fat is the main energy source that the body uses at this training intensity, thus preserving glucose storages.

zone 2, easy light intensity, basic aerobic endurance, essential for any fitness program as it is general base fitness. zone 2 will train endurance, which is the ability of a muscle to repeat a movement aerobically no matter how much it slows down, until it runs out of fuel. zone 2 training challenges the body’s ability to burn fat during exercise. this is to say that, endurance improves as muscles learn to improve their metabolism of fat supplies. fat is the main energy source that the body uses at this training intensity, thus preserving glucose storages. long-duration training in this light zone results in effective energy expenditure.

zone 3, stamina, where aerobic power is enhanced. stamina is the ability to go at a faster pace, but over a shorter distance. the objective of stamina training is to improve tolerance of oxygen debts by minimizing the use of carbohydrate fuels while maximizing the use of fatty fuel. training in this zone is especially effective for improving the efficiency of blood circulation in the heart and skeletal muscles. in zone 3, an individual will continue to improve the basic endurance of their muscles and their aerobic fitness, while also further developing the body’s ability to burn fat during exercise.

zone 4, economy, which is the ability of a muscle to repeat movements at an even faster rate for an even shorter time, efficiently and effectively. the body will learn to tolerate an increase in the level of oxygen debt, while training the muscle cells to optimize the use of oxygen and carbohydrate fuel at a higher level of effort.

zone 5, improves sprint speed and neuromuscular activation, at maximal to near maximal effort, which leads to greater efficiency, and will also increase resistance to fatigue. training in this zone challenges muscles to repeat a movement at their maximum rate, at full power, under anaerobic conditions. speed training is the ability to go at top effort for short periods of time, ideally while staying relaxed and tolerating increased levels of lactic acid in muscle tissue. the power training in this phase will also bring about final improvements in strength, flexibility, and coordination. developing speed requires fairly sophisticated training methods.

target heart rate zones can be personalized by using a laboratory measured HRmax value, by taking a field test to measure the value yourself, or by being estimated through formula. when training in a target heart rate zone, try to make use of the entire zone. the mid-zone is a good target, but keeping your heart rate at that exact level all the time is not necessary. heart rate gradually adjusts to training intensity. for instance, when crossing from heart rate target zone 1 to 3, the circulatory system and heart rate will adjust in 3-5 minutes.

in summary, training in lower heart rate zones results in specific physiological and biomechanical adaptations and the oxidative (aerobic) system is mostly active, whereas training in upper heart rate zones has its own important, yet different, biochemical and neurological adaptations as larger motor units become active. these motor units tend to be more glycolitic (anaerobic) in nature.

there are many variations and methods which create distractions in training and training methodology. you do not need to be a scientist to use or get excellent results from basic training heart rate training.

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