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My thoughts on heart rate training

Earlier this year, I did a podcast interview with a guy who pretty much blasted me because I don’t prescribe workouts based on heart rate. There’s a lot of reasons why I don’t that are simply my personal preference, but I wanted to also show what some of the research says to.

To start, I think I must make some clarifications before people get put off by this article. The first is that I’m not 100% anti heart rate, rather I’m pro treating methods as tools. This is the way I feel about everything from GPS devices, strength training, to the shoes you put on. If you put all your emphasis on one aspect you have no balance in your training. To me, heart rate training can certainly have a place in your HMM training- just not on your speed, strength, tempo, and possibly your long runs. I’ll explain why later. Ok so with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into some gooMonitoring your heart rated stuff.

It’s always hard determining the starting point for these discussions, but I think a good place to start is with how heart rate training is typically prescribed. The first thing you need to do is to determine your maximal heart rate. There are two ways to do this. The first is to do a maximal exercise test (a VO2max test). This will be the most accurate. The second is to use the old standby 220-age = HRmax. This is the easiest and most popular. From there, you take your resting heart rate. The ideal time to determine this is right when you get up in the morning. Lay in bed and see what it is by taking your pulse for 10 seconds and multiplying by 6. The average person should be in the 60-90 range. An endurance athlete can be anywhere from the 30’s to 60’s. Most of the time, though when this is taken it’s not when the person first wakes up, rather, it’s sitting with your personal trainer, or your doctor’s office, and after you’ve had a meeting and three cups of coffee- you see where I am going with this.

So anyway, you take your HRmax and subtract your HRrest from that. So, if I am 33 years old my theoretical HRmax is 187 minus my HRrest of 40, leaves me 137. Now, take that 137 and multiply it by the percentage of intensity you would like to workout at- say 70%. So, you have 137 x .7 = 95.9, 96 for practicality. To determine your exercise heart rate for that workout, simply add 96 to 40 (my HRrest) and you get an exercise HR of 136 for that day. This is the most accurate method, and yet I see too glaring sources of errors. The first is HRmax. Using my example, my theoretical HRmax is 187. I know for a fact that it is still in the 201-202 (was 205 in my early 20’s). Right there, we are talking about a difference of 14 beats! The second is the HRrest. There are two things I’d like to point out. The first, we touched on. The timing you take your resting heart rate. Caffeine, stress, sleep deprivation, etc all play a role. Are you getting an accurate number? The second is simply user error. If using a heart rate monitor to determine to your HRrest, then the number is probably accurate. However, if you use your fingers and your wrist, there’s always human error. If you miscount by one beat over 10 seconds, you are still 6 seconds off in total. The point is, that it’s not a stretch to be 15-20 beats off before you even get going. If you are going to use heart rate then making sure your starting point is accurate is crucial.

hrm

 Now that we’ve talked about the prescription of heart rate, I think it’s important to discuss the prescription of pace as a training tool. With HMM, pace is so important. Why? Because the entire system is based on a goal and/or race pace. In our system, Easy runs are based on an amount of time slower than goal marathon pace. Our tempo runs are based on that goal pace, with the strength being a set amount faster than that goal pace. To me, this is really important. I would say the majority of the people we coach have some time goal in mind. It may be a Boston Qualifier, a sub 2:30, a sub 4:00, an Olympic Trials qualifier, or something to that effect. To run the pace required to run that time goal now becomes incredibly important. If you can’t run those paces, then you can’t reach your goals, correct? What I mean, is at the end of the day, do you want to keep your heart rate at 75% or do you want to run the 8:00 minute/mile pace you need to run your Boston Qualifier? I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard too many people cry out in joy at the finish line, “Yes! I kept my heart rate under 150!”

Ok, being serious, if you are dead set on training with heart rate, that’s just fine. I think they can ultimately coexist (a pace and heart rate training relationship), and I’ll discuss that later. However, first let’s discuss some of the factors you should consider if you are training by hear rate solely.

  • Individual day-to-day variances: It has been shown in controlled environments a day to day variance in heart rate of 2-4 beats is fairly common. Through in other factors like stress, caffeine, time of day, rush hour traffic and all of sudden, your day to day variance is significant. Now, while most of the time you are exercising in a specific HR zone that will absorb small variances, it is something to be mindful of. Your day to day activities in all of your life will affect your heart rate for your run. You can’t separate those other things out.
  • Cardiac drift is a significant issue with any endurance training. It has been shown that up to a 15% increase in heart rate can occur after 60 minutes of moderate exercise. It’s not for certain what causes it completely, but dehydration is considered a big factor. The point is, your intensity isn’t changing but your heart rate is. So as you run and cardiac drift occurs, you are going to physically have to slow down to maintain the same heart rate, even though you are fine.
  • Hydration: If exercising in a dehydrated state, HR can be increased by as much as 7.5% above baseline. Bottom line, the more dehydrated you are, the less reliable a HR monitor will be at providing a measure of intensity.
  • Heat: This has been researched a lot and I think we all realize that heat will have an effect on our heart rate. Therefore, this increase in HR will overestimate exercise intensity. However, I will note that understanding your HR in this situation will guide you as to how stressed you are as a whole in a hot environment.
  • Cold is interesting because exercising in cold won’t do a whole lot to HR, but it does increase your VO2, which means that HR will then underestimate your intensity.

What this all means to me:

I look at the whole situation like this: Whether I am training by a pace guided system or a heart rate guided system, you are really taking an educated guess. However, with heart rate I have to take an extra step in the process. I am simply adding one more component that I need to measure- if you are training for a certain goal time. In either case, we are taking guesses at what are thresholds are. I guess I just feel that with HR, I am training at a rate that may be making more fit, but I’m not really certain as to what that intensity is going to be on a daily basis. I guess I feel that you are really just overthinking it with heart rate. Almost like you are placing a limit on what you are capable of.

I really do feel that if you think HR training is the way to go, then you need to know for sure what your HRmax is. You really should get it tested, and when you are doing that, get the HR ranges for your thresholds. I say that because 220 minus your age is ok when looking at a large sample of people, but its individual accuracy can be questioned. When I did my thesis, we looked at about 1500 subjects in a wellness center. We found that for healthy and fit individuals, the rate of decline in HRmax was far less than 1 beat per year of life. It was more like 0.5-0.6 beats per year. So, testing can eliminate some of the guess work. However, you really have to take my concerns to heart, regarding the points above. There really has to be almost a day to day evaluation of what a proper intensity/HR should be in order to maximize productivity. With that said, I think over time, it just loses its practicality for the average person.

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Where I think thing like GPS and HR can coexist:

Read more

Podcast Episode: Metabolic Efficiency Pt 1

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I’ve been doing metabolic testing and VO2max testing for a fair amount of time now, but mostly with predictable results. Not until recently, have we been testing for than one type of runner, and boy have results not been quite so “textbook.” These results have led me to explore more into the topic of metabolic efficiency.

This led to some personal revelations as to why certain runners struggle so much with not only training, but losing weight, and being able to progress from a health standpoint. I hope you find this info interesting and can put some of this towards your own training or coaching!

Easy Days

When we talk about developing distance runners, we talk about long runs, speed work, tempos and the sort. We talk about the difficult things , but rarely do we really emphasize development through easy running. Easy running has different levels and meanings, all of which are important. However, instead of describing these things positively, we end up referring to it as junk mileage as if it were detrimental to developing your running ability. So runners are told that all they need to do is the difficult things and they will improve. They may, I’m sure many will for a while and that’s what makes it popular. Admittedly this theory has always confused me. Maybe because I see us as a society trending towards doing the least but gaining the most. Perhaps it’s because getting better can’t possibly be as easy as running at a comfortable pace every couple days, right? Or, maybe it’s simply because the majority of runners out there don’t even think about long term development. Whatever the situation is, easy running has, undeservedly so, gotten a bad wrap. In the wake of this, we complain that we can’t run mileage or we plateau but the answer is right here- the easy run.

Easy Running: A lot of bang for your buck

Easy running is the foundation in which all other training can be built from. By itself, easy running will directly contribute to:

  • tendon development
  • specific muscle fiber adaptation
  • bone development
  • mitochondrial growth/distribution
  • glycogen storage/fat utilization
  • general endurance
  • improved running economy
  • improved VO2max
  • Capillary density

For full breakdown on the physiology of easy running: HMM

Think about when people get hurt with running, especially newer runners or those running low mileage but emphasize hard workouts. It’s some sort of tissue breakdown. Maybe it’s in the bone (stress fracture) or tendon (tendonitis- achilles, tibial). These are all pretty common, right? Why do these occur? Without getting into debate about shoes or biomechanics, let’s break this down to the simplest mechanism. Our cardiovascular system will adapt to exercise very quickly, much faster than the skeletalmuscular system. So many times, we feel much more fit after a couple weeks, so we keep increasing our paces. However, the bones and tendons haven’t had enough time to catch up to the cardiovascular system. So, bone and tendon break down faster than it can be repaired and injury occurs. This frustrates runners and they believe that they simply can’t run very far or they’ll end up injured. This a big reason people shy away from running more. To be honest, a lot of this is our fault as coaches because we don’t show these folks how to do it, or to emphasize patience. When a person tells me they can’t run mileage, the first thing I look at is their easy days compared to their racing ability.

It was hard to choose a place to start with these discussions, since it seems intertwined and dependent on each other. Of course, the first thing I tell you is to run easy and slow down to get better. So, it’s only natural that I tell you that this is not always the case! Ok, this is definitely going to require more explanation! I guess the best way to define “easy” is easier than your SOS days (Something of Substance), but not necessarily slow. Remember that I said easy running has different levels and meanings? This is another area where we as runners tend to do it, but not because they run different paces, but rather they run the same pace (often too hard) for all of their easy runs. Let me put it this way, when I prescribe a runner a range of 7 to 8 minutes per mile for their easy days, what do you think they are going to try to run? Exactly, they are going to think that is 8 minute pace is good, then 7 minute pace is even better. So, every run is to try and run their fast end of the range. Yes, technically is appropriate, but what if they are tired? What if they are getting sick? Let’s take a closer look at some “easy” running levels.

Types of easy runs

  • Recovery Running: The slowest end of the range. This is 2.5+ minutes slower than marathon pace. For a lot of runners, they have to work to run this slow. I don’t prescribe a ton, but rather like to show that if you are feeling really rough, you can still gain benefit from this running. Where you would probably see it is during a cool down after a tough workout, or a run the day following a tough workout.

  • Easy Running: This and the next range of running is the bread and butter of easy running. It’s a comfortable pace. Let’s say this range is roughly 1.5-2.5 minutes slower than marathon pace. It’s a pace range that allows you to run theoretically as far as you want and uninterrupted time is probably the greatest factor in easy running adaptations. The key here is to not force it and just let yourself fall in this range. If you struggle in this range, it may be wise to look at what the race goal time is. Most scheduled easy runs will be in this pace.

  • Moderate Running: This may be 30 seconds to a minute per mile slower than your marathon goal pace. I’ll prescribe this to my more fit runners, or runners who are already running higher mileage. While easy, it does start creeping up on the scale of energy usage. The faster you run, the more glycogen, or stored carbohydrate, is used. The goal with endurance training is to become more efficient at burning fat at higher intensities. Moderate paced easy running puts you a little closer to a threshold and while you burn a little bit more carbohydrate, aren’t in danger of running out of fuel (unless you run for hours on end). However, you do start to tell the body that it should begin to adapt. I like putting longer runs at the moderate pace to really put the body in the position to run the glycogen stores low enough to the point where the body says “Hey, let’s start storing more glycogen” And, you become pretty darn efficient at burning fat.

  • High Aerobic: This is getting really close to goal marathon pace and I don’t prescribe as much overall. Again, I’ll use this for some long runs or for some early season hard runs for some runners. These shouldn’t be added much though until the runner is at a mileage level that isn’t going to change drastically. What you might see is a long run with a section run at this pace with the amount of time spent increases every few weeks. Your better marathoners can do this up to a couple hours, or most of their long run, when nearing peak fitness.

Now we have a lot of info here and I discussed two of the main ways we tend to mess it up. Let’s talk about how we can use easy runs to build our training volumes higher than we ever thought possible.

Using easy running to build volume

  1. Focus on completing the duration, not running hard. Even if you are on a run/walk program. The fastest way to actually decrease the time needed to run for 30 minutes straight is to slow down and increase the time jogging between walks. This applies to beginners, those starting back up after an extended break, and those attempting to reach new training volumes.
  2. Break up your days/runs. Basically, don’t run every run faster than need be. If you feel tired, you still get benefit from a slower run. If you can trust that faster isn’t always better you can save yourself a lot if frustration in the long term. Use recovery pace for those days that you just aren’t feeling the best. Use easy pace as your average run. Moderate is fine for long runs and days you feel really good.
  3. Allow your body time to adapt. What may take your heart two weeks to adapt to, may take your tibia four weeks. Just be careful in ramping the training up. Maybe it’s very small increments weekly or a larger increase every six weeks. Old veterans may be able to jump much quicker. It’s individual but the newer you are to the sport, the longer I would give yourself.

I try to be open minded with different methods of training, but one thing I cannot stand is the term junk mileage. I think it’s a way to get around telling people that they are doing it wrong. This may be harsh, but as a coach, it’s our responsibility to be honest. Otherwise, you jeopardize the athletes potential and that is not fair to anyone. Easy mileage is the foundation of training and the gateway to faster training and better training. We simply need to get over the idea that their are shortcuts to long term success.

-My 2 Cents, Luke

 

Coaching Options Changes

As some of you may have noticed, we have created some changes in coaching process, and are in the middle of (hopefully) simplifying some things around here!

The biggest change is in what coaching options are available now. The goal has always been with our business to provide some form of coaching to any level of runner out there. Before, we offered custom schedules and coaching based on how long a runner wanted to train for. Ultimately, I had two lingering problems with that. The first problem was that with a custom schedule, the runner was really limited to initial consulting and then sent on their way. For many runners, issues would arise along the way but were fairly stuck as to how much I could do for them, while being fair to the runners who had paid a premium price for actual coaching. Cost shouldn’t dictate getting help and that was something that i had struggled with ever since coaching! The second problem I had was that runners were penalized financially by staying short term, and not going with a long term coaching option. My philosophy with coaching was, and still is, that a system takes time. To reap the full benefits of coaching, their is an adjustment period and then a growth period. So, my intent was to make longer term coaching less per month to encourage the long term sign-ups. However, with the new system, you are really in our system as long as you want to be and having that freedom is important to most runners. I feel that ultimately, runners will continue on longer term if they aren’t reall “forced” too.

With that, we changed how we operate in an improved attempt to make coaching a better option for all of those runners who need help! What has been done is the custom schedule option has been infused with the coaching option and made a mid level coaching option. So, you have three options, the basic, intermediate, and advancd options. All coaching levels are month to month subscriptions. You have the control to say when you are done. I will help you as long as you want the help.

The Basic Level:

The simplest and least expensive option at $9.95/month.

What you recieve:

-Access to any of our pre-designed schedules from 5k-marathon. As long as you are a subscriber, you have free reign on these.

-Members only content

-Our own social media content- profiles, friends, groups, messaging, etc! All within our own site.

-Online chat- chat with other runners and chat with our coaches when they are online.

The Intermediate Level:

Where the old custom schedule option dissolved into. The cost is $74.95/month.

-Same stuff as the basic level, PLUS

-Free Training Peaks account. This is where we keep your training log/program and you can log all your workouts, gear, nutrition, resistance training, etc.

-MONTHLY schedule updates and feed back. So, if things come up, you aren’t left on your own. We’ll keep you on the right path.

The Advanced Level

The most extensive level of coaching at $129.95/month

You get everying above, PLUS:

-Upgrade to a premium Training Peaks account. If you were to subscribe through them, it would be a $20/month cost. We cover it for you! The premium account gives you much wider functionality uses and some perks for those who really want to in depth training analysis. (Plus you don’t have ads on the screen with a premium account)

-Nutrition Analysis- with the premium training account we have acces to perform a very detailed diet analysis and give you tips/ideas as to what you are doing well with and where you could use improvment.

-Annual Training Plans- We can map out your entire year, where you need to be, what you need to do, etc. Again, this is thanks to our premium Training Peaks account!

-Individual race planning- we’ll decide what and where you should race, as s well as how to approach each of these races.

-Unlimited contact/schedule changes

-Form analysis. We now have the ability to take video that you send us and use it in our software. From there we can tell you what needs work on making that form a little bit better!

Everything above for the Advanced is part of the monthly cost- nothing extra to pay for. This is where the value comes in. It’s an in depth full fledged coaching opportunity.

 

The overall benefits of the new system are numerous. Obviously it allows for at least some form of coaching for any level of runner. I believe this will further promote the idea of long term development. The goal for this site is to be a place of community and learning, so having as many members that we can, will only add to that community. Hopeful