Runner's World South Africa - - FRONT PAGE - BY HEATHER MAYER IRVINE

BECCA COTUGNO, 31, has al­ways been a fast run­ner. At high school, she scored points for her ath­let­ics and cross-coun­try teams; and now, as an adult, she reg­u­larly wins her age group or fin­ishes in the top five of the women’s field. But un­like many ama­teur run­ners at Cotugno’s level, her train­ing isn’t fo­cused on speed. She would rather lace up and go out slow and steady for hours at a time.

So when Cotugno heard about heart-rate-based train­ing just over a year ago, she was in­trigued. “When I found out heart-rate train­ing was about ‘slow­ing down to speed up’, I was pumped,” she says. “I love run­ning at a leisurely pace, but I used to feel like I wasn’t putting the ef­fort in if I just went out and ran com­fort­ably with­out push­ing the pace. Turns out, that’s what heart-rate train­ing is all about.”

What Ex­actly Is Heart-Rate Train­ing?

It’s not of­ten that you’ll hear a run­ner ask ‘What zone are you in?, or ‘What beats per minute are you run­ning?’ It’s more com­mon to hear ‘What’s the pace?’ as a way to gauge how in­tense a work­out will be. But heart-rate train­ing uses – you guessed it – your heart rate or beats per minute (bpm) as a guide for in­ten­sity. In­stead of train­ing at a spe­cific pace, you use a heart-rate mon­i­tor to train your car­diores­pi­ra­tory sys­tem to work at a spe­cific ef­fort for a set amount of time.

The idea be­hind heart-rate-based train­ing is to train your aer­o­bic sys­tem with­out over­stress­ing your skele­tal and mus­cu­lar sys­tems, ex­plains Erin Carr, cer­ti­fied per­sonal trainer and co-founder of Union Run­ning. “[It] is a dif­fer­ent way to be suc­cess­ful at run­ning,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be ‘no pain, no gain’, or go­ing as hard as you pos­si­bly can, and it al­lows for con­tin­ued im­prove­ment over time.”

Thanks to tech­nol­ogy that’s more af­ford­able and more ac­ces­si­ble than ever, heart-rate train­ing is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar to­day, says Joel French, PhD, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of Science, Fit­ness, and Well­ness for Orangeth­e­ory Fit­ness, a group-fit­ness stu­dio that of­fers heart-rate-based in­ter­val work­outs. “Mon­i­tors are cheap, and they’re very ac­cu­rate,” he says. “Back in the 70s and ear­lier, they were only used by elite ath­letes.” Now, any­one from re­cre­ational run­ners to pros can track their heart rate – but the mon­i­tors are only use­ful if your zones are ac­cu­rate, too.

How to Find Your Zones

There are many dif­fer­ent for­mu­las you can use to cal­cu­late your max heart rate and find your per­sonal zones. The eas­i­est (and most com­mon) way to cal­cu­late zones is by us­ing an age-based equa­tion. The MAF Method pro­motes the 180-For­mula, in which you sub­tract your age from 180, then add or sub­tract five to 10 based on vary­ing fac­tors such as re­turn­ing from in­jury or preg­nancy or train­ing com­pet­i­tively (sub­tract­ing for the former, adding for the lat­ter).

For ex­am­ple, if you’re a 30-year-old who’s just get­ting back into train­ing: 180 – 30 = 150. Then 150 – 5 = 145 bpm, which marks your max. For the du­ra­tion of your train­ing, you’ll do most runs at an ef­fort that keeps your heart rate below 145 bpm. You’ll re­serve ef­forts that ex­ceed 145 bpm for cer­tain ‘hard’ work­outs or race day.

Age-based equa­tions are straight­for­ward and easy to use, by of­fer­ing a gen­eral guide­line for your max. How­ever, French ac­knowl­edges that age-based equa­tions may not be a good fit for every­body, be­cause there are too many fac­tors that can af­fect their ac­cu­racy. Plus, max heart rate varies sig­nif­i­cantly among peo­ple of the same age. The Amer­i­can Col­lege of Sports Medicine sug­gests age-based for­mu­las with a lower stan­dard de­vi­a­tion; for ex­am­ple, the Gel­ish equa­tion: 207 – (0.7 x age), or Tanaka: 208 – (0.7 x age). Orangeth­e­ory cur­rently uses the Tanaka equa­tion, but soon the com­pany will in­tro­duce more ac­cu­rate in­di­vid­u­alised test­ing, French says.

Once you’ve es­tab­lished your es­ti­mated max heart rate, you can find your train­ing zones by mul­ti­ply­ing your max by a per­cent­age. For ex­am­ple, if your max is 145, mul­ti­ply that by 0.60 and 0.70 to de­ter­mine the range of zone 1 (87 to 101, in this ex­am­ple). Re­peat for zones 2 through 4 with the per­cent­ages on the right.

Each zone serves a pur­pose, and how much time you spend in each de­pends on your train­ing goals. The av­er­age marathoner, for ex­am­ple, will spend more than half the time train­ing in zones 1 and

2 (longer, eas­ier runs, of­ten at marathon pace) and less than half in zones 3 and 4 (tempo and speed work­outs).

If you’re com­pletely new to run­ning or re­turn­ing af­ter a break or in­jury, French rec­om­mends spend­ing six to 12 weeks train­ing in zones 1 and 2 to ac­cli­mate, be­fore tak­ing on in­ter­vals and harder ef­forts in zones 3 and 4. Ex­pe­ri­enced ex­er­cis­ers can of­ten jump right into in­ter­vals. French re­it­er­ates that this all de­pends on your health, per­for­mance, race goals, and work­out pref­er­ences. Con­sult with a pro­fes­sional if nec­es­sary.

How to Reap the Ben­e­fits

The big­gest hur­dle with HR train­ing for many, es­pe­cially ad­vanced run­ners, is hold­ing back, Carr says. “Peo­ple will of­ten look at their pace and think if they’re run­ning slowly, they’re do­ing some­thing wrong; or they’ll get frus­trated be­cause they have to slow down,” she says. But Carr en­cour­ages run­ners to start with a be­gin­ner’s mind­set, and trust the process. “Even­tu­ally, if they train and stay con­sis­tent, their pace will au­to­mat­i­cally im­prove.”

Heart-rate train­ing isn’t just about per­for­mance; it’s also ex­tremely ef­fec­tive for re­cov­ery, adds John Hon­erkamp, coach, CEO and founder of JR Hon­erkamp Con­sult­ing. “It’s tougher to mea­sure the rest than the work,” he says. “If your rest­ing HR is usu­ally 60, but you wake up at 70, that could in­di­cate fa­tigue or over­train­ing.” Although chest mon­i­tors are the most ac­cu­rate, many pop­u­lar watches can mea­sure HR all day.

Ei­ther way, the change doesn’t hap­pen overnight. “Heart-rate train­ing isn’t a short game,” Cotugno says. “If peo­ple go into it and ex­pect to im­prove their times within a few months, that might not hap­pen; but if they’re will­ing to work on it over months and years, they can reap the ben­e­fits and feel re­ally good about run­ning.”

Once you’ve ded­i­cated the time and slower kays like Cotugno, the re­sults can be im­pres­sive. She con­sis­tently trains us­ing heart rate at a 5:15 to 5:55/km pace, but she can bust out a 3:55/km pace in a 5K. “I’ve al­ways trained at a pace that feels good for me, but run­ning at a [slow] pace is ac­tu­ally help­ing me get stronger. It’s kind of awe­some.”


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