Heart Rate Training
In a world obsessed with PBs, world records and Strava crowns, the idea of running slowly on purpose is not usually greeted with enthusiasm. But slowing down your long runs and recovery runs (which, as we know, should make up 80 percent of your mileage) offers multiple benefits: » a well-trained aerobic system, with increased cardiac output (the amount of blood the heart is able to pump) » increased mitochondrial density (energy production within the muscles) » better fat burning » improved endurance » faster recovery » less risk of injury » more benefit and less injury risk from speed workouts » better overall health due to a lower heart rate (not just at rest, but while training)
Calgary-based exercise physiologist and ultrarunner Joanna Ford believes that runners may be afraid to slow down on their runs for several reasons: “Often they are concerned that they aren’t getting an effective workout, or that someone will see them running slowly on the path, or they’re embarrassed to show their slow running pace on Strava,” she says – all highly relatable reasons, but refutable.
Many people mistakenly believe the most effective training is high intensity, and that hammering every workout and pushing the pace on long runs will make you faster. Not only is this a recipe for excessive fatigue, injury and burnout, but there are proven benefits to slowing down the pace – a lot – and saving the intensity for two short weekly speed workouts.
Train by heart rate, not pace
Our ability to perform well on any given day is acutely sensitive to f luctuations in our sleep, stress levels, whether we might be fighting a cold and even our nutrition. The beauty of training by heart rate rather than pace is that it self-adjusts for these f luctuations automatically; at a given heart rate, we will run slower on days when we slept poorly the night before, or we’re getting over a virus – and HR training protects us from pushing too hard. (In fact, it’s best to set up your watch so you can’t see your pace at all.) The same holds true for f luctuations in air temperature and elevation.
There are five heart rate zones for training, but for maximum aerobic benefit, focus on the first two for easy days, recovery runs and weekly long runs: recovery (Zone 1, or 60–69 per cent of max heart rate) aerobic threshold (Zone 2, or 70–79 per cent of max heart rate)
Ideally, to use heart rate training accurately, you should get a threshold test, but in the absence of that, the simplest way to calculate your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. Using this formula, a t ypical 35-year-old’s max heart rate would be 185, and the upper end ( 79 per cent) of their aerobic threshold would be 146, so 80 per cent of their mileage should be done at a maximum heart rate of 146. (A chest strap monitor is still the most accurate way to track your heart rate.)
It should be noted that this will feel uncomfortably slow at first, and until you recover your former paces (which happens naturally over time, though it may take a few months), you will likely need to walk up hills in order not to veer beyond Zone 2. This is an excellent way to improve your cardiovascular fitness and your overall health while building endurance.
Chantelle Erickson is a Lethbridge, Alta.based marathoner, ultrarunner and coach with Personal Peak. She’s also a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor for Kinetic Indoor Cycle & Fitness.