Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What's your max heart rate?

The last few times I have followed a heart rate approach to training have been for running rather than walking, with the last sustained period being this time last year while training for the London Marathon. 

On each occasion I have determined my max heart rate by running as hard as I could up the hill from the old Summerland site to Port Jack chip shop, jogging back down, and repeating twice more.  I was then hitting my max heart rate of 187 on the 3rd attempt.

If that sounds like too much hard work, there are many formulas that you can use to estimate your max, with 220-age being a common one. 

During the first 2 weeks of my challenge I had no problem walking hard/fast enough to get my HR up into the right zone, but in this 3rd week I have been struggling.

As your fitness improves it's only natural that you have to walk/run faster to get the heart rate up. 

This is a good indication that it's working.

I really noticed this on Sunday during a 7 mile recovery (zone 1) walk where my target range is 127-140.  I was really having to walk hard to get my HR into the middle of that range.  Even though my breathing felt fine (I could hold a conversation) I could feel the legs burning and it just didn't feel like a recovery walk at all.

Last night I did a hill session.  Starting from the very end of the promenade by Summerland all the way to the "no entry" sign by the old White City is 0.33 miles, so I did 6 of these as fast as I could.  This gives a total of 2 miles up and 2 miles back down.  This was preceded by a 1.5 mile warm up along the promenade, and a 1 mile warm down to give 6.5 miles in total.

On each of the 6 climbs I walked as hard as possible, really pumping the arms and trying to maintain a good technique.  Each climb took approx 3 minutes, so an ideal duration for short bursts of high intensity training.  Here are my max heart rates at the very top of each climb:

  1. 175
  2. 177
  3. 178
  4. 180
  5. 177
  6. 180
I honestly don't think I could have pushed the 4th and last climb any harder, yet I was still 7 bpm off what I thought was my max heart rate.

That's when it occurred to me that the reason I have been pushing extra hard to get my heart rate up is because my zones are based on my max heart rate for running, not for walking. 

Sure enough, after some more research on the heart rate reserve method I am following, I confirmed the max heart rate, and therefore the zones, should be based on the sport you are training for.  If we take a triathlete for example, they would most likely have 3 different max heart rate values for running, swimming and cycling and therefore the zones they train in would differ for each sport.

So, my max running heart rate may be 187, but my max walking heart rate is 180.  Those 7 bpm make a huge difference to my zones:

Zone 1 (easy/recovery) drops from 127-140 down to 122-135 (average down from 133 to 129)
Zone 2 (endurance) drops from 140-154 down to 135-148 (average down from 146-142)
Zone 3 (Stamina) drops from 154-167 down to 148-161 (average down from 160 to 155)
Zone 4 (Hills/Intervals) drops from 167+ down to 160+

I will now start using these zones and see what difference it makes, but I'm hopeful it will make zone 1 and 2 feel slightly easier but still challenging.

In conclusion, if you are following this approach to training, it's essential that you calculate your zones using your own maximum heart rates for the sport you are doing and avoid using any of the estimated calculations such as 220 - age.

It doesn't take long to find a decent hill (not too steep) that takes 2-3 minutes to walk up and repeat 3 or 4 times, but make sure you really "give it the beans" on each climb, especially the last one.  If you can talk when you get to the top you didn't try hard enough !

Good luck !

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