Heart Rate training 

If you’re thinking about having a go at training to your heart rate, below is a guide to give you everything you need to know and how training to your heart rate will help your fitness.

‘Heart rate training’ uses your heart rate or beats per minute (bpm) as a guide to reaching a certain intensity in an activity. Instead of training at a specific pace, you use a heart rate monitor to train at a specific effort level for a set amount of time. This type of training can work for many activities including running, cycling and swimming. The benefit of heart rate training is that you can train your aerobic system without over stressing your skeletal and muscular systems. It is a great tool to help you with your training making sure that you:

  • Train at correct intensity for aerobic development
  • Train at correct intensity for anaerobic development
  • Spend the right amount of time training in certain training zones (see below!)
  • Take appropriate recovery intervals
  • Avoid overtraining and injury

The beauty of the heart rate training is that it is unique to you and is based in your own heart capacity. Two people with the same age can have completely different heart rate zones and maximum heart rate depending on their physiology. It is essential that you find out your correct maximum heart rate. Unfortunately few of us will have access to university labs to have our maximum heart rate tested but here’s a simple little test that can give you a good indication of your maximum heart rate:

1. Warm up with a nice easy jog for about 1 mile.
2. Run 400m as hard as you can.
3. Take your heart rate at the end of 400m.
4. Rest for 2 minutes by easy jog or walk
5. Run 400 m as hard as you can.
6. Take your heart rate at the end of 400m.
7. Run another 400m as hard as you can.
8. Take your heart rate once more. This should be your highest heart rate and closest to your true maximum heart rate.

(To find take your heart rate, find your pulse in your wrist or neck using your fingers, not your thumb, and count the heart beats over 1 minute. Watch this video for more information on how to do this)

Once you have established your maximum heart rate the calculations for different zones are easy:

To get 65% of your maximum heart rate simply multiply your maximum heart rate with 0.65. For example, your maximum heart rate comes up as 185, therefore 65% of your maximum heart rate would be 185×0.65= 120

Now to explain the different heart rate zones and percentages and why they matter. Our body adapts to different training stimuli – different heart rate zones ensure that we train our body to respond appropriately to the training/workout effort.  Here’s a table to show how it works:

HR zones table

So what does it all mean in real terms?

For the best endurance exercise performance it is normally necessary to train all the different energy disciplines but depending on your distances you may need to concentrate more on certain aspects. For example, a marathon runner will benefit greatly from sprint training as a form of strength training but majority of their training should be done in muscular endurance and stamina range combining both aerobic and anaerobic systems.

Below is a simple example of a sample heart rate and it’s zones, and how they should be related to different running distances and different training aims.

Heart Rate zone

To summarise, using your heart rate is a simple and effective way to get the most out of your training. For a time-crunched athlete, heart rate training is a good way to train smart and not long. For everyone else, it might be just that extra something that can help them to achieve better results and make training more enjoyable.

Get our Love SwimRun training plan here.

Written by Merilin Sikk, experienced personal trainer & MSc Sports Therapy. 27/01/2017