I will admit up front, it is only very recently that I started to fully understand the value of training with a heart rate monitor. I used one two years ago when I was training for the Mountain Goat Adventures trail run series but have generally avoided wearing one because I dislike having to wear and keep up with extra equipment. Keeping up with my iPod Nano has always been challenging enough-adding a special watch, chest strap and possibly a foot pod to the mix seemed more challenging than keeping up with my aussie’s chew toys.
In June, 2014 I will be running my first half marathon on a trail in the foothills of the Georgia Mountains. It was with this commitment that I decided I needed to not only train with a heart rate monitor but also fully understand the benefit of wearing one on all training days. On April 1st, I went to The Sports Factory in Alpharetta, Georgia, to have my cardiorespiratory fitness level tested by running on a treadmill while breathing into an oxygen mask that was connected to a machine. The machine is then able to predict my “VO2Max” or the maximal amount of oxygen that I can consume during intense exercise. VO2Max is important because it reflects the volume of oxygen used by my body to convert the food I eat into ATP. ATP is the energy source used by my muscles during exercise.
Simply put, the higher my VO2Max, the better the cardiorespiratory fitness I have. Cardiorespiratory fitness is one of the strongest predictors of premature death resulting from cardiovascular disease.
Let’s just say I was hoping mine tested high!
In addition to providing an indicator of overall cardiorespiratory health, VO2Max can also be used to determine the best training heart rates for each individual. Training in the proper “target zone” is valuable to increase performance and keep your body safe during long training sessions.
The test starts at a walk with o% incline of the treadmill platform. Each minute the tester increases the speed and incline. The process continues until my heart reached a plateau. It took my heart about 9 minutes to plateau and the test was over. I remained in the mask for 2 minutes so the machine could determine my rate of recovery.
From the information gathered by the machine, I learned that my Peak Heart Rate during the test was 169 beats per minute. What was interesting to learn is that maximum heart rate is not directly related to overall fitness. An elite athlete can have a low peak heart rate and a couch potato can have a high one. I had previously considered a high maximum heart rate a sign of increased health. I also learned that my Vo2Max is 44.9 ml/kg/min. At my age, that number places me in the superior category. Needless to say my heart jumped for cardiorespiratory joy when I received that news!
From the peak heart rate and the VO2Max, the machine was then able to calculate several important target zones that I can now use for my half marathon training.
My lactate threshold is 164 bpm. Lactate threshold is the threshold when you body can no longer eliminate lactic acid as fast as it is building in your body. An athlete really doesn’t want to train above this level and can’t maintain training at this heart rate for long before the body will fatigue and stop performing. When I run my half marathon, I now can pay close attention to this number to make sure I don’t fatigue too early in the race.
My Zone 2 Target Heart Rate-the zone I should train in for most of my endurance training is between 143-148. When I am training in this zone, my aerobic system is the primary system used in training. It is vital for distance athletes to concentrate on training the aerobic system because this system is the most efficient one for going long distances.
Since taking this test, I have been very particular in staying in this heart rate zone. My long runs have never felt better! My recovery has also improved since training in my own personal ‘sweet spot.’ Prior to taking this test, I learned that I had been spending most of my training time in the ‘grey zone’-a place that is too fast to properly condition my aerobic system yet too slow to be beneficial to my anaerobic system. No wonder I struggled in my last race just a few weeks ago!
Since the ability to take this test is not always convenient for everyone, there are several formulas available online to predict Heart Rate Training zones. While determining training zones with an online formula is not as accurate as a personalize Vo2 Peak Method test, there is still a great enough benefit if you are interested in improving your overall health and sports performance.
Endurance horseback riders have been concerned with Heart Rate Training Zones for decades. I can safely safe after running my first race over Garland Mountain-the same trails I have blazed ON my horse-I can understand why!