It's All About Heart: How to Calculate Training Intensity Through Heart Rate Zones

When setting goals for training many athletes will take a random approach rather than a realistic fact based approach. This might be anything from setting unrealistic lofty goals for there current fitness level to setting goals that are far inferior to what they are capable of achieving. While setting time based goals is one approach for events such as qualifying for the Boston Marathon, heart rate based training can be an effective way to develop a realistic and current training plan. Athletes ranging from seasoned professionals to those wanting to just lose weight can equally benefit from such training.

The key to achieving such goals is to elevate your heart rate to the appropriate level so that it matches the specific intensity designed for each training session. While such equations such as 220 - minus your age are frequently used, we have found such equations to be highly inaccurate. A more effective method of determining your max heart rate and heart rate reserve is as follows:

Max Heart Rate

Athletes can use this plan based off of actual race times and perceived effort or from heart rate intensities. It is recommended that inexperienced athletes use the heart rate method to dial in intensities. Because equations that calculate heart rate can be unpredictable due to variability between individuals, we prefer to do performance based testing to get an accurate reading of the athlete’s max heart rate.

An effective workout to get an accurate reading would be would be to warm up thoroughly and then run three high intensity 600 meter repeats up a moderate hill, jogging back down right away after each one. If you run these 600s all out, your heart should be within 2-3 beats of its max by the end of the third repeat.

To calculate the proper heart rates for a workout using max heart rate, multiply your heart max rate by the appropriate percentage then add your resting heart rate. If your max heart rate was 188 bpm then the equation would be as follows.

Example: Max HR (188) X Long Run HR % (.74) = 139

If you do the same for the other end of the range that your training intensity for a long run (84%), then you get 158 bpm. Therefore, your heart rate training range should be between 139 -158 bpm on a long run.

Heart Rate Reserve

Heart rate reserve can be an even more accurate way of prescribing training intensities because it takes into account your max and resting heart rate. Your heart rate reserve is simply your max heart rate minus your resting heart rate, and reflects how much your heart rate can increase to provide more oxygen to your muscles. The most accurate time to check your resting heart rate is when you first wake up in the morning and are still lying in bed. Count how many times your heart beats per minute (bpm).

To calculate the proper heart rates for a workout using heart rate reserve, multiply your heart rate reserve rate (max HR – resting HR) by the appropriate percentage then add your resting heart rate.

Example: Max HR (188) – Resting HR (38) = 150 HR Reserve

HR Reserve (150) X Long Run HR Reserve % (.65) = 97.5

97.5 + Resting HR (38) = 135 bpm

If you do the same for the other end of the range that your training intensity for a long run (78%), then you get 155 bpm. Therefore, your heart rate reserve training range should be between 135 -155 bpm on a long run.

By utilizing the correct heart rate training within a properly develop training program, athletes will see greater performance improvemnt over time.

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