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Top 3 Ways To Gauge Training Intensity and Performance

Today all too often athletes overexert themselves during their training and life in general. Rather, than taking into account life’s stresses and demands, they push past barriers, ignoring signs of overtraining, injuries, and burn out. Furthermore, many go into workouts with no specific goal for that individual workout. By engineering a program with goal specific training intensities that works in unison with the their lifestyle, the modern athlete can both avoid setbacks in training and have a healthy work/life balance.

Running intensity is defined as how hard the body is working relative to how hard the body is capable of working. To get the most from each workout, athletes need to monitor the varying intensities specific to different workouts. Often athletes will push too hard on easy days and then when a scheduled hard day comes up, they are too fatigued to complete the hard day as designed. By utilizing the following three ways to gauge training intensities during workouts, athletes can see the biggest gains over a training cycle.


Unlike heart rate and perceived effort, pace, which is calculated as time over distance, measures the performance output of the effort you are putting in. This makes it a reliable indicator of intensity because the if you are running faster, it can only be because your body is working harder. Furthermore, pace is the truest gauge of performance because this is how most events are measured, through time. When you compete, your pace determines your finish time. There are not awards given out for perceived effort or heart rate. Pace is also a great way to gauge your fitness. If your times get faster as training progresses, then it means training is going well. If your pace does not improve, then it means something is wrong.

Heart Rate

Heart rate is a great way for athletes to learn the proper intensities that they should be hitting during workouts. The link between the activity of the heart muscle and the activity of the skeletal muscles exists because the harder your skeletal muscles are working, the more oxygen they need, and the faster your heart is beating, the more oxygen rich blood is circulated through the body.

Another benefit to heart rate training is that it takes into account variables such as age, fitness level, fatigue, and other factors to keep you working at the appropriate intensity level according the to stresses the external environment has placed on your body. For example, if you did not get much sleep the night before a workout, then the next day your heart rate levels may be artificially high because you are tired. Therefore your pace will be slower but you will still be working at the appropriate intensity. This is a great tool to prevent overtraining. Professional marathoner Paula Ratcliff, would use heart to gauge her long and aerobic runs while using pace and perceived effort for her lactate threshold and interval workouts.

Perceived Effort

Perceived effort is defined as how hard you feel you are working during a workout. Most athletes think that perceived effort is a way to gauge how hard your body is working, but it actually is a way to gauge how hard your mind is working. In other words, it is the brains perception of its own effort, not the body’s. The harder the brain is driving the muscles, the more intense the effort. For example, if you are operating within your designated heart rate zone you may feel that you are working harder than you actually are because you are more mentally fatigued as the workout progresses. Athletes can try using perceived effort to establish the appropriate intensity at the start of their workouts and then rely on pace and heart rate to maintain that intensity as fatigue gradually sets in. Still, you should always allow perceived effort to have the final say as it is a holistic way to gauge how the body and mind are feeling.

By utilizing these three methods to gauge training intensity, athletes can get the most out of their training while preventing injuries and overtraining. To learn more and to get customized training programs, check out the Ultra Expeditions website:

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