Crash Course Coaching – How To Train With Heart Rate

Oh my, yesterday I was a busy bee. I went to school and wrote a couple of lessons, cleaned my whole house minus the bathroom, did three loads of laundry, grocery shopping, food prep, and attempted to workout. I wanted to ride my bike but the forecast called for rain and the skies were filled with dark clouds. So I headed off to the gym for a spin and lift. Cue five minutes into my spin, my ipod dies. Wahwah. I ended up only doing 20 minutes in zone 2 and no lifting because I wasn’t in the mood to deal with the silent gym. The students are gone for the holiday weekend so it was just me and old people on recumbent bikes bantering about old people stuff. And wouldn’t you believe it never rained. I should have just braved it and taken Finley out for a 20 mile cruise. The temperature was perfect for riding. Big swing and a miss.

And speaking of my ipod, I turned on itunes homesharing and it’ll allow me to plug in my ipod and pull it up and see the library. I can download to my new itunes library then bounce it right over to my ipod under the “on this ipod” tab. I’m still going to try and figure out how to move my library over so I don’t have to toggle between two different ones, but for now this allows me to at least see, add, and move music around without losing anything. In order not to lose everything though I have to keep my itunes settings on “manually manage music” otherwise it will wipe out my ipod and synch it with the six songs I already own instead. Temporary win. Still merits a call to apple this week though. Ugh.

Anyways, enough about me and my constant whining about my mundane life woes. With Tri Talk Tuesday on hiatus, I thought I’d still go ahead and bring you some triathlony goodness today. Well, not so tri specific, but really general training specific.


Yes, heart rate. Let’s chat a bit here.

Training with heart rate has it’s pros and cons, like any type of training regiment. Training by heart rate is a great way to train for endurance and even to some degree, speed. However, it’s important to know that HR training is not perfect because it has an effort versus reaction lag. What does that mean and how can you train with heart rate?

Imagine you are going to run sprints as part of a speed workout. Sprint intervals are typically written in time intervals. So you may run 10×30 second full effort sprints. In this case, 30 seconds is the amount of time you spend sprinting. If it was written as say, 10xHRZ5, you’re sprint lengths would vary greatly. You start sprinting and you body immediately shifts to full effort output, but your heart takes a bit of time to catch up. It’ll take a little time for it to beat fast enough to break you into zone 5 for your HR. But the more you run, the higher your rate is, it won’t drop quite as much during the rest intervals, and your sprints become shorter because your heart doesn’t have as high of a beat count to jump up. And inconsistent intervals aren’t going to translate to improvement as well as those 10×30 second intervals will.

Now the important thing with heart rate training is having accurate heart rate zones. You can find out your zones in a number of ways. One way is to go to a sports clinic and have a lactic threshold test done, which is done on a treadmill with an air mask over your mouth to track your lactic output and determine when your body reaches it’s threshold limit.

Another way to test this is to run the test yourself using a heart rate monitor. You can follow these instructions on the beginner triathlete website to correctly run the test both for running and cycling to find your heart rate zones. For this one you need to already have a heart rate monitor to use.

The easiest way to do this is to race a 5k wearing a heart rate monitor. Run the race as hard as you can, but without crashing at the end. You should race strong the entire time, but after the finish you should be gassed. Take your max heart rate for the race, your resting heart rate, and plug it into this calculator to get your training zones. There is a math formula you can use to do the math by hand, but this lovely calculator does it for you. If you want to formula though, shoot me an email, and I can help you find your custom training zones that way.

And you should retest your heart rate zones roughly every season. The last time I tested my heart rate zones was in the spring after I spent the winter base building and was in great shape heading into Ironman Syracuse training. So I used my most recent 5k time to redo my hear rate zones so they’ll be accurate for my race this weekend.

Once you have your zones you can start to train using them. Zone 1 is a recovery zone. Zone 2 is your endurance zone and all your long runs and rides should be done in Z2. This builds strength and endurance with minimal effort. This is what enables people to run long, at faster speeds, with the least amount of effort. It may seem slow and awful running in Z2 the first few times, but seriously stick it out. It does have results and you will see them. You just have to muscle through and first few slow, boring runs in zone 2.

Zone 3 is your threshold zone. This is where you’ll do pacing runs and tempo runs at. Zones 4 and 5 are zones that are used for speed training and sometimes where you may race for shorter races like 5k’s. For long races like half and full distance iron or marathon races you’ll generally spend most of your time in zone 2.

So there’s the basics of finding your heart rate zones and how to incorporate them into your training. There are loads of HR based training workouts and plans out there, but if you want more information on it you can contact me here and I’ll be happy to share some more insight.

Have you trained with heart rate before?

What other insight can you add to the discussion on training with heart rate? 

8 Replies to “Crash Course Coaching – How To Train With Heart Rate”

  1. Great post! As someone that trains every single workout based on HR zones, I am a big advocate for this type of training. My coach designs my workouts based on heart rate zones ( ZR (recovery), Z1, Z2 and rarely Z3). Most of my Ironman training was actually zone at Zone 1, with the exception of sprint and tempo workouts, which were done in Zone 2. This is because the Ironman is raced at a Zone 1 (think about it as a level 4 out of 10). Heart rate zones are VERY specific to the individual, for example, my Zone 1 might be a Zone R or Zone 2 for someone else. It also depends on the race you doing, i.e. a 5K will be maxed out effort. There is A LOT to think about when it comes to heart rate, but it gets easier with practice. I would recommend to anyone that is thinking of training for a Triathlon/Marathon based on heart rate, to consult a coach and do a a ‘HR test’ like you mention. You need to know your zones or else training with HR is kind of pointless:)
    Kristin (@SweatCourage) recently posted…Lil’ Training Update + I love Fall!My Profile

    1. So glad you chimed in! I remember you talking in your IM recap about your hear rate based racing strategy.

      It’s interesting that your coach has it set up for ZR, Z1, Z2, and Z3. I was always taught 1-5, but there’s definitely a big difference in heart training for long course versus short.

      Great information to add, thank you!

    1. I’m hoping to incorporate it more this season. If you try it out let me know how it goes!

  2. This is really great info, thanks for sharing! I’ve heard of heart rate training but it seemed a lot more complicated until you broke it down. I can see how it would be a little more difficult to track than traditional 10×30 sprints though. I’m going to attempt an Olympic distance tri next year so I’d like to do one of those lactate-threshold tests!
    Ariana recently posted…You Know You’re a Runner When….My Profile

    1. Olympic is the perfect distance! Throw some HR based training workouts onto your training plan and you should be set up for a great race, no matter the distance.

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