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13 Aug Heart Rate Training

Many people think of cardiovascular training as an afterthought to their weightlifting or tend to repeat the same 20-30 minutes of cardio at the same intensity. What they forget is, the heart is a muscle and like any other muscle, it adapts. What kind of results would you expect if you always performed a 20 pound curl at the same amount of sets and reps? Eventually your biceps would adapt and no change would occur. The heart is no different. No matter what your fitness goal is, you must change the time and intensity in your heart rate training in order to continue to progress.

In resistance training, the intensity is determined by the amount of weight lifted. In heart rate training the intensity is determined by percentage of a person’s maximum rate and time spent at that rate. There are four components to heart rate training: resting, recovery, anaerobic threshold and your max. All of this information is expressed in beats per minute or bpm.

Resting heart rate Make sure you have a watch or clock with a second hand that you can see in the dark when you awake. If not, wear a heart rate monitor. You must take your pulse before you sit up. The longer you take your pulse the more accurate it is. 60 seconds is more accurate than 30 seconds. A heart rate monitor will tell you right away.

Recovery heart rate This is how long it takes your heart to return to its resting heart rate or pre-exercise heart rate. An average person’s heart rate drops about 20 beats in a minute and an athletes’ drops much more, to about 50 beats a minute. Dr. Michael Lauer, a cardiologist and the director of clinical research in cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and his colleagues, found that people after exercise whose rates fell less than 12 beats within a minute had a fourfold increased risk of dying in the next six years compared with those whose dropped by 13 or more.

Max heart rate There is only one true way to determine this rate. You must run, swim, bike, climb, etc., until you can’t perform that activity any longer and then check your pulse. I recommend using a heart rate monitor. You’ll to need to be pretty motivated to reach a max heart rate. Dr. Kirkendall, an exercise physiologist at the University of North Carolina, finds it is hard to gauge maximum heart rates for people who are not used to exercising, because they will prematurely stop the test. “As the treadmill gets steeper and the exercise gets harder, their calves will ache. They will say they can’t go any further.”

There is an equation you can use to determine your max heart rate, but it isn’t alwaysaccurate as you will learn later in this article.

Anaerobic Threshold (AT) This is the heart rate at which your muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen. In sedentary people this threshold will occur at abut 50-60% of a person’s max heart rate. After training these levels could raise to approximately 75% of a person’s max heart rate and in elite athletes their AT can occur at 90% or greater. There are equations to determine this heart rate or threshold, which are based on a person’s max heart rate. However, if the method to determine the maximum heart rate is incorrect, then any number or amount of heart beats per minute based on that max heart rate will be also incorrect.

The only true way to determine a person’s AT is to do a VO2 test using respiratory exchange. In this assessment a person wears a mask with two tubes that measure the ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide through a flow meter as the person breathes during exercise. Based on the gas exchange the tester can scientifically determine when the subject has reached their anaerobic threshold. At this threshold (which is expressed in ml/kg/min) a person must now primarily rely on carbohydrates to provide energy as opposed to fat.

Maximum Heart Rate Challenged The formula for calculating maximum heart rate is 220-age. This equation has become a standard in cardiology, fitness programs and in the process, an entire industry has grown up around it. But is it accurate?

The formula was devised in 1970 by Dr, William Haskell and his mentor Dr. Samuel Fox who were then working for the Federal Public Health Service. At the time, they were trying to determine how strenuously heart disease patients could exercise. In preparation for a medical meeting, Dr. Haskell collected data from about 10 different published studies in which people of different ages had been tested to find their maximum heart rates. “The subjects were never meant to be a representative sample of the population,” said Dr. Haskell, who is now the professor of medicine at Stanford. “Most were under 55 and some were smokers.”

On an airplane traveling to the meeting, Dr. Haskell and Dr. Fox were reviewing the data. “We drew a line through the points and I said, ‘Gee, if you extrapolate that out it looks like at age 20, the heart rate maximum is 200 and at age 40 it’s 180 and at age 60 it’s 160,”‘ Dr. Haskell said. At that point Dr. Fox suggested a formula: maximum heart rate equals 220 minus age. “I’ve kind of laughed about it over the years,” Dr. Haskell said. “The formula was never supposed to be an absolute guide to rule people’s training. It’s typical of Americans to take an idea and extend it beyond what it was originally intended for.”

It wasn’t our fault entirely. Doctors urging heart patients to exercise wanted a way to gauge exercise intensity. Polar Electro Inc. of Oulu, Finland was selling 750,000 heart monitors a year in the United States citing the “220-age” formula as a guide for training. The formula entered into the medical literature and voila, we all just followed along.

I personally have a testimonial with a fellow trainer who wore my heart monitor while he raced his motocross bike. In two separate events, his max heart rate was above 230bpm with an average heart rate of 190+ bpm for over 30 minutes! He’s 37 years old, so I don’t think the equation would work out for this person.

Cardiac Output When comparing athletes, heart rate isn’t as important as cardiac output. Some people get blood delivered to their muscles by pushing out large volumes of blood. This is called stroke volume or the amount of blood pushed per heart beat. Others can accomplish the same thing by contracting their hearts at faster rates. Cardiac Output is the result of both the stroke volume and the amount of beats per minute.

Power Most important of all, in athletic ability is power. Regardless of how much blood is pumped or oxygen and carbon dioxide is released in expiration; efficiency is what counts in winning a race or a sport. There are many factors that contribute to power: genetics, muscle physiology and cardiovascular efficiency. If two athletes’ hearts are beating at 165 bpm but one is putting out 400 watts of power while the other is putting out 350 watts, guess who wins?

What to do? Find a place to do a VO2 max test and do it. If you can’t reach your max heart rate, at least you’ll learn your anaerobic threshold. This rate is an indicator of when your muscles start to run out of oxygen. Depending on your goal, you’ll now have a number expressed in beats per minutes. At this number your body becomes anaerobic which now depends more on carbohydrates for fuel rather than fat.

Now you can construct a plan.

Here’s a sample plan for a healthy 30-year-old male with a max rate of 196 bpm with an AT of 155 bpm. The goal is to strengthen his cardiovascular system: We’ll start low – moderate intensity for four weeks. The focus is longer time and more days a week. The second four weeks we add intensity but lower the amount of time per exercise bout. The goal here is to increase the interval time so your body gets used to the higher intensity. The last four weeks you can go for it. Increase the intensity which makes the intervals shorter.

Week 1-4 Perform cardio three – five days a week, 20-60 minutes at a heart rate under 155 bpm. Start at 20 minutes and by week four you should be at 60 minutes

Week 5-8 Perform cardio three – five a days a week for 20 – 30 minutes. Every other workout, perform three – five intervals of one or two minutes above 155 bpm. Each interval should be at a higher cardio rate then the previous interval, so start conservatively. Always warm-up for 5 minutes, then start your intervals. Rest the same amount of time between each interval for 1-1 ratio. For example, if you perform an interval for two minutes then rest or back off the intensity for two minutes before you start the next interval.

Week 9-12 Perform cardio three – five days a week for 30-45 minutes. Every other workout, perform five intervals of 30 seconds – three minutes each, above 170 bpm or 10% higher than the original AT of 155bpm. Each interval should be at a higher cardio rate or intensity then the previous interval. Rest the same 1-1 ratio between each interval.

At the end of 12 weeks re-take a V02 test. I think you’ll find your AT has now improved and you’ll be able to burn fat at a higher rate which keeps you leaner.

Now, repeat the 12 weeks with the new anaerobic threshold as the number to train your heart.

John Platero

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