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July 26, 2018

3 Basics of Heart Rate Training [for beginners]

Learn to Integrate Heart Rate Training into Your Workouts

Training based on your heart rate or using your heart rate as feedback during workouts is UH-MAZING and has potential to take your training to the next level.  There seems to be a misconception that heart rate training is for conditioning and cardio only.  I am here to clear that up today.  Your heart gives you feedback no matter what type of exercise you’re doing.

My life was changed when I discovered Joel Jamieson’s “Ultimate MMA Conditioning” book. You can get yours here. But first, let’s discuss why I have used a heart rate monitor for the past five years in my strength training and conditioning.

From 2012-2014 I had the amazing experience of working with the Athletic Performance Department at University of Portland where I interned as a Strength and Conditioning Coach.

We trained athletes based on individual heart rate zones. For instance if we were running sprints, the goal would be to hit a certain heart rate percentage (maximal). Then that athlete didn’t get to sprint again until their heart rate recovered to the programmed recovery percentage. This way, all athletes were training on the same percentages and targeting the same energy systems.

Why? Because we could have them run 6x25m shuttles, and rest for 2 minutes. But some athletes would technically be ready to go sooner than that two minutes, while others were not properly recovered yet. So you’re holding some athletes back, while pushing others beyond their limit. Not optimal for either athlete. You follow? Heart rate training offers a new level of efficiency to your workouts.

Learn how to get started with using a heart rate monitor

There’s my background in heart rate training, now let’s dig in to how you can get started. 

As far as brands go, Polar is hands down the best. We’re not even talking about it, okay?  Get the watch and chest strap and get to applying these three basics.

I have used four different polar models over the course of five years. My latest a370 is the fanciest by far but for the sake of this specific post, ANY Polar watch will give you accurate readings when paired with the chest strap. That’s what you really need to get started.

First up.

Know your ranges 

Remember I am speaking specifically about Polar Watches today. You’ll enter your data (age, training, weight, etc), and then you’ll have ranges based on percentages of your max heart rate.

There are five ranges (based on my heart rate monitor – ranges may have small variance)

Generally speaking, these are the five ranges:

  1. Maximal (90-100%) – anaerobic – little to no oxygen happening here – welcome to the red zone.
  2. Threshold (81-89%) – on the verge of anaerobic.
  3. Tempo (70-80%) – aerobic, heart rate is up, but not hitting threshold or maximal levels.
  4. Steady state (60-69%) – aerobic, walking and easily having conversation.
  5. Recovery (<59%) – can we even call this exercise?

As you use your heart rate monitor, you’ll get to know your ranges. If you use the A370, the ranges are color coated to it’s very easy to recognize where you’re at during a lift.  These ranges give you valuable feedback. They let you know how much time you spent in each zone. Which leads me to points two and three.

Pay attention to recovery

How quickly does your heart recover from maximal and threshold zones? Ideally you want to get 50 beats below the max heart rate you reached during maximal or threshold zones within ONE minute. If it’s taking you longer than that, you know you need to work on your recovery game (which Joel’s book teaches you all about).

The above is in regards to immediate recovery DURING A WORKOUT. But these percentages and ranges also give you feedback in the sense of long term recovery and over training. You’ll start to learn your typical ranges for certain types of lifts. For instance, during my glute warm up, I know I hit the threshold range, and then maximal during working sets (lifting heavy with low rest periods). On upper body dominant days, I hang out in the tempo range.  SO, if I am going through a workout and my heart rate is not getting up OR it’s raising way quicker than normal, I know these can both be signs of over training, or possibly starting to get sick.

Having the data and knowing your ranges gives you simple and USABLE feedback. You’d otherwise being guessing or completely ignorant.

Now let’s apply the ranges.

3 basics of using a heart rate monitor

Change it up – Stick to ONE TYPE for the day

So you’ve got your ranges. NOW TRAIN IN THEM! Instead of paring steady state cardio with a high intensity leg day, pair that low intensity cardio with a lower intensity workout. It’s fun to try and organize your ENTIRE workout around hitting one or two ranges. That way you have high intensity days, medium, and low intensity days; rather than being all over the place every day.  You’ll be training specific energy systems if you stick to a set of ranges per workout. Yay science.

This is all in regards to general fitness and learning the basics.  From here you can dive into how to optimize your heart function and recovery through implementing interval training INTO your strength supersets. This is my absolute favorite and what I personally use.  More on that later.

For now, here is a link to my favorite Polar Watch (the A370) and chest strap.

You can also find Joel Jamieson’s book here if you’re eager to dive in. It is an easy read and VERY easy to apply the training techniques. Don’t let the “MMA” throw you off. It’s all about heart rate training – duh, what MMA fighter doesn’t need amazing conditioning?

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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.

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