Thursday, August 26, 2010

Understanding Heart Rate Zone Running

At first site it all appears a bit daunting and much easier just to run to a set  pace or a distance but in this brief post I just wanted to explore a little bit about using a heart rate monitor.

Benefits of using a Heart Rate Monitor 

  1.  Its fun. I am just 2-3 into using a heart rate monitor but as a training tool its providing me with a new sense of focus knowing that I am running according to my heart rate. Its actually fun to measure your progress in this way.
  2. Takes account of your current fitness levels.Measuring the work-rate of the heart is the most accurate method of determining how much benefit you are deriving from your workout. Having been out injured for some time I could have returned to training like a bull in a china shop but feel as if this approach is more measured based on my cardiovascular fitness. It is therefore helping me to avoid over or under training. Over training could have me injured for another frustrating period so could this be the answer? When I look back at my running spreadsheets all too often I repeated runs over the same routes and turned what should have been an easy run into a harder effort trying to shave off  a few seconds of my personal best for a course. Using the heart rate monitor to run at an easy pace is proving challenging to my ego ! It feels so slow but from what I am reading too many runners do their easy paced recovery runs at too fast a pace. This is equivalent to raiding the bodies energy larder depleting the glycogen store required to help you run faster training intervals. So far I have generally found that I have been training too hard when a session calls for any easy paced run. However the converse is also true for some of the faster paced sessions when I am called to run at a higher pace so the heart rate monitor also helps to avoid under training
  3. Helps you to lose Weight ! After not running for several months I put on a stone or 14 Ibs in weight. I carried on eating everything I had got used to eating when I was a runner. Chocolate , beer, wine and good food have been my undoing ! The heart rate monitor will tell you if you are not running hard enough to lose weight or actually training too hard to burn fat. Experts suggest exercising at a pace between 60-70% of your maximum heart rate for 30 minutes or more ( Blue Zone Running). to burn stored body fat.
  4. I have my own Coach!  Apart from trips to the running track when I run with a club I ru alone. But now using the Adidas miCoach I have my personal coach chipping in when I need to speed up or slow down.
  5. More Statistics! Don't you just love statistics most runners pore endless statistics detailing their running progress. Using the heart rate monitor you can finally fill in that coloumn in the spreadsheet that you previously ignored showing your average heart rate. Go on admit it, you skipped it!

Measuring your Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate is measured when you first wake up in the morning. I must admit I have never done it but doing this post may help me remember or perhaps even a note beside the bed to remind myself! It is quite common for a  resting heart rate to be around  50-60 beats a minute  but the really fit can be as low as 30 to 40 bpm. I will let you know mine when I remember to do it.

During the day time when you are sitting, relaxed your heart rate should be around 70 bpm for most of us. The lower the rate the better. Again the really fit will have lower heart rates in the 40's and 50 bpm range.

There are many formulas for calculating maximum heart rate but I like the one known  as the Age/Weight Predicted maximum Heart rate. Foruma 1

Males 210 minus half your age minus 5% of your body weight +4

Females 210 minus half your age minus 1% of your body weight +0

As a male aged 49 weighing 198lbs my calculation is 210 -24.5 (50% x 49 years) - 10 (5% of a 198lbs) +4 = 179.5 rounded up = 180 - my maximum heart rate

The maximum heart rate is a figure that you enter into the Adidas miCoach in the settings. It is self defined and when setting up the device I took the more commonly used measure for maximum heart rate Formula 2  which is 220 - age 49 giving me a max heart rate of 171. Quite a difference from the above formula 1 . With the adidas miCoach you can easily change the setting for the maximum heart rate or use the assesment runs to alter the heart rate zones for you.

A third formula is known as the Karvonen -  Formula 3 . This formula is considered to be more accurate as it is based on your resting heart rate so has some personal basis for its measure. It is used for determing your heart rate training zones .

The formula is Target heart-rate = % intensity X heart-rate reserve + resting heart-rate

Again my calculation is for a 49 year old with a resting heart rate of 68 and an age predicted maximum heart rate of 171 at an 80% intensity level of maximum heart rate

171 (age predicted max HR) - 69 resting heart rate = 102 is the resting heart rate reserve x .80 (intensity level) = 81.6 + resting heart rate 69 = 150 target heart rate. This is equivalent to the yellow zone running using the Adidas miCoach For other zones simply apply a different % figure.

Using the Adidas miCoach

Armed now with my Adidas Micoach I am using a heart rate monitor as my key method of training.

miCoach uses four personalized zones to help you gauge your efforts during your workouts. On my initial run with the miCoach I did an assessment workout. This puts you through your paces over a  12-minute workout and progresses you steadily from easy to hard efforts. A scale from 1 to 10 is used, with 10 being your personal maximum effort.  You start with a walk and then build up to an effort level 9 before finishing with a walk. and miCoach then measures and create your specific zones.

The zones are the building blocks for all workouts with miCoach. Each zone represents a level of effort: Blue is easy, Green is medium, Yellow is hard, Red is maximal. During workouts  simply follow the coaching, such as “Speed up to Green Zone.” You know Green is medium effort, but how does miCoach know you’re exercising at your medium effort? In order to coach you, miCoach measures how fast your heart is beating (Heart Rate) but you can choose pace if you so wish.

Your zones are expressed in heart rate ranges that are right for your body. Since your heart rate reflects how hard you’re working, this is a personal way to measure fitness.

My miCoach heart rate zones  based on maximum heart rate being 161 and initial asessment are currently

Red Zone                154-160 bpm
Yellow Zone            147-153 bpm
Green Zone            129-146 bpm
Blue Zone               113-128 bpm

Heart Rate coaching takes into account how you’re feeling each day. If you feel stressed or tired, your heart beats a little faster. As a result, you can run a little slower than usual while remaining in the zone. This helps prevent overtraining on days when you could use a break. Conversely, if you feel great, your heart rate will remain lower and you’ll be able to go faster while staying in the zone. Heart Rate also accounts for challenging terrain. If it’s hilly, for instance, you won’t need to run as fast to remain in the zone.

Red Zone 90-100 % of your max heart rate

This is the all out sprint or  "interval" training for short bursts only. It is not a training zone that has so far come up as part of the general training using the miCoach. I did touch on it during the initial assessment training as rquired by the miCoach. Its probably equivalent to do doing fast 400 metres intervals.

Yellow Zone 80-90 % of your max heart rate

This is known as the anaerobic threshold where you feel the "burn". This is hard paced running.
By increasing your heart rate as you cross from aerobic to anaerobic get fitter and faster but you can only maintain this pace for limited amount of time because anaerobic means without sufficient oxygen.

Green Zone 70-80% of your max heart rate 

This is known as the aerobic threshold and is a comfortable paced run where you can run for long periods of time as a result your heart and lung capacity are all improved . You burn fats and carbohydrates at the same rate

Blue Zone 60-70% of your max heart rate 

This is equivalent to the jogging zone in my book. However is valuable as a recovery run and burns fat . Up to 85% of calories burned in this zone are said to be fat calories depending on your level of fitness.

I am still a beginner when it comes to running with a heart rate monitor and in many of my runs my results show that I have only achieved 50-60% of my time running in the right zone. This is part of my education trying to run to the zone.

My run today was an interval session which included 6 intervals in the yellow and green zone and the rest of the time blue zone running for a total of 25 minutes. My average heart rate was 139.

Anyone else using the heart rate monitor methord?


  1. Wow, lots of info. I used to be better about training with my HR as a tool but lately I have not been. I know I need to slow down on my recovery runs because right now my avg Hr is 165+ and not 125-146 like it should be :-/ I feel like I would have to walk to keep it that low! I know part of it is me being out of shape but I should be more attentive to my HR. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I thought the various formulae used 220 rather than 210.

    However any formula is unreliable for any individual person. It is a bit like saying the average trouser length is 31, therefore everybody has 31 inch trousers. You really have to test yourself to find your own MHR.

  3. Thanks Lindsay I think it would come as a shock to manny runners who don't use a HRM just how high their average Hr is and perhaps need to slow down on their easy runs

  4. Thanks Highway Kind - Age Weight Formula 1 above uses 210 but the other two I have shown use 220 thanks for pointing this out.

    You are right that we are all individuals hence I have allowed the mi coach pacer to determine my heart rate zones based on an assessment run - I can repeat the asessment run when I wish so hopefully with improved fitness my zones can change.

    As a beginner to using heart rate zones I think the formulas give you a starting point for your training.

  5. Duane9:33 pm

    I agree with Lindsay. I am 60 and 180 lbs. Pretty fit by most standards. However when I run on a treadmill for 20 min my heart rate is about 153 for most of the time. My target running zone ought to be about 135. I would be walking for sure to average 135. My resting HR is 55. Go figure. I have been doing weights and treadmill every other day for about 3 months. Can anyone comment about what I should or should not be doing? Am I running too fast?

  6. Fantastic explanation Paul, very helpful indeed. My only problem is I don't have a heart rate monitor! Nice blog as well. One of the lads from the club put me onto this, very interesting and better than mine! Well done


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