Running in heart rate zones

Fitness expert Lani Muelrath, M.A., has over 30 years of experience as teacher, coach, and trainer, and maintains multiple credentials and certifications in physical fitness and exercise.

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Running in heart rate zones

Postby Spiral » Tue Dec 20, 2011 7:50 am

Lani,

I started running a little over one year ago and participating in numerous 5k races. I have run in about 12 races overall, including a 10k and a few 5 mile races.

I signed up for a half-marathon which will be in May of next year.

My aunt and uncle, as a Christmas present, purchased me an online coach and training plan to prepare me for the event. The online coach has assigned me heart rate zones. These zones are calculated by my average heart rate from my most recent 5k race. So, on certain days, I am supposed to run in heart rate zone of 108-126. On other days, between 131-141.

Does this seem too artificial and constraining to you? It does to me. :(

I would rather go for a system where I simply "run slow" one day and "run moderate" the next, without getting into the numbers of heart rate zones.

Do you think that a coach, who has never seen me in person, can, using a software program, determine specific heart rate zones, which will provide optimal training? I think not. But my aunt and uncle are encouraging me to go ahead and follow my coach's advice. My aunt and uncle do olympic tri-athalons on a regular basis. They have enjoyed success with this coaching team that they hired for me.

Problem is that my coach has shuffled my target heart rate zones twice in less than a month, after I told him that my heart rate zones forced me to run too slow, as slow as a snail. Now, the information I have provided him, from my recent races, has not changed. But my coach has given me, up until now, 3 different sets of heart rate zones. So, I'm questioning the validity of these zones.

Also, compliance with these heart rate zones sort of takes the fun out of running. I would be willing to sacrifice some fun in the short term if it would mean, long term, better results. Sort of like in nutrition. :D

So, tell me your opinion. Are these heart rate zones to be put in the category of protein supplements and bee pollen? Is it more gimmick than science? What do you think?

Thanks.
“If you step back and look at the data, the optimum amount of red meat you eat should be zero.” -Walter Willett, M.D.

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Re: Running in heart rate zones

Postby sharonbikes » Tue Dec 20, 2011 4:42 pm

In my experience with bike riding training, I have found heart rate training to be very effective. When I first started using a heart rate monitor I thought how can this work, I can do so much more. But, what I quickly learned is that paying attention to my zones made a HUGE difference in my progress and training. Of course, I am a charts and graphs kind of gal -- I enjoy watching the numbers and having that visual confirmation that I am working out at the right pace is rewarding for me. I learned a lot about my perceptions of what my actual workout pace differed from reality. My first bike ride with my heart rate monitor I took just a leisurely "let's try this out" ride and was amazed at how I self-regulated to keep my heart rate at the same rate.

I suggest you talk with your coach about your concerns and see what can be resolved. Give it a try, and see how it goes. It may turn out it is not for you, but give it a chance and you may learn some interesting things about yourself!

What a marvelous and supportive gift to receive!

Sharon
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Re: Running in heart rate zones

Postby Spiral » Tue Dec 20, 2011 6:17 pm

sharonbikes wrote:In my experience with bike riding training, I have found heart rate training to be very effective. When I first started using a heart rate monitor I thought how can this work, I can do so much more. But, what I quickly learned is that paying attention to my zones made a HUGE difference in my progress and training. Of course, I am a charts and graphs kind of gal -- I enjoy watching the numbers and having that visual confirmation that I am working out at the right pace is rewarding for me. I learned a lot about my perceptions of what my actual workout pace differed from reality. My first bike ride with my heart rate monitor I took just a leisurely "let's try this out" ride and was amazed at how I self-regulated to keep my heart rate at the same rate.

I suggest you talk with your coach about your concerns and see what can be resolved. Give it a try, and see how it goes. It may turn out it is not for you, but give it a chance and you may learn some interesting things about yourself!

What a marvelous and supportive gift to receive!

Sharon

I think I would like it if the heart rate zones weren't so low. The recovery heart rate zone doesn't really allow me to run in a natural way. I can't lift my feet up off of the ground very much at all or else my heart rate will go up past the upper limit of the zone. With the zone 1 heart rate zone, my average heart rate ends up at the very upper end of the zone if I run at what I consider to be a very relaxed pace. But if I don't pay attention, I end up with an average heart rate that is 7 to 9 beats higher than the upper limit.

It is a great gift. I just wish it was enjoyable rather than a pain.
“If you step back and look at the data, the optimum amount of red meat you eat should be zero.” -Walter Willett, M.D.

Check out my Plant Positive Journal at Plant Positive Journal
or
my blog indyspiral.wordpress.com
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Re: Running in heart rate zones

Postby Lani Muelrath » Tue Dec 20, 2011 10:47 pm

Spiral wrote:Lani,

I started running a little over one year ago and participating in numerous 5k races. I have run in about 12 races overall, including a 10k and a few 5 mile races.

I signed up for a half-marathon which will be in May of next year.

My aunt and uncle, as a Christmas present, purchased me an online coach and training plan to prepare me for the event. The online coach has assigned me heart rate zones. These zones are calculated by my average heart rate from my most recent 5k race. So, on certain days, I am supposed to run in heart rate zone of 108-126. On other days, between 131-141.

Does this seem too artificial and constraining to you? It does to me. :(

I would rather go for a system where I simply "run slow" one day and "run moderate" the next, without getting into the numbers of heart rate zones.

Do you think that a coach, who has never seen me in person, can, using a software program, determine specific heart rate zones, which will provide optimal training? I think not. But my aunt and uncle are encouraging me to go ahead and follow my coach's advice. My aunt and uncle do olympic tri-athalons on a regular basis. They have enjoyed success with this coaching team that they hired for me.

Problem is that my coach has shuffled my target heart rate zones twice in less than a month, after I told him that my heart rate zones forced me to run too slow, as slow as a snail. Now, the information I have provided him, from my recent races, has not changed. But my coach has given me, up until now, 3 different sets of heart rate zones. So, I'm questioning the validity of these zones.

Also, compliance with these heart rate zones sort of takes the fun out of running. I would be willing to sacrifice some fun in the short term if it would mean, long term, better results. Sort of like in nutrition. :D

So, tell me your opinion. Are these heart rate zones to be put in the category of protein supplements and bee pollen? Is it more gimmick than science? What do you think?

Thanks.


Spiral,

Though I am familiar with utilizing heart rate as part of an aerobic fitness training program, I haven't heard of a distance program quite like this. The question that comes immediately to mind for me is what else does your coach know about your health, fitness, any contraindications, or other needs?

The way to increase your aerobic capacity, that is your ability to work at higher intensities while still exercising aerobically, is to push the heart rate training zones. Yet without knowing more about the training program you are referring to per se, I'm not sure what the bigger picture is.

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Re: Running in heart rate zones

Postby Spiral » Wed Dec 21, 2011 4:24 am

Lani Muelrath wrote:Spiral,

Though I am familiar with utilizing heart rate as part of an aerobic fitness training program, I haven't heard of a distance program quite like this. The question that comes immediately to mind for me is what else does your coach know about your health, fitness, any contraindications, or other needs?

The way to increase your aerobic capacity, that is your ability to work at higher intensities while still exercising aerobically, is to push the heart rate training zones. Yet without knowing more about the training program you are referring to per se, I'm not sure what the bigger picture is.

Lani

Lani,

You know what? There really isn't much more to know about the training program. :)

Well, okay. I'll describe it some more. This virtual coach has never met me in person. But I did have to fill out a questionaire regarding my health and my running history. I provided this coach a description of each of the 12 or so races I have run in since I started running about one year ago, including how fast I ran in those races and my average heart rate in those races.

From this information, they estimate my "lactic threshold" and from there determine the heart rate zones I should run in.

I have noticed, by visiting the coach's forum, that other runners who have signed up with this coaching group are also a little confused about why they are being asked to run slower than they have in years in order to keep their heart rates in these "zones" based on this formula that the coaches use.

Most days of the week there is a type of run assigned to me.

About 2 or 3 times per week I am assigned a recovery run in which the target heart rates are very low (from my perspective), in the 108-126 beats per minute range. I decided to find out how slow I would have to run in order to stay in this heart rate zone a few days ago.

I found out that I had to take awkward tiny steps in order to keep my heart rate from going past the upper limit (126 beats per minute) of the recovery zone.

Also, a about 2 or 3 times per week I am assigned a Zone 1 run. This means I am an to run so that my heart rate falls in the 131-141 beats per minute range.

This zone is a bit more comfortable for me. I can actually "run" in this zone. But slower than I would run if I were just to do a "take it easy run" and not focus on my heart rate at all.

I believe that the "selling point" behind this sort of training is that by doing lots of running at these low heart rates, I will eventually be able to run significantly faster at these low heart rates. Then, when I want to run even faster than that, I can run faster at an even faster heart rate, in zone 2 perhaps (141-151 beats per minute) or in an actual race, an even higher heart rate.

In theory, I think this idea makes sense. Back when I started running I made the mistake of trying to set a personal record every time I went out to run. Every day was race day.

The theory is that a runner gets faster, not by running as fast as one can everytime one puts running shoes on, but by running for longer periods of time. Long, slow, relaxed runs are the way to go. I agree.

But these heart rate zones are uncomfortablely low and I am skeptical as to whether someone in another part of the country who has never seen me at all can punch a few numbers into a software program and determine the heart rate ranges in which I should run. In other words, am I just being a stubborn running student? Or are these coaches using a program that can't possibly provide a good fit to all runners under all circumstances?

I have read that relying on a runner's perception of exertion is unreliable too. Maybe so.

To be honest, my mind is made up. I am not going to be constrained by these heart rates zones, though I am not going to be sprinting every time I run either.

But I wondered what you think of this sort of program. Does it seem like pseudo-science to you? Maybe it's an unfair question because, as you mentioned, you haven't been personally acquainted with it and are only hearing about it from my description of it.
“If you step back and look at the data, the optimum amount of red meat you eat should be zero.” -Walter Willett, M.D.

Check out my Plant Positive Journal at Plant Positive Journal
or
my blog indyspiral.wordpress.com
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Re: Running in heart rate zones

Postby Lani Muelrath » Wed Dec 21, 2011 6:29 am

I believe that the "selling point" behind this sort of training is that by doing lots of running at these low heart rates, I will eventually be able to run significantly faster at these low heart rates.


Running long slow distance at low heart rates trains you to do long slow distance at low heart rates. You would become more conditioned so that if you kept up the same pace, you would probably see a heart rate drop at those same paces - that's the result of training. You are saying then that if you start running faster, you'd be able to have a lower heart rate than prior to training? Thus transferring the conditioning at the slower pace to a faster pace?

Has this company supplied you with research for their program? It seems it would be very motivational to you if they provided a better understanding of the process. Perhaps they did.

My first impression of the very-low-heart rate days was that they provided you with active rest, but that isn't how you ended up describing it.

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Re: Running in heart rate zones

Postby Spiral » Wed Dec 21, 2011 9:26 am

Lani Muelrath wrote:Running long slow distance at low heart rates trains you to do long slow distance at low heart rates. You would become more conditioned so that if you kept up the same pace, you would probably see a heart rate drop at those same paces - that's the result of training. You are saying then that if you start running faster, you'd be able to have a lower heart rate than prior to training? Thus transferring the conditioning at the slower pace to a faster pace?

My first impression of the very-low-heart rate days was that they provided you with active rest, but that isn't how you ended up describing it.

Lani

The recovery zone runs are designed for active rest. The zone 1 runs are designed to develop aerobic capacity. I guess my problem with both is . . . . . well, let me give you an example.

I just finished running 9 miles. This is the third time I have gone out to the State Park nearby and run 9 miles in the mid-morning hours. I didn't worry about heart rate or pace. I just tried to do a long slow run. I ran the 9 miles with an average heart rate of 145. I didn't get close to being tired out. Maybe a little climbing the steepest grade of the paved trail. But for the most part, I was taking it easy.

The virtual coach would say to me that I should have kept my heart rate in the zone 1 heart rate zone, between 131-141 beats per minute, during the entire run. Considering that I averaged 145 beats per minute, I didn't come close.

I think this is evidence that their "plug in some numbers and retrieve heart rate zones" methodology might not apply to all levels of runners in all circumstances. They would probably say that runner perception of exertion is misleading.

Lani Muelrath wrote:Has this company supplied you with research for their program? It seems it would be very motivational to you if they provided a better understanding of the process. Perhaps they did.


I have had some back and forth on the coach's forum about the heart rate zones. Many runners have griped about the heart rate zones being too low.

I appreciate you taking the time to handle my questions even though you aren't in a great position to answer, since the details are fuzzy. Well, they are a little fuzzy to me too.

I figure, who cares is my heart rate was 145 and outside the zone. It was great fun, I covered the distance and I am not all worn out.
“If you step back and look at the data, the optimum amount of red meat you eat should be zero.” -Walter Willett, M.D.

Check out my Plant Positive Journal at Plant Positive Journal
or
my blog indyspiral.wordpress.com
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Re: Running in heart rate zones

Postby Mober » Mon Jan 09, 2012 8:59 am

Usually formulas are based on max heart rate and a simple age based equation. I have read a number of forums that the reason the max heart rate in the equation declines as you age is trying to take into account declining vessel health etc amongst other macro things due to age. Almost all equations use some rule of thumb for general public. Of course if you go in and have a maximal stress test or have trainers that can measure your lactate thresholds etc, then the number ranges would probably be more accurate. And a lot of pro's and hard core swear by heart rate training (although I think its maybe because its a way to keep them from running hard all the time, a way to slow them down on some days!). I personally only get my HR near maximal when with my cardiologist.

Personally when I started with HRMs I noticed the same thing, the programs all called for too low a heart rate or else I guess I wasnt fit enough. I never figured it out. What I ended up doing is use the HRM to track and then perform the workouts based on how they describe how you should feel (aka perceived exertion). If they say you should be able to hold a conversation thats zone 1 for example then I run like that and record my heart rate. I have been looking for it for a while but I recall seeing on a website a while ago an easy way to determine your zone by how you repeat the gettysburg address to yourself (easy was zone 1, phrases zone 2, spitting a word out between breathes or not be able to at all were the higher zones I think). Wish I could find that!
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