Tag Archives: Heart rate zones

Train smart! Auto regulating your training

For most of us when we train we use a predetermined load to dictate intensity. For endurance type training we may use split times or wattages. Strength athletes may use % of 1 rep max (1RM) This all ensures we are working within the desired ranges to get the most progress. As technology becomes more accessible we are relying on the numbers from our training more and more. This is partly because our scientific knowledge is improving and partly because we are now quite a tech savy society who like gadgets and gizmos. For the most part it is good that we can organize and be more accurate with our training.

Human nature often takes us to the extreme. The numbers can become a dictator rather than a guide. Many athletes become bogged down in the numbers. If they fail to hit a certain target on a given day the session is a disaster. This can do strange things for motivation. Some may become despondent and others become frantic in making up for failure. A panicked athlete tends to make strange moves and this can have a detrimental effect on the overall plan.

Something we all need to remember is our training status. This is also referred to as readiness to train. In many cases the pre determined numbers don’t consider this. In some cases they do. If our percentages are based on our best performances then we are comparing ourselves to us at our 100% best. This can create issues. For example if we lose sleep or have exams or any sort of emotional stress our body will not be at 100%. Dehydration, hot weather, cold weather, missing a meal or even the wrong shoes can impact on performance. Our targets on paper may not take this into consideration. Many determined athletes may force a performance in training as a result. This has some major implications for performance and recovery down the line.

In order to avoid such a scenario from occurring an athlete may incorporate some form of auto-regulatory management of training. This basically ensures that the athlete alters load based on readiness to train.


In endurance sports many athletes work off wattage based on physiological testing conducted prior to their training block. Both wattages and Heart rate (HR) are normally measured during these tests. The great thing about HR is that it reflects readiness to train. HR variability is a good indicator of fatigue. Higher resting HR suggests greater fatigue or an incomplete level of recovery. An elevated HR will also be present during training. So for any given load or wattage the HR will be elevated. If the athlete used HR as the determinant of training load he might still cycle at 40% of HR max but the wattage may be lower than an optimal 40%. This does not matter as the athlete is at 40% capacity for that given day. If that’s his plan for the day then he will achieve the same thing without exceeding recovery. If an athlete only used wattage he may force his body to reach a wattage but his heart rate may increase to 60% and exceed daily prescriptions. If he does this regularly he or she will be following a different program than originally planned. They will actually be training out of their zones. For that reason many athletes may want to use HR to dictate training load and monitor wattage or split times as a means of feedback on performance.

Heart rate based training is quite effective and may be more beneficial in the long term to reduce overtraining.

Heart rate based training is quite effective and may be more beneficial in the long term to avoid overtraining.


Strength athletes are just as susceptible to these issues. Normally strength athletes train based on 1RM which may be tested at monthly intervals. While this is a very practical and largely successful method, some advanced athletes may run into problems. We can see that for team sport athletes weekly competition makes percentage based training very problematic as weekly loads vary massively. Again mundane things like work schedules, study and diet can also impact our daily readiness to train. It is extremely difficult to control all factors involved. 80% today may be more like 90% tomorrow. For the tech orientated individual something like a Gymaware or Tendo unit may be a good idea. There are good guidelines available which can be used to monitor the speed of the barbell. This can be used to keep you within the ranges acceptable for your goals. It will also take into consideration how you lift on that given day. As long as you are within speed ranges you avoid exceeding your training intensity.

Another less scientific method is using a daily training max. On a given day you may work up to a 1RM for a given lift. This would not necessarily be a true 1RM but something that can be achieved without needing to get fired up, or creating any substantial fatigue. Some may put a time cap on establishing this 1RM, for example 10mins to establish 1RM. The athlete would then perform working sets based on a percentage of this daily 1RM. This can be a very effective way for an athlete to train without any additional technology.

Regulation of training intensity is very important for an athlete. Most athletes now understand that training smart is as important as training hard. While we don’t want to go overboard with the concerns around our training we do want to give ourselves the best possible chances to progress. After all that is why we train. A good coach should be looking to factor in methods of both monitoring and prescribing appropriate loads for training. It is quite easy to push an athlete; it does not necessarily mean that you are improving them. Experiment to see what is practical and effective for your athletes and training. Always remember consistent progress is the real goal!


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Recovery Tools: Active Recovery!

Recovery has become a core factor in every athlete’s training and success. There are many recovery methods which can be employed all targeting different things. Not all methods work well for everyone and people will have their favourite. This is normal as the processes of each method are slightly different. Some things will simply have a better effect on certain individuals than others. One popular and convenient method is active recovery. In terms of effect it appears to be relatively beneficial to everyone.

When we exercise we produce metabolic by-products. These by-products can interfere with muscle contractions and contribute to fatigue. While we exercise we have a system to clear these by-products and consume them. When we stop, the rate of clearance reduces and they can be left to accumulate. Eventually they will be cleared up but at a reduced rate. Some gentle exercise post training can help ensure these metabolites are cleared effectively.

When we do more intense muscle contractions where a lot of force is applied, muscle stiffness can occur. Stiffness is when the fibres fail to fully relax causing a temporary shortening of muscle fibre length. Gentle movement can help break up this tension and reduce stiffness. Active recovery can be quite effective in doing this. The submaximal contractions allow the fibres to relax back to resting tension.

Another mechanism it can influence relates to bloodflow and temperature. In order to repair damaged muscle cells after intense exercise they need a good supply of nutrients. This supply comes from the blood. Increasing bloodflow to tired muscles ensures they get a good supply. In addition increasing local muscle temperature can help the muscle fibres loosen up and restore contractile function. Gentle exercise activates the muscle pump which flushes blood through the muscle as it contracts and relaxes.

These three mechanisms have some quite favorable benefits on getting back to top performance in a short period of time. An important factor and one which many people get wrong is when and how to do active recovery. Active recovery first and foremost should not contribute further to fatigue. Intense exercise is not recovery; it is simply another session. Often people perform hard conditioning instead of resistance training believing it promotes recovery. While some aspects may have a similar effect, the benefits are cancelled out by the increased metabolic and cell stress. A reliable intensity to work at is 50-60% of Heart rate reserve. The session need not be any longer than 30mins to be effective. We recommend low load bearing exercise to reduce any further stress on joints etc. Swimming, crosstrainer and biking are excellent choices.

Deciding when to employ active recovery is also tricky. In most cases we should employ some sort of short active recovery in our warm down procedure. This allows us to clear metabolites immediately after a session as well as stabilizing core temperature in a more gradual manner. Some like to use recovery sessions on their day off. In this case promoting bloodflow and reducing stiffness are the main mechanisms. This scenario is problematic as one must refrain from turning recovery into more conditioning work. While for some, running and rowing may be suitable, many heavier athletes will actually induce more fatigue and joint stress using these exercises. A 5k run is not a recovery session it is aerobic training, while less intense it simply applies a different type of stress.

It is important for athletes to understand the purpose of active recovery and the mechanism by which it works. Just because a session is of lower intensity it does not automatically become recovery work. The sole purpose of active recovery is to promote a restoration to a rested state and therefore maximum performance potential. It has a clear purpose and application. Smart athletes recognize the difference and they reap the rewards of using it effectively.

4 Ways to improve lactate clearance!

The accumulation of lactate is deemed to be a major determinant of performance during competition. Lactate is a byproduct of glycolysis. The accumulation of lactate in the muscle is linked with a significant degradation in contractile function and power production. Having the ability to prevent accumulation has a significant impact on the ability of an athlete to sustain performance. The onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) is deemed to be the point at which its production exceeds its clearance. In order to delay this point an athlete must train to improve his ability to clear lactate during exercise. Here are four effective strategies to improve lactate clearance.

1) Long slow distance training (LSD)

Also referred to as “Steady-State” training LSD has great benefits for lactate clearance. Even though LSD is performed at low intensity it greatly improves the aerobic system. Having a strong aerobic base usually comes with good proportion of type 1 muscle fibers. Recent studies have shown these fibers to be very efficient at consuming lactate as fuel through a shuttle system which transports it from the blood into these muscle cells. LSD training in conjunction with Lactate producing activity can teach the body to consume lactate in this way, helping to prevent accumulation during higher intensity competition.

2) Threshold training

Threshold training is performed at and around the point of accumulation. This is arguably the most effective zone to train at as it is the “Threshold” at which the body can balance accumulation with clearance. Improving workload at this zone will transfer directly into sporting performance. It is considered to be the sweet spot in terms of sustainable workload. Performing volume at this zone will result in effective lactate management in the body. It up-regulates enzymes which promote the metabolisation of lactate and clearance. The body will also learn to buffer lactate more effectively using intercellular bicarbonate. These sessions can range between 3 and 10 minutes in duration at or around OBLA.

3) Tempo runs

These are somewhat of a combination of the previous methods. During a longer session an athlete will perform a series of high paced intervals spread throughout a longer interval held at a lower, sustainable pace. During these intervals blood lactate concentrations will increase. When the athlete drops eases of intensity, the body will now be able to clear lactate to manageable levels. This promotes how the athlete recovers from lactate accumulation while still exercising. This can be useful in competition where there are varied intensities throughout a race or short rest periods between bouts.

4) Sprint intervals

Short sprints result in a very rapid production of lactate as large type 2 fibers become very active. The body does not have sufficient time to respond and so accumulation occurs just as rapidly. By using short rest periods you only give the body a very short period in which to re-establish homeostasis and so it is forced to up-regulate clearance mechanisms. Training of this type not only improves clearance but also the athletes tolerance to lactate. Sessions of this type can vary in duration for both work and rest. The ratio of work to rest can be manipulated to achieve different results in terms of physiological response.

The after effects of excessive lactate accumulation during a race. Source :www.windsorstar.com

The after effects of excessive lactate accumulation during a race. Source :www.windsorstar.com

In general any activity that elevates the concentration of lactate in the blood will elicit a physiological response. Like any stress appropriate recovery is necessarily. A multi-directional approach must be taken to ensure that an athlete has an adequate exposure to lactate without over taxing the bodies recovery capacity. This can be a difficult balance and must take into consideration a number of factors including the age and background of the individual. If done correctly any individual will benefit greatly from giving focused time and training to helping improve how they handle lactate in their body.

Watts Vs. Heart rate.

This post may be a little controversial amongst endurance athletes but it is an important topic. Any serious endurance athlete will have a training plan. This plan will generally use heart rate or wattage as the variable around which they structure their training sessions. In recent years wattage has become a very popular training variable. It relates more directly to actual speed and performance than heart rate. Team Sky Cycling highlighted the importance of accurate data in their training program and heavily relied on wattage during their Tour De France preparation. It can be very successfully used to build an effective endurance training program. For this reason there has been a big shift towards Watt training and away form the traditional heart rate zone style training. Heart rate data has now become a bit of an optional add on for analysis rather than a training variable, especially with more tech orientated athletes.

While watt training for sure has its merits it also comes with an often overlooked disadvantage. The sessions’ power output targets are pre determined post fitness testing. The athlete knows exactly what wattage needs to be achieved and maintained per session in their plan. The sole focus is to stick strictly to these wattage prescriptions. The issue is that watt training does not factor in readiness to train or physical state. For example an athlete may have a poor nights sleep or be particularly stressed due to some lifestyle factor like work etc. he may even be fatigued from a previous training session. When this athlete comes to their training they might struggle to maintain the prescribed wattage but force themselves to be strict. This can result in a much higher level of stress or intensity than intended when their program was designed. Too many forced sessions can result in overreaching and eventually overtraining. It can also be mentality hard on an athlete to realise they cannot keep up with their training. Things can quickly become counterproductive.

While heart rate does not translate as well into speed or power outputs it is auto-regulatory. This means if you are fatigued, stressed or sick heart rate will reflect this. Heart rate will be generally higher and so you will reach the desired zone with less work. If you use heart rate zones as your training variable things are automatically factored in. In a fatigued state you may achieve the desired HR and duration prescribed but the performance might appear to be poor. In the grand scheme of things this is not a big deal. You are still getting time at the intended intensity and your recovery can cope, avoiding any overtraining type scenario. Over the long term this is actually more productive in terms of physiological improvement and mental state.

While I’m not trying to put people off using wattage for training I think it is important to highlight the issue. If you choose to use watts over heart rate you must be diligent in assessing your training state. You must accept that sessions need to be flexible to account for external factors that wattage on its own will ignore. As with any program following blindly is never a smart approach. There are many factors which can influence performance and success will always be a balancing act.