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Heart Rate Zones by FitStop Lab
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This article was authored and originally published by Ken Nicodemus of Fitstop Lab and can be found here. Ken is one our trusted partners and offers information, talks/clinics and the like to our club.
 

Heart Rate Zones

Despite a wide variety of differing opinions on how to maximize your fitness there is little doubt that to optimize your health and improve your endurance performance you will need to engage in at least some regular continuous type of exercise. The common phrases of "cardio" or "aerobic" exercise have long been the terms used for this form of exercise that is rhythmical, involves using the whole body, and elevates heart rate for extended periods of time, all of which can stimulate an improvement in your heart efficiency and caloric expenditure rate.  This form of exercise has been, in large part, focused on low to moderate sustained exercise which when the duration and frequency are progressed appropriately can lower one's risk for heart disease and improve physical stamina.   The aerobic exercise era started over 40 years ago when Kenneth Cooper coined the term. This form of exercise was a departure from the "no pain, no gain" era before it, and do to the documented health improvements and more palatable intensity levels, was able to embrace the more non-athletic populations and bring them into a more active and healthier lifestyle.

Today a new focus, with numerous studies in support, has reemerged which encourages a more intense approach to fitness training called high intensity interval training or HIIT. This form of training will up the intensity and shorten the duration of each continuous effort, hence the term intervals. These interval sessions can typically be completed in 15-50 minutes and require pushing the intensity of activities like; cycling, hill walking, jogging, swimming or stair climbing for episodes of between 30 seconds up to 7-8 minutes, usually separated by shorter intervals of light activity for recovery.  There are those who claim that this form of exercise may be more beneficial compared to the more moderate sustained forms because as much or more work can be completed in shorter periods of time. Additionally HIIT can create a significant effect on your energy expenditure after exercise (EPOC) with further evidence showing that there is as great or even greater improvement in the aerobic capacity of the participants.  Some evidence has also suggested there may be a reduction in injuries if the exerciser performs intervals rather than the repetitive pounding in prolonged continuous exercise.  So less time, high fitness gains, and perhaps less injuries is the claim.  However, it is my opinion this trend may be over zealous just a bit.  As is historically the case with trends, the pendulum tends to swing a little far to the extreme when a new popular trend is heavily promoted, and this can result in confusion and some poorly planned exercise programs. This article is to re-affirm the benefits of the continuous type exercise as well as to define the training effect of several of the various intensity training levels or zones.

However you approach the intensity of your regular exercise program, it should be based first and foremost on your limitations and then with regards to your own personal health and fitness goals. It is very important to know what end product you desire and then how to go about reaching it safely. Once you know what you need from your exercise program then you will have to determine what parameters to train by. The training zone explanations in this blog will hopefully help you sift through the fitness frenzy and empower you to train with a healthier dose of knowledge and some good old fashioned common sense.
The intensity of exercise can be divided into a series of Training Zones

The Training Zones

The intensity of cardiovascular and metabolic (e.g., endurance) exercise can be divided into a series of Training Zones determined from your actual or estimated heart rate and/or the power or pace at the anaerobic threshold (AT). While the well-published target heart rate training zones provide rough guidelines for a broad cross section of the population, they may be totally meaningless for you and your personal goals. The heart rate and power output at your anaerobic threshold (AT) represents the actual effort that you can sustain for a prolonged period of time without accumulating problems from fatigue. Therefore, training above the AT will lead to rapid exhaustion. A smart training program may require exercising for certain periods of time at or slightly above the AT, or it may include short and higher intensity intervals well above the AT (e.g. HIIT and AT intervals), and it will usually require keeping your intensity level significantly below the AT for recovery, safety, or to enhance your metabolic efficiency or fat burning ability. 
Download Training Zone Chart

Determining your threshold through lab or field testing is best... 


Threshold based recommendations are generated according to your current fitness level and can suggest specific exercise recommendations for you. As your fitness level improves, re-testing will measure improvement and may change the recommended training heart rate zones accordingly. However, generally speaking, if you are already training regularly the heart rates will remain fairly consistent in any given year. You may find slight decreases from year to year with age. On the other hand, if you have been sedentary or inconsistent with your cardio training the heart rate zones may, in the early stages, increase significantly as you increase your fitness.
CMP Testing at FitStop's Lab

Methods of Testing


1. (BEST) FOR AN ACCURATE DETERMINATION OF YOUR INDIVIDUAL ZONES YOU CAN GET TESTED IN A LAB TYPE SETTING TO DETERMINE YOUR LACTATE OR VENTILATORY THRESHOLD WITH CARDIO-METABOLIC TESTING.  

2. (NEXT BEST) ALTERNATIVELY, TO ESTIMATE YOUR ZONES YOU CAN NOW FOLLOW A SELF TEST THAT YOU CAN DO AT HOME OR AT YOUR OWN GYM.  GO TO TALK TEST  AND WE WILL SEND YOU THE SELF TEST PROTOCOL FROM WHICH WE WILL USE YOUR DATA TO PROCESS YOUR TRAINING ZONES.

3. (THIRD BEST) AND LASTLY THERE ARE SOME BASIC FORMULAS TO ESTIMATE YOU LT HEART RATE.  GO TOZONE CALCULATOR TO DOWNLOAD AN XLS SPREADSHEET TOOL.

Heart Rate Monitoring Guidelines

highly recommend that to accurately monitor your intensity you should invest in a Heart Rate Monitor. There are several heart rate monitors (HRM’s) on the market including Garmin, Suunto, Polar and Timex. These electronic monitors use a chest transmitter and a watch receiver. They can be quite accurate and are exceptionally good tools for encouraging the precision training that cardio-metabolic heart rate zone training requires. They are also recommended for cardiac patients who need to exercise within narrow and precise heart rate ranges. The problem with monitoring your heart rate manually by palpation is that it is often imprecise and can be difficult to perform during exercise. 

Today's monitors also can include GPS or accelerometer devices to monitor speed and elevation which can also be used to evaluate and guide your intensity and performance.
 

When to Take Your Heart Rate

Measure your heart rate at rest before you begin. If it is significantly higher than your normal resting heart rate, reduce your exercise intensity until you determine the cause. Exercising at altitude or in temperature extremes will increase your exercise and resting heart rates and decrease your exercise level. Measure your heart rate several times during each exercise bout to determine you are exercising within your target zone range. Adjust your heart rate accordingly to maximize your training effect while reducing the risk of chronic fatigue and injury. Measure your heart rate after 1-2 minutes of an active 5-10 minute recovery, such as walking or low level cycling. If these recovery heart rates begin to increase over time, it can be an indication of chronic fatigue, your exercise intensity is too high, &/or you are not allowing for adequate rest.

Ultimately, the greatest benefit from using heart rate is to be able to promote a specific training stimulus associated with certain training effects that you require. For a description of these zones and associated benefits go to training zones chart.  

To Learn More or Get Tested

Thank you to Ken of FitStop Lab for providing this information. To learn more about Heart Rate Zones and/or get tested in his lab:
Learn More or Get Tested
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