The Training Zone Part 1

Everyone knows the importance of training at the appropriate intensity to improve the body’s ability to transport oxygen and metabolize food during exercise, but there is a lot of conflicting information about the appropriate exercise intensity for competitive athletes like cyclists and runners. Many athletes are under the mistaken assumption that they can accurately determine their exercise intensity based on “knowing their body” also known as perceived exertion.

So what is the appropriate intensity level for training? The answer will depend on where you are in your annual training program. For simplicity’s sake we can divide the annual training program into two basic categories: Aerobic Base Training (ABT) that should be done for not less than 10 weeks, and Anaerobic Training (not more than 12 continuous weeks).

ABT is low to moderate intensity training designed to improve aerobic capacity without engaging your anaerobic systems heavily. ABT allows the muscles and metabolic systems of the body to completely recover and improves the body’s ability to delivery oxygen. If done properly, ABT results in a steady and measurable improvement in performance that prepares your body to peak during AT. Any exercise done above the desired intensity frequencly or for prolonged periods of time can result in an early peak that will be well below your potential. Cyclists and runners who do not follow this rule have strong spring seasons but are burnt out by July – just in time for the most important races of the year. Do not cut the base period short or you will peak early and peak low.

On the other hand, everyone knows that interval training or AT gets you fit fast, and would we be the first to agree. Hard interval work such as hill repeats, sprints, hard pack rides, etc. will take you farther faster than any other training. However, without a proper base you can limit your maximum development because anaerobic capacity is only one part of your total work capacity.

So how do you determine your appropriate exercise intensity for ABT and AT? By monitoring your heart rate and exercising in the appropriate target heart rate zone for each type of training. If you do not have a chest strap monitor buy one right away – it is one of the best investments you can make. Athletes who use perceived exertion or take pulse manually are often off by 10 beats per minute or more, and this is a highly significant error.

Your next task is to determine your appropriate Target Heart Rate Zone (THRZ) or ABT and AT. First determine your resting heart rate (RHR). Record your heart rate on 3 typical mornings before you get out of bed. Use the average as your RHR. Next determine your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) by on two methods. Use the Foster Talk Test (see other blog on this method: OR do a maximum effort workout preceded by a thorough warm-up and increase intensity steadily until you hit your maximum capability. Use a treadmill, stationary bike or cycling wind trainer and steadily increase your workload every 2 minutes until you are incapable of continuing – the highest heart rate you observe is your MHR.
ABT TRHZ is determined as follows: MHR – RHR = Heart Rate Reserve (HRR). [(HRR X .7) + RHR] = your target heart rate. Subtract 10 for the low end of your ABT THRZ. For example, if your RHR is 50 and MHR is 170 your THRZ is calculated as follows: 170 – 50 = 120 which is your HRR; (120 X .7) + 50 = 134 beats per minute (BPM). So your ABT THRZ is 124 – 34 BPM. Do not exceed the upper limit during ABT. AT THRZ = [(HRR X .85 + RHR]. For AT exercise at or above this heart rate. Using the same example, AT heart rate = (120 X .85) + 50 = 152 BPM.

Stay tuned for part 2 where we will cover how to use a HR monitor to make your hard days hard enough and your easy days easy enough and when to do each your annual training schedule.