Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More Heart Rate Training

Okay, so soon might not have been the best word to use. But today it's time for reason two to use heart rate zones to guide your training - metabolic efficiency. It's not just about burning calories, it's about more easily accessing those stored calories so that you can burn them to fuel your exercise.

Face it, during intense exercise you burn a lot of a calories. Which, for most of us, is a good thing. It's one of the reasons I prefer cross-country skiing to golfing (the other being that I am just horrible at golfing!). But you may have also noticed that during intense exercise, you're not able to absorb a lot of calories. You can eat as many as you want but you aren't going to be able to process them. Why? Because you need to send blood to your arms and legs to make them go which means you aren't sending as much blood to your stomach to help it do it's job. (And yes, biology/anatomy folks - I know that I've just made a horrible oversimplification there, but it's the basic concept.) So, while you might be burning 700+ calories an hour on your bike ride, if you eat 700+ calories an hour, you are probably not going to feel good.

You can only absorb about 250 to 300 calories per hour - less if you are smaller or working with greater intensity - which means that extra 400 calories has to come from somewhere. Where it comes from is your energy stores. If you are a Sprint or International Distance triathlete, that energy is primarily going to come from your muscle glycogen stores. Once you start doing longer races, you won't have enough stored glycogen to fuel your effort but you have more than enough stored fat. That's not an insult - even the most fit, elite athletes have enough fat to fuel an Ironman Distance effort. I personally probably have enough stored fat to run across the United States.

How does heart rate zone training play into this? Through training, you can more efficiently access your stored energy - there's no point in having the energy equivalent of a nuclear reactor if you can't access more than a 9 Volt battery's worth. First, if you increase your VO2 Max and Anaerobic Threshold (AT), you can improve your ability to burn fat at a higher pace. A structured program including efforts just above your AT can help to increase your AT and therefore the pace at which you can burn fat. Second, combining training effort and nutrition can help to train metabolic efficiency. I'll return to that topic in a future post but for now check out the work of Bob Seebohar to learn more about that subject

This leads us to reason three. So return 'soon' to learn more.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Heart Rate Zone Training

I gave a talk on heart rate zone training over the weekend to a group from the DC Tri Club New Triathlete Program. I thought that it would be good to share the information here for those who would like to learn more. Here's the first part:

Why Use Heart Rate Zone Training?

The first reason, to become a better athlete. Improvement comes through progressive overload - that is hard efforts bring gains. To work hard, you need to have easy days for recovery. Unfortunately, most people just do every workout at a moderate intensity. By using heart rate, you have a tool to make sure that the easy days are easy so that the hard days can be hard.

The second reason is coming next...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chopping up a Marathon

A client asked me today about how to think about a marathon as the idea of running 26.2 miles was pretty overwhelming. And that's right. You just can't think of a marathon as 26 miles. You need to break it into manageable chunks and then come up with your plan for each chunk. I've heard many different descriptions about what works - one of my favorites is a 20 mile warmup followed by a 10K. While fairly accurate, even thinking of a 20 mile chunk is a little big. One strategy I've used is the following:

Up to 6.2 miles (the first 10K): Nice easy warm-up, holding back and getting comfortable with the run - Possibly the most important part of a marathon because it can ruin your race if not done well. Heart rate in Zone 3.

From there to 13.1 miles: Maintaining pace, maintaining nutrition, stick to plan and enjoy self. Heart rate in Zone 3 to low Zone 4.

From there to 20 miles: Let the heart rate increase a little because you are tiring but maintain pace and stay aerobic. Check breathing, check form. Maintain nutrition.

Mile 20 to the end: Run a 10K. Increase pace/heart rate a little each mile but check in on how feel. At this point, possible to go anaerobic. Heart rate in the mid to high end of Zone 4. Possibly up to Zone 5 for the very end. Nutrition not as important if you've kept on plan until now but try not to get hungry/thirsty.

Now this might not work for you - you might need more or fewer, longer or shorter, or just plain different segments. One option is to look at the course and make plans based on that. That works well for loop courses or out and backs because of the natural markers they provide.