How to Train
Heart rate training zones are used as a guide to maximize the benefit of your training. Each zone is used for training or developing a specific physiological response. Low heart rate zones are mainly for developing aerobic energy sources and pathways; higher zones may develop the anaerobic pathways or the ability for the body to clear lactic acid.
Using Maximum Heart Rate. If you don't have a handy physiology lab, there are alternatives ways of finding those zones. The easiest is to use percentage of maximum heart rate. Unfortunately, depending on who's book you read, the percentages and the number of zones vary. For example, Brian Sharkey ("Training for Cross-Country Ski Racing") defines four zones, starting at 70% of max heart rate, but Rob Sleamaker and Ray Browning ("SERIOUS Training for Endurance Athletes") have five zones, starting at 60% of max heart rate. Let's compare the two methods:
Although the zones and percentages vary, there are many similarities: Aerobic sources and pathways are improved at lower heart rates; anaerobic sources and pathways at higher heart rates. We'll talk about the differences in the final section of this article...
Using VO2 Max. If you have results from a physiology test, you can use more precise methods to determine training zones. The training zones I've been using since June were determined from testing on a treadmill during a XC Oregon physiology lab test in June (more information about that test here). The physiologists used a combination of VO2, Heart Rate, and Lactic Acid levels to determine my training zones.
Sleamaker and Browning also use a method that plots heart rate against VO2 utilization to determine training zones. Essentially, they use the following method to determine training zones: From a graph that plots VO2 against heart rate, find the heart rates that match up to the table below to determine training zones:
Comparing Methods. Using my max heart heart and the results from my physiology test, let's compare the alternative methods:
What a mess! Zones and heart rates are all over the place! Which method is the best to use?
I have several thoughts.
Based on these two criteria, I'm using my results from the XC Oregon physiology test because it takes into account VO2, heart rate, AND lactic acid levels. Sleamaker & Browning's method based on just VO2 and heart rate comes fairly close and is my second choice. S&B's Zones 1 & 2 match up almost exactly with XC Oregon's Zone "2". The main difference is in Zone 4 where S&B could have me training at too low a heart level. Based on my experience, I can do intervals in the 160-164 heart rate range without getting totally trashed.
How do the different zones translate into percent of max heart rate for me?
And what if I didn't have the results from a physiology test? I think I'd have followed S&B's method over Sharkey's. Sharkey's 148 beats at the high end of Zone "2" is just too hard for long slow distance - I think S&B has a more realistic range. At Zone 4, it's probably still better to train less hard (S&B) instead of doing intervals up to my max heart rate.