Every type of workout (be it a long run, an easy run, tempo, hill or interval) should be run at a particular intensity in order to derive the maximum intended benefit. Running your workouts too fast results in tiredness, burnout and injury. Running too slow provides an inadequate stimulus to your system for improvement and will prevent you from reaping the desired training benefit. Training with a heart rate monitor is an easy way to ensure that every run is being conducted at the proper pace. Monitoring your training intensity by heart rate is easy and can be done with any type of run on any route.
Heart rate training zones for each workout are expressed as percentages of your maximum heart rate (HRmax). The traditional age-based formula of determining your HRmax (226 - age for women and 220 - age for men) is highly inaccurate, especially for runners. At the age of 49, my measured HRmax was 197, 26 beats higher than the age-based formula predicts. Many middle-aged runners that I coach have an HRmax in the high 180s and higher.
How can you accurately determine your own HRmax? There is no formula that can accurately predict it. HRmax is highly individual. After a good warmup, you can use either one of the following two methods to measure yours (use whichever one is most convenient):
- Run 3 repeats (times) up a moderate hill that is 400-500 metres (yards) in length. Jog down the hill after each repeat. Run the first repeat at 90% effort. Run the second and third repeats at 100% effort.
- Run a mile trial on a 400m track. Run the first 3 laps at 90% effort, the last lap at 100%.
Your heart rate will be at or very near its max at the end of either method. A bit of short term pain for a lot of long term gain!
Use this chart to determine your appropriate training range for each type of run:
Type of Run % of HRmax
Easy/Recovery 65% to 73%
Training 74% to 85%
Tempo 86% to 92%
Intervals 93% +
For example, with a HRmax of 197, my training runs should be conducted within a range of 146 to 167 beats per minute. If I had used my aged based HRmax of 171, my training run range would be 127 to 145, not even reaching the lower end of my proper range. At this lower intensity, my training runs would provide a very weak stimulus to my cardiovascular, muscular and nervous systems. I would not derive the full benefit of my training runs, which would hinder my improvement as a runner. Oh well, maybe I’d make up for it by enjoying the profound philosophical discussions that I’d be able to carry on while running at the too easy pace.
When running in warm weather, your heart will beat faster than on a cool day when running the same intensity. This phenomenon is called cardiac drift and occurs as your heart sends more blood to your skin in hot weather to aid in sweat evaporation and cooling. The difference in heart rate can be as much as 7% (my cold weather HRmax is 188).
During warmer weather, it makes sense to begin your workouts at the lower end of your range and let your heart rate drift upwards to the high end as your workout progresses. For summer training, make sure you base your training ranges upon a HRmax that you measured during warm weather.
Bennett Cohen (the Savvy Runner) and Gail Gould are the Founders and Presidents of the International Association of Women Runners (IAWR). To learn more about this global community of women who share a passion for running, visit www.iawr-connect.com.