Training heart rate zones

At the season launch we discussed briefly the use of training heart rate zones: when you work out using a heart-rate monitor, you’ll aim to work out within a specific zone. Training within a zone means working within a particular percentage of your maximum heart rate during the workout—for example, 65 to 80 percent for most rows and 90 percent or more as you blaze to a fast race finish. For most of your workouts, your heart rate should fall into zone 1 (warmup/warmdown) or 2.
You can get an estimate of your maximum heart rate using the formula of 220 minus your age. (Note: this may overestimate the max heart rate for women: more precisely it has been found that the mean peak heart rate for women = 206 – (0.88 x age)).

Zone 1 (recovery, energy efficient) 60-70% of max HR
Training within this zone develops basic endurance and aerobic capacity, and is appropriate for warm ups and cool downs. All easy recovery work should be completed at a maximum of 70%. Another advantage to training in this zone is that while you are happily fat burning you may lose weight and you will be allowing your muscles to re-energise with glycogen, which has been expended during those faster paced workouts.
Zone 2: (endurance, aerobic) 70% to 80% of max HR
Training in this zone will develop your cardiovascular system. The body’s ability to transport oxygen to, and carbon dioxide away from, the working muscles can be developed and improved. The adaptations that occur with this level of training include:

  • increased stroke volume (amount of blood pumped per heartbeat)
  • increased oxygen transport in the blood
  • increased blood volume
  • increased ability of the muscles to use oxygen
  • increased capillary (blood vessel) density within the trained muscles
  • improved use of fat as a fuel, thus teaching the muscles to conserve the limited carbohydrate (glycogen) supply

In this zone you would feel comfortable enough to hold a conversation.
Typical workouts in this zone are long pieces at lowish rating but power, or rate pyramids
 Zone 3: (intense aerobic/stamina) 80-88% of max HR
This type of training improves endurance, and is performed just below anaerobic threshold. Importantly, the intensity is just below “hurt but hold” anaerobic threshold intensity and is thus “strong but comfortable”.
This is “comfortably hard” effort; in this zone you may be able to say short, broken sentences.
Zone 4: (economy/anaerobic/threshold) 88-95%- of max HR
Training in this zone will develop your lactic acid system. During these heart rates, the amount of fat being utilised as the main source of energy is greatly reduced and glycogen stored in the muscle is predominantly used. One of the by-products of burning this glycogen is lactic acid. There is a point at which the body can no longer remove the lactic acid from the working muscles quickly enough. This is your anaerobic threshold (AT). Through the correct training, it is possible to delay the AT by being able to increase your ability to deal with the lactic acid for a longer period of time or by pushing the AT higher.
In general, this intensity can be described as the “hurt but hold” intensity. The adaptations that take place with this type of training are:

  • elevation of VO2max
  • raising of the anaerobic threshold
  • increased removal of lactic acid
  • decreased production of lactic acid
  • improvement in economy or efficiency sustained
  • increased tolerance of the pain of lactic acid being in the muscles
  • specific nervous system patterning of the muscle fibers needed during racing.

The intensity of training is elevated to 85-90% of maximum heart rate and can be done through continuous work of at least 20 minutes duration, or by interval training with short recoveries that are half or less of the work time (10-15 x 20 stroke pieces, pyramid pieces).
This type of training should be performed at the most twice per week, should be preceded by a good warm-up, followed by a good warm-down, and generally be preceded and followed by an easier (zones 1 / 2) day so that the quality of the workout can be good.
During anaerobic threshold training periods, recovery is critical. Recovery can also be enhanced by eating or drinking carbohydrate-rich foods since both levels 4 and 5 training mainly use muscle and liver carbohydrate as their energy source and supplies will be depleted after such training. The carbohydrates should have a high glycemic index and be consumed ideally within the first 30 minutes after training but critically within the two hours after training.
Zone 5: Anaerobic Zone – >95% of max HR
Training in this zone will only be possible for short periods. It effectively trains your fast twitch muscle fibres and helps to develop speed. Heart Rate Zone 5 or maximum aerobic training employs intervals with speeds that are greater than planned race pace but with long recoveries. The overall training volume during such a session is reduced, but the intensity is lifted. This is more relevant to our sprint season training. Again, recovery (zones 1-2) training the days before and after these sessions is critical Examples of this type of zone 5 training are 250-500m pieces (30-60 strokes) at high rate – repeats -with 3-6 minute active recoveries. Intensity is 90-100% of maximum heart rate for each interval but recovery intensity is down to 60-70% of maximum heart rate. Athletes should be well warmed up and build into the first 30 seconds of each interval. Repetitions will depend on individual tolerances but expect 4-10 reps. At the most, 1-2 sessions of zone 5 per week should be used with easy recovery work in between. Adaptations that take place with this type of training include:

  • increased tolerance to lactic acid
  • elevated VO2max
  • improved endurance speed

Zone 4 and 5 are the red zone: conversation is only a few words at a time.
Most training should be done in the zone 1 and 2, and data show that this improves both endurance and sprint racing. A plan for weekly training using heart rate zones and information about connecting heart rate monitors to the RRC ergos is on the useful links page of the RRC website and can be used as we progress through the winter campaign to prepare for the upcoming head racing season. Heart rate monitors have now been fixed to the ergos in the RRC gym.
Note that when using these heart rate zones and a heart rate monitor, heart rates will be higher when exercising in hot and / or humid conditions. Research suggests that heart rates increase by 1.4% for each degree above 21 degrees Celsius. For example, at a constant pace, a heart rate of 140 at 21 degrees will become 160 at 31 degrees. This because when training in the heat sweat loss will cause some dehydration. Also, blood is diverted to the skin to help off load the heat generated in the muscles. The net effects are that the heart has to increase its rate to keep blood pumping to the muscles to give them the oxygen.
In addition to developing your cardiovascular fitness, rowing well requires good core strength and flexibility. Don’t forget to integrate these into your training regimen.
Hope these comments are helpful.