by Mike Ricci, USAT Elite CoachD3Multisport
Heart rate training can be confusing due to the many different types of terminology used and the many opinions on how we determine what our threshold zone is. Additionally, there are many different charts that give us a variety of ranges which adds to the confusion. This is an example of information overload, and to a beginner triathlete, this can seem incredibly confusing. My goal for this article is that you have a good understanding on how and why to test for heart rate zones, which training zones you should spend the most time in, and to make this a simple process.
All of the BT training plans were created with these heart rate zones in mind.We'll start with the definition of Training Zones:
Since this article is geared toward endurance athletes and our races our typically one hour or more, let's understand how our training should be set up. Consider that a 400m race around the track that takes world class runners about 40 seconds to complete is around 86% aerobic. Now, if you are running a 5k, how much of that race do you think is aerobic? The answer is probably somewhere around 97-99%. For the average athlete the percentage of zone training for each zone should be roughly:
(For those of us you are training for half ironman distances and above there should be a percentage of Zone 3 training as well, but still that percentage may only 15-20% a week.)
Zone 1 and 2 training is important because the benefits of these workouts. You build endurance, durability and strength. In addition, these easy training sessions help build capillary pathways that transport oxygen to your muscles and carry waste (lactate) away from your muscles. The more capillary pathways that you can build, the more efficient you will be. Efficiency is equal to free speed. If at first you can't keep your HR under Zone 2, then you need to slow down. If that means you run for 3 minutes and walk for 2 minutes to keep your HR down then by all means do it. For a fit athlete getting back into training, I recommend not training with the heart rate monitor for 2 weeks and then put it on once you have a sense of fitness coming back. You may find that training in Zone 2 and under is a step back, but you will see the progress over time and will be thankful you were patient enough to try this.
Adaptation for everyone will be different. Some people will see changes right away, and for others it may take months. Just this year I had an athlete drop about 40 seconds a mile on his long runs after 2 months of Zone 2 training, and he's been racing and training for over 20 years! So, at any level improvement is possible, but you need to have faith in the philosophy and above all else, be patient.
Determining your zonesDetermining training zones is a simple process and I've written quite a bit on this before. If you are an experienced athlete you can use this method: http://www.beginnertriathlete.com/cms/article-detail.asp?articleid=633 For those of you who are new to training you might want to try this article: http://www.beginnertriathlete.com/cms/article-detail.asp?articleid=1243 In conclusion, it's my hope you'll follow the methods here in your training and see what great improvements training in Zone 1 and 2 will bring you.
Mike Ricci is a Level III USA Triathlon Certified Coach and has been coaching endurance athletes since 1989. Mike founded D3 in 2000, and has slowly added top-notch, USAT certified coaches each year to handle the demand for high quality triathlon coaching. In the past five years, D3 Coaches have coached hundreds of athletes to their first triathlon and hundreds more to become Ironman Finishers. In 2009, D3 was awarded the job of writing the training programs for the USA World Championship Teams for the seventh consecutive year. Mike also coaches the University of CO Triathlon Team, the 2010 and 2011 National Collegiate Champions.