Thursday, February 9, 2012

Do you care what your max heart rate is?

What is your maximum heart rate? Are you using the "220- your age" formula, or the Karvonen formula to estimate? Do you really care what it is? After all, what does max heart rate have to do with your training zones? Very little, actually.

 The first thing to bear in mind is that estimating your max heart rate using one of the two conventional methods mentioned above can be off by 15-20%. That's a lot! And once you get that number, what do you do with it? Many coaches estimate that your Lactate Threshold (if you're a trained athlete) will be around 85% of your maximum heart rate. That's another "estimate" that can be way off, so now how far off the mark can you be?

If you really want to dial in to your training zones, find a local college that has an exercise physiology program and see if they'll use you as a guinea pig and do a blood borne ramp test. They'll get you on a treadmill and increase the incline every couple of minutes and take a blood sample from a prick in your finger. That test will be pretty spot on. If you don't have access to such testing, you can do a ramp test at home that will get you pretty close.

For a good estimate of your Lactate Threshold on the bike, warm up well on your indoor trainer. Then start a 30 minute time trial at the maximum effort you can sustain for the 30 minutes. When you get 10 minutes into the test, hit the lap button on your heart rate monitor and continue on. At the end of the test, find the average heart rate for that last 20 minutes (the final lap). That will be the estimate of your lactate threshold. From there you can calculate your training zones:

Zone 1 Less than 81% of LTHR
Zone 2 81% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 93% of LTHR
Zone 4 94% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

For running, you can add 7 to the Lactate Threshold HR that you got from this test or do the same ramp test above, but running and calculate your zones as follows:
Zone 1 Less than 85% of LTHR
Zone 2 85% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 94% of LTHR
Zone 4 95% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

Either way, it seems to me that maximum heart rate has little to do with effective training. Your Lactate Threshold (or the point at which your ability to continue on in your race is impacted) is more of an important metric to measure and train by.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

When your Execution doesn't Match your Plan

I frequently run into this issue with both business leaders that I coach as their business coach and with athletes that I coach at all levels: You start out doing everything right: Set your goals, hire a coach or otherwise get on a structured plan, put together a support structure and start out with 100% commitment to following through. Then, life Happens! You get sick, you have an unanticipated business change (Perhaps you're traveling more, commuting further, working longer days, etc.), family commitments take you away from your training, or maybe an injury puts you on the sideline for awhile. For whatever reason,  you realize that you are no longer in synch with your plan. There's a sunken, lost feeling that sometimes goes along with this realization! So what can you do to get yourself back on track?

A few things that are required for every major goal in life:
  • Commitment- If you took the initial steps I described above, it has to be assumed that you were, at least at one point, committed to your goal. You are now in a situation where you need to re-commit to that goal, including making a pledge to yourself to doing what's necessary to accomplish it.
  • Support Structure- Your support structure includes your family, co-workers and employer, your coach and your friends and training partners. You need to communicate with them so that they can fulfill their roles as your support team. Tell them what's going on and what's gotten you stopped. Let them help you figure out how to get moving again.
  • Flexibility- I can't remember ever seeing a plan for a significant goal that has been accomplished without some bumps in the road. You have to be willing to acknowledge the barrier, recognize it for what it is and make adjustments to your plan.
Now, specific to athletes, making adjustments to your  plan is particularly important because it is very important that you look at whether or not it's appropriate for you to just jump back on the plan or if you have to make adjustments to the plan and starting again.

For younger athletes, you de-train more slowly than older athletes, so if you're just off the plan for a few days, it's likely that you can just pick up the plan from where you are. Do not try to make up the training days that you missed. The most you should do is look to see if there are any key workouts that you missed that you may want to replace the current days plan with. Take a hard look a this and if you have a coach, speak to your coach about it. Sometimes doing this will throw your coming week's training off balance. For older athletes, who de-train faster, and for everyone who may have fallen off their plan for more than a few days, you'll need to make adjustments in order to safely re-enter your training.

Work with your coach if you have one. If not take a look at the following:
  • Are you still able to dedicate the same number of hours per week to training as you initially thought? Be realistic. You may have been overly optimistic at the beginning, or perhaps your circumstances have changed. Much of your training can be done on the weekends, or days off, with shorter training days during work days. You should plan a minimum of 5 days per week to train at the iron or half iron distance level (assuming your goal is to finish the event with a respectable time) and 4 days per week for sprint or Olympic distances. How many hours can you devote each day?
  • Use the time available wisely. My strong recommendation is to not just go out to swim, ride or run, but to have a specific purpose for each workout. Doing this will help minimize the number of hours you need to train. Just going out to cycle 4 times a week may help build your endurance base, but you'll use a whole lot more hours doing so. Using the appropriate drills for skills development and intervals for base building will get you to your goal in fewer hours.
  • Did you just not get your plan started on target and at this point are lost trying to figure out how to catch up? Again, your coach will help you reshuffle the schedule to get you back on track. But if you're doing it yourself, start at where you left off and build a structure from there. Perhaps you can ramp up your volume a bit faster than your initial plan called for in order to catch up (but be very careful with this to monitor how you're body is responding to avoid injury or illness). Be sure to allow for sufficient rest and recovery (you get stronger when you're resting, not when you're working hard)
  • Finally, bear your limiters in mind. If swimming is your weakest event, be sure to reshuffle your training plan in a way that doesn't eliminate swim training. If cycling hills is your weakness, focus on power and hill climbing. Your weakness is where you want to concentrate as you rebuild your plan!
Don't despair if you fall off of your plan. It happens to everyone sooner or later. Success is something that's achieved from your ability to get back on track and re-commit to your goal quickly. Remember that "a goal without action is just a dream". And another favorite quote from a famous boxer, "It's not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up that counts".