A few different paddling friends have recently asked for some thoughts on using a heart rate monitor (aka HRM) for training and racing. It's a fairly daunting subject that goes from simple numbers to information overload in a heartbeat (ba-dum-cha!!! couldn't resist). 

In one respect, an HRM is a very simplistic tool that offers a real time report on what your heart is doing at any given moment, and your brain is likely to say "um duh, I know this hurts too!".

Yet with a little bit of planning and context for the data, it can become a powerful and transformative resource for making performance breakthroughs consistently happen both short and long term. 

Put another way, you can't manage what you can't track. 

I prefer to use a zone system based on my maximum and resting heart rate. It's helps make the data, and decisions around said data, easy to understand and manage. I start with my maximum hear rate and work back into each heart rate zone accordingly. Determining your theoretical maximum heart rate is fairly easy; subtract your age from 220, and then know that your actual max heart rate will be subject to change as your fitness progresses. In my case being 37, my theoretical maximum heart rate is 183. Theoretical is the key word here, as my actual maximum heart rate lately has been 189. On the other end of the spectrum is your resting heart rate. Your resting heart rate is a solid indicator of your overall fitness, as well as a first symptom indicator of either impending sickness or overtraining. If you wake up and see a 7 to 10 bpm jump in your resting heart, time to back way off.   

Resting: 38 (when I first open my eyes in the AM)

Threshold: 179 (where I can safely keep my heart rate)

Max: 189 bpm (when I ask existential questions about "why do surfski's exist and why do I like them?")

When it comes to zones, it's handy to think of them like gears in a car. For my paddling friends, I've included my relative flatwater speed for each zone. 

Zone 1: 100 to 130 (warm up) 6.3 to 6.5 mph 

Zone 2: 131 to 150 (conversational pace, good for fat burning) 6.7 mph pace

Zone 3: 151 to 170 (mild race pace) 7.3 mph

Zone 4: 171 to 179 (threshold race pace) 7.9 to 8.3 mph

Zone 5: 180 to ____ (1k meter effort / sprint) 9.1 to 11.6 mph

Using Macro Cycles: Knowing when to be in each zone is the tricky part, and how to make them work together for good results. I use a macro cycle approach to managing my training in a calendar year. Each macro cycle is roughly three months, and I use four macros in a year. 

Micro Cycels: Within a macro are three micro cycles, and each is approximately four to five weeks. Each week within the micro cycle should increases in workload consecutively, with a peak workload late in the third week. The fourth week should be a split between the second and third week, with a little less distance, and a bit more cross training.  

Macro 1: Pre-season In the pre-season (December, January, February), I spend 90% of my time in Zone 1 & 2 and each session is roughly 90 to 120 minutes. Think of these as long, slow distance rides with little fast forays into the Zone 3 to spice things up, but no Zone 4 or above. Too much time in Zone 4 and 5 and you risk an early season peak. The pre-season is when I focus on building foundational strength / power and a solid aerobic base. A solid base is crucial for preventing injury or having unpredictable results late in the season. I typically paddle everyday, with one rest day per week. While I will still attend races, I wont be in the hunt for the win. 

Sample week: 

Monday: 12 to 20 miles, Zone 2

Tuesday: 8 to 12 miles, Zone 2

Wednesday: 4 to 6 miles, Zone 3

Thursday: 12 to 20 miles, Zone 2

Friday: 6 to 8 miles, Zone 2

Saturday: 12 to 20 miles, Zone 2

Sunday: REST

 

Macro 2: Early Season (March, April, May) Still some long / slow distance with some longer intervals (15 minutes!) and speed work (1k / 4 minutes) to up the intensity. It shifts from 70 / 30 to 50 / 50 by the end of the macro cycle with a lot of time in Zone 4 by the end. If it's the end of a race, I will do some redline Zone 5. Each session is roughly 60 to 90 minutes, but I start to use cross training (aka "two-a-days") to further develop my fitness. I also try to stack three to four very hard days together, and then rest for a day or two per week. It's unorthodox, but it works really well for me. 

Sample Week: 

Monday: 15 to 25 miles, Zone 2

Tuesday: 6 to 8 miles, Zone 3/4  - X-TRAIN Weights

Wednesday: 4 to 6 miles, Zone 4/5 - X-TRAIN Run

Thursday: 12 to 20 miles, Zone 2/3

Friday: REST

Saturday: 12 to 20 miles, Zone 2

Sunday: 6 to 8 miles, Zone 2/3 - X-TRAIN Run

 

Macro 3: Peak Season (June, July, August) This time of the year is mostly race pace work in the 10 to 20k distance, with tons and tons of intervals and gut wrenching intensity sessions (zone 4 & 5) and the occasional downwind day to keep things fun and to break up the monotony of flatwater training (also known as Fartlek training). I tend to front the load the week for distance, then shift to intensity as the weekend approaches with a Friday off to accommodate weekend racing. Average session is 90 to 120 minutes, but very very intense. I shift to an on / off schedule (one day in the boat / one day cross training). You will notice a lot more rest days listed below, and I have learned the hard way that in peak season the number 1 problem for me is overtraining. 

Sample Week: 

Monday: 12 to 20 miles, Zone 3/4

Tuesday: REST / X-TRAIN Run

Wednesday: 6 to 10 miles, Zone 4/5

Thursday: 12 to 20 miles, Zone 3/4

Friday: REST / X-TRAIN Run

Saturday: 12 to 20 miles, Zone 4/5

Sunday: REST / X-TRAIN Run

 

Macro 4: Late / Off Season (September, October, November) - I typically force myself to stay in Zone 2 & 3 for the bulk of this training during this macro, and keep sessions in the 45 to 60 minute range. I will also take try to take November off. A successful macro here is to stay healthy, injury free and very motivated for the cold damp month of December 1.  

Sample Week: 

Monday: 6 to 10 miles, Zone 2

Tuesday: X-TRAIN Run

Wednesday: 4 to 6 miles, Zone 3

Thursday: X-TRAIN Run

Friday: 6 to 8 miles, Zone 3

Saturday: 12 to 20 miles, Zone 2 & 3

Sunday: Rest Day

Final note: The above is an approximation of what works for me, and training isn't one size fits all. So find a starting point, make a plan and then adjust accordingly. 

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