Working with Your Heart Rate for More Effective Running

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If you want to improve your running and make your training more effective, there’s no getting away from your own heart rate. It is only by integrating it into your training that you will be able to manage the direction your running takes and ultimately improve. In this article, we reveal why this is the case and how you can work with your heart rate to run more effectively.

Resting heart rate and maximum heart rate

Many training plans frequently discuss maximum heart rate when running. Maximum heart rate is defined as the number of heart beats per minute during the highest possible level of physical exertion. The opposite of the maximum heart rate is known as the resting heart rate – a person’s heart rate when he or she is relaxed. Both the resting and maximum heart rate can vary greatly from one person to the next. Extreme endurance athletes, for example, have a particularly low resting heart rate – it is not uncommon for such athletes to have a resting heart rate of 40 beats per minute. A resting heart rate of around 70 beats per minute is more usual, however – even among athletes. The maximum heart rate can be determined in exercise testing and is dependent mainly on age. The older a person is, the lower their maximum heart rate will be. This also gives us a general rule of thumb: maximum heart rate = 220 minus age. Yet values can vary since a range of other factors besides age also play a role in determining the maximum heart rate, such as fitness levels and genetic make-up. As a result, exercise testing produces a more accurate figure. Once you have determined your maximum heart rate, you can then adapt your training around it and calculate an appropriate exercise heart rate.

Different heart rate zones when running

Your running can now be planned based on the maximum heart rate that has been identified. We usually talk about running at 75% or some other percentage. There are four different heart rate zones for running, with corresponding exercise heart rate zones that can be calculated for each:

  • 70 to 75 percent: If you train at 70 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate, this is a slow endurance run. You run at a slow pace. Runs lasting up to 45 minutes also fall within this heart rate zone. These are helpful for regeneration. Yet many athletes also train in this heart rate zone when running in preparation for a marathon, to improve their long-term endurance gradually.
  • 75 to 85 percent: At exertion levels of 75 to 85 percent, many runners feel very good, which is why this tempo is often referred to as the feel-good tempo. Athletes often run in this heart rate zone when competing. In this zone, it is possible to run at a tempo that is neither too slow nor too fast. It is still possible to hold a conversation when running in this heart rate zone and it is particularly good for runners wanting to work on their basic aerobic endurance. But watch out – if you only ever run in this heart rate zone, in the long run you won’t be able to improve your performance as a runner! To do that, you need to opt for the next two heart rate zones for your running.
  • 85 to 88 percent: The so-called anaerobic threshold lies precisely in this zone – the threshold at which runners are still breathing in just enough oxygen to supply their muscles with the energy they need. The oxygen demand and oxygen consumption are therefore at the same level. Tempo runs are in this heart rate zone, preferably up to 15 kilometers long. Professional runners manage to run an entire marathon in this heart rate zone. Runners training in this zone push their bodies to their limits, allowing them to push their performance so that the body is able to produce more power on the next run. However, when running in this zone it is always important to start with a warm-up phase lasting five to ten minutes, and then end your run with a slower warm-down phase lasting the same amount of time as the warm-up.
  • 90 to 95 percent: If you run at 90 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate, experts refer to this as a so-called tempo run – yet different to tempo runs in the heart rate zone below, which are at almost maximum speed. However, this kind of running is recommended only in interval training with breaks between the periods of physical exertion. Yet if you want to increase your competition speed, training in this heart rate zone cannot be avoided. It is important to intersperse these workouts in your training regime in a very targeted and planned way. To do this, it is best to consult a running expert for advice on how and when it is best to integrate punishing workouts such as these into your training. It is important not to simply experiment as this can do more harm than you might think.
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With these variations in your running training, it is essential to know your own level of performance and to know how to assess yourself properly. Beginners should never go straight to running in the higher heart rate zones. As a rule of thumb, beginners should start by running at a heart rate of 60 percent. Once you are training regularly, you can then increase this by five percent roughly every two months, working your way towards the second heart rate zone within a year. Only then should you even consider training at a heart rate of between 85 and 95 percent. Just because you are confident you can do it, that’s nowhere near the same as meaning you will actually be able to do it. When it comes to running, small steps are simply much more likely to lead to success. Here at pjuractive, we hope you enjoy running based on heart rate zones!

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