Ultimate heart rate training

Cardiovascular training is a grey area for many. So much is spoken about it and so many words are committed to the subject. We all know that CV training is a vital element to a balanced workout programme.

However, few really know the intensity level or time input required to achieve the CV generated results they desire. For the keen but uncertain this can lead to over-training, wasted time, slow recovery and negligible results.


The less motivated might flounder every session in a very low level ineffective area, putting in what they think is serious exertion and commitment with the aim of ‘burning fat’. Ultimately they will fail to move any closer to their objective and despair of the whole notion of exercise.

Ideally we want to optimise every minute of our CV activity. Why squander any time or energy on a session that fails to give our body the best opportunity to respond?

We’ve all seen people doing their familiar ‘fat burning’ routine for the same duration at the same level for weeks and months, sometimes years on end. It is familiar and comfortable to them and does not change. Sadly neither does their physique and fitness level!

At the other end of the scale some people train at reasonably high aerobic levels for years on end and never shift into higher or lower heart rates.

heart rate training

Of course any exercise is better than none at all, but we could really reap significantly greater rewards with just a little more understanding of heart rates and applying greater precision to our exercise programme.

The misunderstanding starts with the arcane heart rate guide still so prevalent today and often plastered all over exercise equipment. Everybody is unique, we all have a maximum heart rate that is determined by genetics not our age or fitness level as the current ‘rule of thumb’ relies on.

Testing has shown that genetically determined heart rate does not deteriorate with age. Our personal heart rate has to be individually tested. Only this way can we account for our personal condition. Once we know this figure we can design workouts to exactly suit ourselves, maximise training, minimise input and achieve significant results.

The formula most of us are familiar with and the one ordinarily used to calculate maximum training capacity is ‘220 minus your age x 80 %’. To be blunt, this is an entirely unsatisfactory equation to build a fitness programme around. Of course it was developed as a ‘rule of thumb,’ but can it be right to sacrifice all-important accuracy for the sake of convenience and generalisation?

The ‘system’ falls flat on its face in numerous ways and specifically falls apart as we age. For example, following the standard method, a 50-year-old would have a heart rate limit of 136 – a brisk walk in the park for some. The system pays absolutely no heed to that person’s existing physical condition… a pretty important factor you’d have thought.

As a result, de-conditioning or over-training could follow, as maximum heart rates can vary from 150 to 220 BPM, and these two figures may belong to people as fit and fast as each other. Higher heart rate doesn’t mean a better athlete.

The key is to find out what your maximum heart rate is and to work from the right number of beats per minute. That way we train smarter, not necessarily harder.

For optimum results the body needs to be worked through different phases and levels over time. Crucially ‘time’ means months and not a sudden introduction of explosive work into a normally gentle routine. Taking the body through such phases is a proven and effective way to facilitate fat loss.

Look at CV training in terms of zones varying from 1 to 5. One is comfortable, five is explosive and extreme and time spent in this zone needs to be well calculated and monitored to avoid adverse affects.

Each one of these zones needs to be covered over a cycle (months) and the minutes in each zone carefully considered for the workouts. This will lead to maximum results with minimum fatigue – surely an attractive proposition for any exerciser!

So as you will be starting to appreciate – optimum results are about following your heart and not adhering to some general ‘catch all’ principle.

Having a successful fat burning workout has everything to do with raising the threshold. This is the area in which we feel pushed and fatigued. However don’t rush to that point. Reaching the threshold too soon actually reduces the fat burning facility.

A slow warm up is very important – it tells the fat cells to release fat for fuel during exercise, it also allows the body to expand the fat burning range and extend the threshold. Our threshold changes daily and is affected by various factors including: stress, fatigue, sickness and workload amongst others – this is another good reason to gradually increase intensity so as not to misread the body’s signals and heart rate.

When ‘Spinning’ first came out the participants noticed their fat percentage reduce for the first time in years. This was not necessarily because of the high vigorous nature of the workout, but because the cyclist could warm up from spinning the weighted flywheel without intensity and didn’t significantly raise the heart rate in the early minutes. Skipping this stage of the workout leaves the body ill prepared for effective fat burning or progression in training.

Best things to do:

– Establish realistically how much time can be committed to CV in your week
– Treat the body with respect and don’t skip stages or phases
– Warm up very slowly
– The progression needs to be over months and the proportions of time / minutes in zones properly calculated

To discover your maximum heart rate email me.

Joey Bull is a 4 x GB Fitness Champion, Adventure Athlete and leading international Personal Trainer. For more information – www.joeybull.com 

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