Training With Heart Rate #RunFormFriday

Training with heart rate

Training With Heart Rate

The potential benefits of training with heart rate monitors have been so positively encouraged in running magazines that many runners feel it’s a necessity to train with heart rate. Heart rate monitors can keep you in the right training zones, prevent overtraining, and help monitor progress. But, what if those benefits are outweighed by the limitations of training with heart rate? Could it be possible your heart rate monitor is holding you back from reaching your potential? In my experience as a coach and athlete, training by heart rate is less accurate and more problematic than training by pace, feel and RPE unless you are a very experienced runner. Therefore, I don’t recommend it to the athletes I coach. Here are three reasons why:

1. Many changes in heart rate do not match up to effort levels

The biggest limitation to heart rate training is that many changes in your heart rate do not correlate to your fitness level. Sleep, stress, and dehydration can all raise or lower heart rate on any given day. As normal people with jobs, families, and otherwise busy lives, these outside influencers are common and can have a drastic affect on your heart rate readings.

Sleep and heart rate variability
Studies have concluded that a lack of sleep, will elevate your heart rate 5-10 beats per minute (bpm). While this may not seem like a big change, coupled with the other factors below, a lack of sleep could cause you to train at heart rate levels that are below your optimal training zones. In addition, you naturally have a lower heart rate in the morning than you do at night. Even further, heart rate can vary by 2-4 bpm from one day to the next without any changes to fitness or fatigue. Therefore, you need to adjust your heart rate to accommodate for the time of day you’ll be attacking the roads and factor in daily variability.

Stress has the same affect on your heart rate as a lack of sleep. One study in particular showed that workplace stress raised heart rates by 4-6 bpm. This is an important statistic for runners who train after work. Unlike sleep, an exact measurement of your stress level, and therefore the exact increase in your heart rate, is difficult to determine. While running is a great way to reduce the effects of stress, the elevated heart rates you experience while in a stressful state will change the heart rates at which you should be running.

As runners with busy lives, caffeine often becomes the fuel that runs our day – for better or worse. While staying awake at work is ideal, studies have shown that caffeine elevates heart rate for up to 24 hours after ingestion.
Like stress, it is difficult to measure the exact change in heart rate you’ll experience when consuming caffeine because we all react individually to its effects. Runners who are accustomed to caffeine will be less affected than those who only drink the occasional cup.

Weather also has a dramatic influence on heart rate. During hot days, your heart rate will increase as your body works to cool itself down. In hot and humid conditions, blood is sent to the skin to aid in the cooling process. This means there is less available blood and oxygen for your working muscles. Therefore, your heart has to work harder to maintain the same pace and effort during your run. Conversely, heart rate will decrease (or more accurately underestimate the intensity of exercise) in response to training in cold environments. Researchers posit that training in cold temperatures results in an increase in stroke volume and thus a higher V02max, which will lower the perceived effort and reduce your heart rate.

Finally, dehydration has a profound affect on heart rate. In one study, researchers found that cyclists who exercised in a dehydrated state exhibited heart rate readings that were 5-7.5% higher than normal. Like the above factors, training in a dehydrated state can drastically influence your heart rate training zones. While each of these factors in itself isn’t cause to throw your heart rate monitor out the window, when you combine their effects, you can easily be exercising outside your target heart rate zones on any given day. Likewise, the exact measurement of your stress levels, caffeine intake, and heart rate variability can be difficult to pinpoint, leaving you guessing at your actual heart rate levels.

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Training with heart rate

2. Lack of concrete data needed to establish training zones

Another inherent drawback to heart rate training is how difficult it is to establish you max heart rate and accurate training zones. While a quick Google search reveals a myriad of formulas to help you find your max heart rate, the problem with formulas is that they are based on an average. What if you’re not average? Not only that, but is maximum heart rate really the best predictor of training zones?
In order to establish proper training zones, an athlete must first determine their maximum heart rate (MHR). Unfortunately, a majority of runners use simple heart rate formulas (does 220 minus age ring a bell), which have a high degree of error.
To get an accurate measure of your maximum heart rate, you should partake in a graded exercise test, but locating a facility that can accommodate this type of testing isn’t easily found. Likewise, a graded exercise test won’t be appropriate for a beginner runner who can’t handle such a stressful workout.
Therefore, many runners who control their effort by heart rate may be doomed from the start by using faulty max heart rates.
Training zones and correlation with lactate levels. Training with heart rate monitors require adherence to a specific set of heart rate zones, each of which is designed to elicit a particular exercise intensity. Unfortunately, maximum heart rate is not the ideal way to measure the bodies response to exercise. Rather, blood lactate levels are more accurate.
In fact, research has demonstrated that there is no predictable relationship between heart rate and lactate threshold. Lactate threshold tends to occur at around 90% of maximum heart rate in well-trained runners, but it can occur at 50% of maximum heart rate for beginners. Therefore, your optimal training zones could be far outside what traditional heart rate training advocates suggest.

3. Faulty readings and flawed monitors produce inaccurate data

While I have been rather scientific so far, perhaps my biggest gripe in regards to heart rate monitor training is the unreliable data. From a training and coaching standpoint, I am not willing to make my training decisions based on devices that barely work half of the time. As a coach and a runner myself, If I am going to rely on the data I am receiving to make the best decisions about training, I need to be confident that it’s correct at least 95% of the time. Otherwise, I may be making training decisions based on irrelevant and inaccurate information.

Now, this doesn’t mean I never use heart rate or think it’s a terrible idea all together. Simply speaking, I don’t trust it and would rather develop a runner’s more fine-tuned internal sense of effort and pace. If you use a heart rate monitor currently, you don’t have to stop – just keep these three caveats in mind.

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about heart rate training in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Swimming Quiet, Swim Fast #SwimTechTues

When you look at a pool of swimmers doing lengths, which ones are moving the fastest? The ones who are splashing and churning away at the water? Or the people being controlled, swimming quiet, serenely and smoothly through the water.

Of course its the swimmers making that smooth and silent progress who are travelling the fastest when swimming more than 25m at a time. That’s not to say all the fastest swimmers swim precisely and perfectly, just that they are not expending more energy than required.

Swimming Quiet

Slapping and splashing at the water takes a lot of energy – the sound and water displaced takes a lot of effort and power. Added to this, as a result of making a big splash, you end up taking lots of bubbles down under water in contact with your hands. The more bubbles that are on your hands, the less water you will be able to control and squeeze back. As a result you will end up taking more strokes and using more energy or power to go the same speed

Swimming quiet

Taking more bubbles down under water can make your swim more inefficient

The more you can slide your fingertips into the water, the more you get control of the water through the front end of your stroke (your “catch”). The better the hold you can get on the water, the further you can go with each stroke, leading to a far less rushed effort.

Swimming quiet

Hopefully taking more water and less bubbles back, driving through with better power.

Watching the Alexandr Popov video above, even at speed he creates very little splash, and travels a longer way with each stroke (around 2m per stroke).

Take your time with learning this – as with any skill. The point is that drills are there to make you smoother, stronger, more efficient. Make sure you hit all those target points!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Keep Your Head Up #RunFormFriday

Your head position when you run is crucial, but people don’t think about it enough, and it’s often something that can hold you back that you don’t realise. How you hold your head is key to overall posture, which determines how efficiently you run. Lets look at how your head position affects your entire body.

Running head position


Head Position

Your head position ultimately determines the shape of your spine and position of your stomach while running. Let your gaze guide you. Look ahead naturally, not down at your feet, and scan the horizon. This will straighten your neck and back, and bring them into alignment. Don’t allow your chin to jut out.

The mistakes that people often make are looking at their feet, and letting their head sink into their shoulders. Looking down and consequently flexing through the chest and neck causes various effects. It causes the spine to lose alignment, it causes potential impingement and consequent tightness in your shoulders/arms, it can effect movement of the arms which is crucial for rhythm and tempo and it also causes greater weight to be placed on the lower body and your movement lever to be reduced. Altogether this makes you less efficient and heavier as a runner.

Running head position



All this has a positive effect on overall posture. By keeping your head up and eyes forward, it allows you to engage your core better. This in turn will allow your feet to land under your hips better, stronger and more stably. The more you can keep a good strong posture, the more relaxed you can be. The upshot of all this is that you should have more energy to run faster or harder!

Send us a message or leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions! We all have our own thoughts on the matter, and we all have something different that suits us.

See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Swim Jargon, Language, Do YOU Understand It? #SwimTechTues

Negative split. Catch. CSS training. Threshold. Feel of the water. Functional training.

These are all terms bandied around by athletes, coaches and magazines alike. Things we all see and hear weekly or even daily. But do YOU actually know what these words or terms actually mean?



The language that we use defines how we perform our actions. Make sure that you understand what you are doing – and more importantly why you are doing it!

Here are a few bits that we think might need a bit of explaining!

Catch – Commonly known as the front end of your swim stroke (freestyle or otherwise). But can you really “catch” the water? I’m not a fan of the term, it has to be said, I’d prefer to refer to it as engaging on the water. But whatever you call it, your first contact on the water each stroke is what sets you up, gets you moving and sends you forward.

Rotation – Movement from the shoulders, and more importantly the hips away from being flat in the water. The idea is that we want to make sure that the resistance we present to the water is minimal, while at the same time using the largest upper body muscles (lats) and making it easier for ourselves to breath. We’re not expecting to get to 90 degrees to the water like the drills encourage you to do, but a good 30-40 degrees would be nice.

Feel for the water – another very esoteric term… water is wet! What it really means is feeling contact, feeling pressure through all parts of the stroke, and having a control over what you are doing. Too many athletes are concerned with cadence, or arm turnover, and not actually being able to feel like they are pushing the water back or levering themselves forward. Consequently their hands slice through the water like a knife through butter, and they go very little distance per stroke.

CSS – Critical swim speed training – It’s an approximation of your lactate threshold speed and you can find it by doing a couple of swimming tests. This isn’t something that I like to use personally – as I feel that it encourages too much rushing, but this is my own personal opinion and plenty of people use it to good effect!

Negative Split – to do the second half of a swim (or a bike or run!) as fast if not faster than the second half. To do this well takes a good understanding of your body and how to pace yourself. The best swims or events are the ones done with an even pacing rather than going too hard to start with and falling apart.

Hopefully these little explanations have helped. What terms do you not fully understand? What would help you understand your swim and swim sessions more? Get in touch and let us know!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Running Posture #RunFormFriday

Running from the hips

Firstly, let me preface my following comments by saying that running technique isn’t a one size fit’s all subject (for example the heel striking vs midfoot striking debate). Every runner is different. However, we are all bound by the same laws of physics! As such, there are aspects of good running technique, such as posture, which will commonly apply to the vast majority of runners and triathletes.

The most important thing to appreciate with reference to running posture is that gravity can either work for you or against you. When good running posture enables you to engage gravity and use it to your advantage, you get the feeling of controlled falling forward and developing “free speed”. In contrast if your running posture is poor, you end up fighting against gravity to push yourself off the ground.

So what constitutes good running posture? There are many elements from head to toe, in all three planes which on a segmental level interact to create a balanced posture. For the sake of this article I’m going to focus on what commonly occurs around the hips and pelvis – and what that then creates above and below.

Arguably the most important factor in achieving correct running posture is the slight forward lean… Not “whether” a slight forward lean is achieved, but “how”.

Running Posture

Keeping a straight line between the top of your neck and your heels will accentuate that strong posture

We’ve all seen runners who look tired and laboured as they bend forwards from the waist as they run. Contrast this image with one of a runner who remains straight, long and strong from head-to-toe, achieving a whole-body forwards lean from ankles upwards.

The difference between the two postures: alignment. The runner who bends forwards from the waist, flexing at the hips and losing alignment will tend to sit their butt backward to counter balance their upper body’s forward position, a result of weak glutes and poor core strength. This “sat back” posture often results in an over-striding style, increasing braking forces and impact as the foot lands way ahead of the centre of mass. Due to the way in which the hips and pelvis are sat back behind the point of initial contact, the effect of falling forwards and using gravity can’t be achieved. Instead, more energy is expended to push-off from stride to stride.

In contrast, keeping your body in alignment, by maintaining a whole body forward lean from ankles upwards (keeping hips and pelvis from sitting back) will move your body mass forwards, closer to over the top of where the foot makes it’s initial contact. This will vastly decrease braking forces and impact. The slight forwards lean of the whole body in alignment from head-to-toe will bring your centre of mass up and over the top of your base of support (foot), enabling gravity to pull you forwards as you begin to “fall” forwards.

Hey presto – increased forwards momentum for minimal effort!

What cues and imagery works for you to keep your posture on the run?

Send us a message or leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions! We all have our own thoughts on the matter, and we all have something different that suits us.

See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!