Do you have goals? What are they? Why do you train? Where do you see yourself in 6 months?
I think these are important questions for those of us who train for specific reasons and are looking for positive results and growth. But not everyone falls into this bucket. It depends and knowing what bucket you fall into is very important, in my opinion, on what it is you do.
For a large number of people, training means getting in their steps, burning a specific number of calories a day, doing things such as going for walks, light calisthenics to keep moving, and to maintain the ability to keep moving. For those of us who exercise to maintain a high level of athleticism, to compete, to be a better person physically today than a year ago then it’s very important how we train. And when I say train I’m really encompassing all things we do that impact training.
If you fall into the former group I mentioned above then this post might not be for you. If you fall into the latter then keep reading and hopefully you’ll pick up some tips that will help you grow athletically.
How we train directly impacts the results we get. Throughout time there have been many schools of thought on this. To run marathons you need to train distance, and lots of it is a good example. That’s how marathoners used to train years ago, nothing but long slow runs. But that changed and interval training was introduced and those who added interval training started to win events and set records. How we train with respect to the impact on our cardio health is very important. What energy system you use is very important.
But how do you know what energy system you are using, and how does this impact your results?
I’m going to start off by making a recommendation. It’s one I’ve made before but I’m going to make it again. You need to get a device that at a bare minimum records your heart rate. And with that, I recommend you get one that gets you the most data. Monitoring heart rate is a good start but at the simplest level, it’s just showing you where you are at when you look at it. It doesn’t record your heart rate the whole workout only at that point of time you look at it. This is fine to know where you are at that moment but does not give you the data to understand where you were throughout the workout. A better device will allow you to break down your whole workout post-workout and understand at various points how you were performing. Some devices will let you set a maximum heart rate for that workout and warm you if you exceed it. If you are training your aerobic threshold this is a great feature as it will prevent you from having your heartrate slip into a higher zone. There are also devices that will factor in how rested you are (taking into account amount and quality of sleep, if alcohol has been consumed, etc.) and give you guidance on the type of workout you should be doing or even if you should be working out that day. How well we have recovered from our previous day should be included in the analysis we do when we decide how we are going to work out. If we are consistently overtraining because we aren’t taking this into account you are harming yourself and in actuality, you are moving backward instead of forwards with your athletic performance. Overtraining can also lead to injury, lack of progress, depression, and could also lead to loss of interest in training.
We are living in a time and age that probably has given us the most sophisticated tools we can have to better understand our fitness, health, and ability to perform. Training has evolved from getting up in the morning and doing the same tried and true to using data, feedback from our bodies to determine the workout for that day, and also tools to monitor our performance during the workout. Olympic athletes are constantly using modern tools, data, coaches, doctors to squeeze out as much as they can from their bodies. Technology to analyze and refine technique, and tools to analyze our bodies metrics and determine what is the best workout for that day.
We can’t go hard all the time, especially if you are more of an endurance athlete. It’s a mix of hard and soft, of yin and yang.
So how can you do that? Let me start with the basics, knowing what zone to train in. For this post, I’m going to cover zone 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Zone 2 can be called the fun zone as it’s the zone to use for the long and slow type of exercises, that gentle run where you can carry on a conversation. For this type of activity, you will want your heart rate to be at 60% at the low end to 70% of your max heart rate at the high end. This is the heart rate zone where you can carry out an activity such as running for 2 or more hours. Primarily using fat but also some glucose (sugar) for energy. Typically your muscles will tire before your cardio. This zone helps to build efficiency in our cardiovascular system, build endurance, and increase efficiency in our fat oxidation system. It’s hard to stay in but has a lot of benefits. This zone can easily comprise the majority of your training time amounting from 50% to 60%.
For this zone, you will want your heart rate to be at 70% on the low end and no higher than 80% of heart rate max for the top end. This zone is not a zone to spend a lot of time in (maybe %5 of total training time) as it doesn’t make you faster or stronger, and you don’t reap the benefits of the lower zones. Try to resist the temptation of being in this zone.
High exertion training. Training in this zone will help you get fast. Spend about 15% of your training in this zone. At this pace, I’m hitting about 90% MHR at the top end. Want to get faster and stronger? This zone will help with that. Spend about 15% of total time in this zone.
Raw speed and power is what zone 5 is about. This is high-intensity training. Train in this zone and you will need to ensure you have ample time, optimum nutrition to recover. Ever do a Tabata session? Yep, you are in zone 5. Because this zone is very intense, do not devote more than 10% of your total workout time in this zone.
Those are the zones. They give us different benefits, and also can lead to detriments if we stick to a zone for too long or are in that zone too often.
So let me ask you a question…
…what zone were you in your last training session?
If you don’t know then you aren’t training smart, or as smart as you can be. Think how simple it is to have a device tell you if you are training well. You’re putting in the work anyway but now you are putting in smart work. Have you ever woken up tired and dragged your ass to the gym and did your best to put in the work but you couldn’t? And you felt like shit about yourself, putting yourself down, telling yourself you’re useless. We shouldn’t be stuck to a strict schedule if that schedule is wrong. “Tuesday is Tabata, Wed. is 30 min interval training”, etc. That all looks great on paper but we are not machines! We are different from one day to the next due to a number of influences.
Having a device that tells us we are well-rested and recovered and today you can go hard, or it tells us that today is a good day for an easier workout because you didn’t recover well. This is training smart, and if you start to train hard when you can, train easier when you can’t train hard, you won’t be overtraining and you’ll end up spending more time quality training. And you’ll probably see some better results.
A variety of training doesn’t just mean different activities, it also means different intensities. Keep that in mind moving forward and enjoy those training sessions that are the long and slow ones. Those ones can be fun.
Yours in health,