Category Archives: Exercise

Heart Rate: Should It Be Tied To Pace?

Many running guides, metrics, coaches, etc, will talk about your pace in relation to your heart rate, namely your maximum heart rate and what percentage of your maximum heart rate corresponds to a given effort or pace.

What to do in accordance with your heart rate depends on who is giving the advice, from Daniels and other coaches recommending a given heart rate for every pace, even suggesting your fastest runs be done at 100% of your max… to the Phil Maffetones of the world recommending you never run above 75-80% of your maximum heart rate… to coaches like the Hanson Brothers who won’t really discuss heart rate at all, focusing solely on your pace.

And this never minds that few can seem to agree on how to determine your max heart rate. Presuming you don’t shell out for an abusive VO2max or heart rate test, you’re often left to estimate using methods no one can agree on. The conventional ‘subtract your age from 220’ formula has long since been proven inaccurate. Runner’s World floated the result of a 2001 study as proof that the formula is close to (207 – (your age * 0.7)).

Scientists in Norway have found that an accurate formula is (211 – (your age * 0.64)). That’s the formula I use. The max it gives me (currently 185) seems more attainable than other results.

But anyway…. Personally, because I’m a fan of not dropping dead, I tend to avoid trying to hit my max heart rate even when running hard.

The closest I have gotten according to my Fitbit tracker is 184. My Blaze once said my heart rate had hit 187, but that could have been a blip. In neither case did I feel anywhere close to death: They were random occurrences during otherwise typically tough runs or workouts.

In most of my speed workouts and races, my heart rate may reach the 160’s, occasionally the 170’s. In my fastest 5K’s my HR has tapped the low 170’s for a short spell, but otherwise I never get above the high 160’s… even if technically I should be able to hit 185.

I do begin to wonder if along with my aerobic endurance my lower body muscles have sort of a ‘solid state hard drive’ strength to them, where my heart doesn’t need to pump at a maximal rate to keep everything going, where the muscles have the strength and energy systems to keep going with a more high-normal rate of circulation.

Even when running at closer to threshold effort or pace, I find I don’t always get to what Daniels would consider a threshold heart rate. It’s often closer to a marathon effort heart rate, maybe a half marathon rate. Even when I PR’d last year’s Lakefront 10, my heart rate never hit the 160’s until the final couple miles, when I was kicking for a strong finish.

Sometimes during my regular runs I hit the 140’s, but often my heart rate is in the 130’s. On my long runs during the last training cycle, I even hung in the recovery-territory 120’s for much of those runs.

I don’t know if I’m doing things differently, or if my body is wired differently, or what. But I certainly don’t mind seeing results even if my heart’s not having to pump at the rate that experts say it should be for me to get those results.

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Sasha Pachev does this and I think for some it might be worth doing as well.

Every few hours, take a break, go outside, and run a mile. It doesn’t have to be fast, though it can be. Get back inside, and go back to whatever you were doing before.

Pachev calls it his Always On The Run Routine. He does more typical training each day, but aside from that he sneaks in a mile here, a mile there, throughout every day. It’s a sneaky way to get 20-25 extra miles on top of your training.

A great time to do this is right before or right after eating breakfast or lunch. A run will prime the body for optimal nutrient absorption, and this will allow more of any protein or carbs consumed to be utilized effectively within that optimal half hour window of exercise.

Now, some of you have to dress impeccably for your jobs and doing a little run during the day is not practical. Some of you work on the umpteenth floor of a Downtown tower and can’t practically get to the ground floor, run a mile and come back in 15 minutes. Of course it’s not going to be practical for some during the workday.

But for many, especially though who can dress a bit more casually, or don’t mind running in their work clothes, it may be a useful way to sneak in some extra bits of training.

Quick tip: Little mile runs during the day

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Want to stay warm in winter?

This occurred to me about halfway through a brutal cardio workout in my otherwise cold apartment (bearing in mind that it isn’t even that cold yet).

There are two very easy ways to warm up during the winter, if you’d rather not blast your heater too much, or it’s so cold your heater isn’t really keeping your home warm.

One, you can cook. Use the oven, use the stove, use whatever generates heat. Cook a full meal. The meal itself can provide some temporary warmth, but a 350-400 degree oven or a hot stove will also provide some warmth. Learn to love cooking again if you need some help dealing with the cold.

Two, you can do serious exercise. The easiest and most direct way is to do an aerobic or circuit exercise program that really kicks your ass, in the not-quite-comfort of your own home. During warmer months, you may sweat enough to need a mop. But in the winter, your overheating may be exactly what your body needs to counteract the cold seeping through your walls into your bones. The added circulation during and after the workout will help keep you warmer than you were before.

Another helpful exercise method is to run outdoors, if you can handle it. I run all winter, and it makes acclimating to the cold easier to spend any extended amount of time active in it. Plus, after about 10-20 minutes of running, you warm up about as much as you do any other time of year. What may overheat you in summer is exactly what you might need in the dead of winter. Once you get inside, it not only will feel warmer than the outdoors, but you’ll be warmer and able to handle the cooler indoor air a lot better.

So, while most people want to curl up under a blanket during the coldest months, your best bet to warm up and stay warm may be to do the opposite. Get busy, and get warm! And probably cook a nice meal as well.

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Cardio, strength, and how people get running all wrong

538 did a feature on the stress of being a long distance runner.

Contrary to popular belief, running is a matter of strength training and development, and overtraining can lead to injuries. “Cardio” isn’t about strengtening the lungs. Your lungs are an organ that has no muscles, and will always have the same capacity of delivering oxygen to your body.

What strengtens is the efficiency with which your muscles do a given task on a given dose of oxygen. When you breathe hard, it’s because you have overtaxed your body so badly that it’s starved of oxygen and your lungs must overcompensate to catch up. Your lungs’ efficiency never changes. The amount of work your muscles can do before reaching that hyperventilation point is what changes.

Running every day is like lifting weights the same way everyday. Would you do the latter? Hell no! (You’d at least switch body parts to focus on each day) If you worked out the exact same parts every day you’d see minimal gains and probably get injured. Yet we’re totally fine with running several miles a day, and far more miles a week than our bodies are comfortably capable of handling.

You’re basically overtraining your lower body, and probably running far more than your muscles have the strength to comfortably handle. A lot of runners push their bodies everyday beyond what their muscles are capable of doing on their own… thus their bones and joints are forced to bear more stress than they should, which is how long term injuries, arthritis and other damage happens.

Your bones and joints also have no muscle, and in many cases cannot recuperate and grow the way your muscles can. Any damage you do from excess work stays done.

Injuries are not a mandatory side effect of running. You can do so in moderation, train properly, and avoid them. But most aspiring runners are taught to, literally, run themselves into the ground.

Some people swear by the Couch to 5K starter plan, but I’m partial to Hal Higdon’s approach to learning running. You put in the distance, but you do so at your own pace, even walking or very lightly jogging the distance if you must. You get your body used to the motion of running in a low-stress fashion, and it gradually develops the strength to run at greater speeds.