Category Archives: Recovery

Heart Rate Training Zones: A New Approach

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Heart Rate training zone systems take for granted that a fairly high level of sustained aerobic effort is comfortable or consistently sustainable for most people, which of course it’s not. Most runners just take for granted that it’s normal and never consider that what they consider “easy” or “recovery” is in fact still too hard.

One of the reasons a runner’s aerobic development improves more quickly than their neuromuscular development is because running itself is very demanding. On both fronts you’re being pushed very hard. However, your aerobic and hormonal capacities bounce back much more quickly than your muscles, bones and joints.

Still, it’s incredibly stressful on your body chemistry to go that hard that often, and the fatigue can snowball too quickly for you to be able to handle a high volume of that kind of aerobic training.

In my cross training, I find I need to go pretty hard to get to Zone 1 in most heart rate training zone systems… somewhat too hard for the purposes of whatever cross training I’m doing. The level of effort require would leave me rather tired and possibly sore. This supposed recovery exercise ends up not helping me recover much at all.

It’s not that most runners are just stronger. They just spend all their lives in this perpetual fatigue, physical and adrenal. The long term effects on their health are taken for granted as aging or wear and tear, when in actuality it’s probably preventable… without compromising your fitness or development.

My most recent heart rate zones of choice were a standard 50/60/70/80/90/100 split based on the Karvonen Formula, which uses heart rate reserve. This is a function of your resting and max heart rates, and the zones are proportioned against those rates. Zone 1 for example would be 50-60% of the gap between your resting and max heart rate (your “heart rate reserve (HRR)”), zone 2 60-70% of the HRR, etc.

With a max HR of around 184 beats per minute, this sets my minimum training heart rate around 120 (depending on what my resting heart rate is at that time), with zone 1 peaking at about 130-135. This is about where most heart rate zone systems would put zone 1, and is considered a “recovery” heart rate.

On the spin bike, even at a brisk but easy effort, my heart rate is around 105-110. On the ARC Trainer I can get to 125-130, but only with a more moderate effort. On the rowing machine, a concerted effort typically gets me to about 110-120.

However, when running, I rarely can cruise at a heart rate below 130, no matter how slow and easy I run. I basically have to stop and walk/run to average a zone 1 heart rate. This is not a product of lacking fitness: Even at my peak condition and training in Chicago, it took the right combination of circumstances for me to average 125-130 at an easy effort.


All of this is to say that maybe our view of heart rate zones and “recovery zones” is a bit warped and could use an adjustment.

This is especially true in our coronavirus circumstances, where if we go to the gym (and in many cases train outside) we need to wear a mask while while exercising. We can’t huff and puff at full volume and expect max results if a mask is filtering much of the air taken in or expelled. I’ve talked before about this being a long term training benefit, but in the present it makes the effort required for aerobic training a bit too much.

Bear in mind as well that, to maintain the typical intensity for a full volume of training, you have to consume a lot of carbohydrates, which can cause a variety of inflammatory health problems if consumed in the large amounts that most endurance athletes tend to require.

One of the reasons low-carb diets tend not to work well for endurance athletes is because they train at an intensity where they need a lot of glycogen, and that can only come from and be replenished from a carbohydrate rich diet.

Could it be possible to scale back carb consumption to a more (shall I say) human level, rely more on slower fat burning, and still be able to train, perform, and develop at a high level.

I say yes, and I say the key to doing so is combining (now-)traditional 80/20 training principles with a revised approach to heart rate zones.

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Curing Your Sleep Problems

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Here is a topic near and dear to my heart, an important facet of health that I’ve been working on as much as my diet and exercise.

The single most important aspect of your training development outside of the actual exercise is your ability to get good sleep. Even the important factor of your diet serves in large part your ability to effectively sleep, and its positive effects on your health will be limited if you aren’t sleeping well.

Over 1/3 of U.S. residents surveyed report they don’t get at least 7 hours sleep, and it’s no surprise nearly 40% report some sort of sleep disorder. While some may try to pinpoint the cause to some sort of disorder, the reality is that our choices play a substantial role in how much sleep we get or don’t get.

Unless you’re caring for a newborn child (during that period, they’re often going to wake up overnight and there’s little you can do about that), those choices were to a substantial degree probably avoidable. Even being compelled to keep a complicated, troublesome schedule due to career or family concerns is to some degree a preventable product of life choices. We often choose other priorities over sleep and don’t realize what a mistake that is.

But I digress, and that’s a whole other topic. Barring such extenuating circumstances, most people have ample opportunity to get good sleep every night, and they just don’t. And they may not be fully aware of what else they do aside from just staying awake to deny themselves of that opportunity to sleep….

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Energy Availability and making sure you don’t undereat when training

Currently I’m tinkering with my diet, not necessarily the foods but the meal timing and the calorie macros.

It’s not so much that my weight loss has currently stalled. In fact, it did drop to a month-low 168.9 lbs over the weekend… though it has been tough, slow going to move the average down.

I’m trying to naturally maximize my energy levels, which when I’ve fasted had tended to stay low. This means I need more nutrients around these times, which indicates I should stop fasting.

However, I went back through my RRCA training course materials… mostly because I was walking on a treadmill for an hour and the spiral-bound book was one of the only books I had that I could suitably read while on the treadmill. In any case, I went through the information-laden appendicies and it includes a robust booklet on nutrition by the IAAF.

In the IAAF’s Nutrition materials, they mention an interesting stat: Energy availability. The idea of Energy Availability is that aside from calories burned in exercise, the body has a certain number of calories it needs to rebuild and recover from that exercise.

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My biggest Chicago training mistake

Hindsight is typically 20/20 when it comes to training mistakes. Often you couldn’t have known at the time you were making a mistake, as experience afterwards is what ultimately taught you that what you thought was right turned out not to be right.

I trained a lot in Chicago as a runner, and I got into pretty good condition for where I was at. I learned how to prevent and safely work through injuries, and I logged a substantial volume of miles while running in dozens of races during the few years I seriously trained.

Looking back, I realize that something I did at every speed or tempo workout was actually counterproductive to my recovery and growth. It was hard to miss in large part because most of the people I trained with made a habit of the same thing, and even coaches didn’t realize this was counterproductive.

But the mistake inadvertently slowed my growth from these workouts, and had I know not to do it then I likely would have recovered more quickly and grown stronger workout-over-workout than I ended up doing. It may have made a substantial difference in how I performed in marathons and other key races.

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Twelve (12) Training and Lifestyle Tips For Fat Burning

There’s a lot I could say about fat burning, and there’s a legion of users-guide material throughout the internet world about methods to healthy fat burning (and many more about unhealthy fat burning ideas, which I will not bother to cover). I could write a piece about a dozen topics.

But I think it would help you to get some actionable tips in one place, and perhaps a shorter bit of writing on each of those in one place may help you more in the present. I can always cover all of these topics in additional pieces later.

So instead, I’m going to put a dozen topics into this long post, and succinctly get into why you should make it a standard or best practice.

If you’re trying to burn fat and struggling with it, these tips should help spur things along or keep things moving in the right direction.

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Eat A Big Dinner Before Bed

This won’t be long or in depth. I just understand that many people struggle with sleep, despite knowing much of the general advice every other person and website gives. I want to offer a key actionable tip that works for me and MIGHT help you.

Eat a big meal a couple hours before bed. I don’t subscribe to the “breakfast like a king, dinner like a pauper” mindset, in some part because I usually intermittent fast, skip breakfast, and when I do eat lunch it’s lighter largely out of necessity: I’m usually working, and a big lunch will only tank my energy level, which I obviously don’t need.

So lunch should be light. Dinner has to be big.

The big reason you want to eat a big dinner before bed is that hunger can keep you awake. If you eat a light dinner, then you will probably be hungry when you go to bed. Hunger will rev up your hormones and keep you awake when you want to not be awake.

And no, a snack before bed is not the answer. You typically shouldn’t be snacking either way.

A subsequent and useful reason for a big dinner is that digestion can cause fatigue. Blood flows to your digestive tract, taking away resources and emphasis on the rest of your body. This causes the general fatigue you often feel after a big meal, and certainly on workdays after lunch.

Yes, your food choice also matters, and certain foods can make you more sluggish than others. I notice if I eat a light lunch with, say, tuna and produce, I feel mostly good afterward. If I eat a lunch with something processed/fried or a lot of carbs, my energy level tanks and I physically feel heavy. That’s not totally because I ate a large lunch, so much as because the quality of the food required my body to inflame plus required more energy to digest.

However, if you eat a bulkier meal before bed, then that sluggish effect is exactly what you want. You want to go to sleep. Feeling tired and sluggish is going to get you there.

If you’re worried about indigestion, then you probably need to clean up your diet some. I’ve had foods that cause acid reflux. I also never eat those foods for dinner. The whole food protein, vegetables, clean carbs that I do eat are much better for digestion. If you’re having heartburn or reflux problems when you eat a big dinner before bed, it’s probably the quality of your food rather than the fact that you ate before bed.

It honestly helps if you practice some sort of intermittent fasting or limited intake during the day. But I recognize if you have your reasons not to do so. Just recognize that you need to burn at least as many calories as you take in, lest you gain weight.

Yet you don’t want to get to dinner having to calorie-count that meal and heavily limit your intake. At least get to dinner with enough calories left to consume that you can comfortably have a big dinner.

This points to your smart move being to eat light or not at all during the work/school day. If you don’t skip breakfast, have a light, protein rich breakfast. Definitely have a light, protein rich lunch. Don’t eat anything out of a package unless that anything is as close to its original form as possible (like a bag of nuts, not like a bag of potato chips… like a can of tuna, not like a TV dinner).

Drink coffee or tea. Learn to love it without cream and sugar. Drink water. But now I’m digressing into a separate subject.

Anyway, never minding things like dimming lights and screens, sleep hygiene, etc… the most important element to sleep that’s never addressed is how satisfied your appetite is when you go to bed. Err on the side of making sure you don’t go to bed hungry, even if it means going somewhat hungry during the day to allow for a larger dinner.

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The Marathon Training Mistake People Make In Organized 20 Mile Runs

CARAready2run

Logo for the Chicago Area Runner’s Association’s annual Ready To Run 20 Miler, held about 3-4 weeks before the annual Chicago Marathon.

In many major cities with major marathons, organizations will hold an official pay-to-play 20 mile run 3-4 weeks before the marathon, to coincide with most participants’ final planned long run before their taper. The official events mark out a course and provide aid stations every 3K or so, much like an actual race.

 

Though these events are technically held and run like an official race, the clear idea is that participants will do this as their longest training run before the marathon, since most training plans typically ask for runners to peak with a 20 mile long run a few weeks before the race. The idea is not just so runners can do their long run with a like minded group of runners, but that they get support along the way with water and electrolyte sugar fluid every 3K or so, as well as the usual commemorative gear like a bib number and race shirt.

While I totally support the staging and usage of official 20 miler runs for marathon preparation (provided your training plan calls for said 20 mile run), there is a significant mistake most runners make when doing the 20 miler.

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