Tuesday, July 16, 2013

High Maximum, Low Minimum

Previous article from the same series: The Rhythm of the Heart

The goal of efficient athlete is to have a capability of high maximum heart rate, and as low resting heart rate. John Douillard says: "As we age the heart just cannot beat as fast as it used to. At the same time, the resting heart rate starts creeping up, bringing these two numbers closer together. One of the classic ways of measuring youth, overall health and cardiovascular status is to have a low resting heart rate and a high maximum heart rate."

Maximum heart rate (HRmax) is usually calculated by formula 220 – years of age. It can be measured, though, more precisely (the most accurate way of measuring HRmax is via a cardiac stress test: an exercise monitored by an ECG), but I doubt that average recreational windsurfer will go through that procedure. So, you are quite safe with the number you get with this formula. For me, that would be 169 bpm (beats per minute). Of course, chronological age is measured by calendar years, but this may not be a good reflection of fitness and health. We all know people who appear much younger—or older—than their chronological age. From Wikipedia: "…note that individuals of the same age, the same training, in the same sport, on the same team, can have actual HRmax 60 bpm apart (160-220): the range is extremely broad..."

Resting heart rate (HRrest) is heart rate measured after, let say, good sleep. You may stay a little longer in the bed in the morning, attach your heart rate monitor and measure the beats. Notice the lowest number – that is resting heart rate. Usually it will be around 60 to 80. If you are very fit, it can be less, even less than 50. Also, with exercising the number will go down.

I am not feeling safe to recommend (or to practice myself) any specific exercise aimed at increasing the capability of high heart rates. Of course, this will happen by itself with improved health and fitness. Since the efficiency usually demands lowering heart rate, let's focus on this.

As far as I can see, today’s recommendations also point to lower heart rates than we used to think. For example, exercising on 65-75% of your max heart rate is considered healthy. John Douillard and his zone training would put that even lower, actually so low that when you first time start to do it, you would probably think that you are doing nothing!

Douillard method is quite similar to old Karvonen formula based on resting heart rate (HRrest) in order to calculate target heart rate. However, while others aim at 85%, in zone training you will go for not more than 60% or 75%, while the best excersize will stay at targer heart rate (THR) of 50% (in the begining, it can be equal to stand up and walk!).

Here is Karvonen formula:

THR = ((HRmax − HRrest) × % intensity) + HRrest

My resting heart rate during last couple of months is fluctuating between 54 and 62, let say averaging 61. HRmax according to simple formula mentioned earlier would be 169.

50% Intensity: ((169 − 61) × 0.50) + 61 = 115 bpm
75% Intensity: ((169 − 61) × 0.75) + 61 = 142 bpm

I have examined, at least by reading, many different training methods. You may do the same. But whatever you do, my recommendation is that you try and keep your heart rate as low as possible. Heart is a muscle and it can be trained to do many things. If you train it to beat very fast when you walk, it will do so. If you train it to go over 150 bpm every time you start running, it will do so. We may think it should be like that, or that it is given by nature, but it is not completely true! Many things, including heart efficiency, can be changed.

I don't want to go into details of some specific training (I might do that in some other articles, although you are free to use whatever you find suitable), but my recommendation (and that is what I do) is to use your ability to control the heart rate via biofeedback-awareness link and make it lower in any case!

For example, I used to do 45 minutes biking exercise with average 125 bpm. That was the constant average for more than six months. I believe my physical fitness was improving just by doing it regularly three times per week. But the average bpm were the same. After only ten days of paying attention to heart rate, I was able to lower it to 118 bpm average, and it seems that I can do even lower. I am not talking now about improved physical condition (training and exercising is the only way to do it), but about the power of attention! That is what makes the difference, and what will, in the end, tell your heart that it can do the job without straining so much.

That is why it is important to use heart rate monitor. Sometimes, just watching it and wanting it to be lower, can do the trick. Sometimes, stopping when you see it goes too high is enough so the next time it will not do it. Breathing techniques can be of great help. I will go into that in later articles.

Whatever your chosen method of training is, do it with at least couple of heart beats less. As I said, with the training it will happen by itself, but using the heart rate monitor as a biofeedback, will make it quicker. In time you will learn to do it even without an intermediate device (heart rate monitor). Of course, if you see that your chosen method of training demands from your heart very high numbers, and there are no signs of going down, it would be wise to reconsider what are you actually doing and why.

There is one useful thing you can do with the resting heart rate. It will change from time to time, even from day to day. To measure it, it’s not necessary time consuming. Although it would be ideal to measure resting heart rate at least 10 or 20 minutes to get real number, for everyday use, you will learn to estimate if the heart rate is average, lower or higher in a very short time (one to two minutes is enough to get an idea). If you notice that it is unusually high, skip the hard exercise that day. Do just warm up or something lighter. High resting rate in the morning may be the sign of stress and fatigue in your body that you might not be aware of. Hard exercise in that condition may do more damage than good, decrease your enjoyment significantly and thus hamper your path towards the zone.

Next article from the same series: What Is Your Heart Doing While You Are Windsurfing?

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