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Heart Rate Training

by Aldon Baker

Heart rate monitors consist of a chest strap and wrist watch.

For motocross athletes, heart rate training is a very important element of a sound overall training program. Using your heart at the correct intensity in the activity or sport that you are participating in is the essence of heart rate training. Whether you are the average weekend warrior who races once a month or one of the guys on Sunday aiming to beat one of my riders, heart rate training is very important. Modern technology in the form of a heart rate monitor has changed this once cumbersome task of stopping and checking your heart rate to an act as simple as looking at your wrist for your number. Heart rate monitors have not radically changed the way athletes train, but they have been useful in adding accuracy and structure to training plans. If you do a Google search on “Heart Rate Training” you will uncover a topic that has been written about, researched, debated, accepted, and by some rejected. I invite you to use the power of the Internet and read all you can on the topic. Here is a link to one such article  that I found to be very informative. Because heart rate is so important to effective training, as well as health, fitness and weight management, this article will attempt to simplify the massive amount of information on the topic and present it in terms of applying it to motocross. The basics of what I will tell you are the exact same principles I use every day with my guys.

Do You Still Train till you Drop?
Many people think that to train right is to train hard…..all the time! Most have grown up with the notion that you should train until you drop. The harder the better and of course we all know the famous Nike slogan, No Pain, No Gain. But do you really have a clue as to how hard you should workout or how far you should go? Do you know how to train to increase your aerobic threshold or how to structure an effective recovery workout? I often hear of people saying they road cycle (or run), strength train, and ride “everyday,” because that is what the pro’s do. But I often wonder, are they doing this because that is what they heard or are they actually applying the correct amount of exercise and rest to get the most benefit from their training? Another training hurdle that I often hear about are time constraints. If time is an element that keeps you from exercising, are you getting the most out of your workout in the time that you have? These are all questions that on the surface may seem to have very complicated and involved answers but I want to offer a solution that is quite simple.

The solution is heart rate training. Whether your goal is to win races or just live a long healthy life, using a heart rate monitor is the single most valuable tool you can have in your training arsenal of equipment. If you are a gadget freak in search of making your workouts fun and interesting then this little wizard is worth the cost. Using a heart rate monitor is an easy and effective way to lose weight, get fit, and have some fun without killing yourself in the process.

Why Monitor Your Heart Rate
Your heart rate is a convenient, reliable, personal indicator of the intensity of your exercise. It’s good to know the intensity of exercise so you can vary it depending on your fitness level and the goals you want to achieve. In motocross, we have very distinct seasons (off-season, pre-season, and in-season) and training for each of these periods is most effectively accomplished with heart rates. Each period requires you to maintain certain heart rates for certain amounts of time to get the most out of your training. You don’t have to be a pro to reap the rewards either.

For the beginner it is a good tool for teaching you how your body reacts to training. It also keeps you from training too hard too soon by giving you immediate feedback as to the intensity of your program. Heart rate training is also very easy to apply.

For the average rider it helps you to reach the next level in your training program. Immediate feedback results as you start to learn how your body reacts to varying levels of exercise both during and after exercise. The correlation between performance and heart rate will start to become apparent.

For the serious rider, heart rate training will allow you to accurately apply your program (hard enough on hard days, light enough on recovery days, enough recovery between intervals, etc.). It also enables you to track and make adjustments to your training so when you hit the track you are in the best shape of your life!

Determining Your Heart Rate Training Zones
I use 5 separate zones when setting up a program: a warm-up zone, basic endurance zone, aerobic training zone, anaerobic threshold zone, and the max performance zone. You can use either the Max Heart Rate method or the Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR) test to set up your zones. The Max Heart Rate method is much quicker and easier (but less accurate) while the LTHR is much more demanding and accurate. Setting up your zones is simple once you determine your heart rates from one of these tests.

1. Max Heart Rate Method
Your resting heart rate it is best measured when you wake up in the morning. Before you get out of bed, determine your heart rate by counting the number of beats per minute. You can do this either by counting the number of beats in 10 seconds and multiplying by 6 or more accurately counting the number of beats for a full minute. Some die-hards even wear their heart rate monitors to bed! Write down your resting heart rate and average them over a week. This is your resting heart rate (resting and other heart rate facts).

Max heart rate is determined in the form of a test. It can be done on the motorcycle, a treadmill, running outside, swimming, or cycling. Many facilities offer services to determine max heart rate and there are several accepted protocols for determining max heart rate which include the one mile walk test and the step test (Google these for more info.). Another simple method is to do a run test, which you can do on a track, in a park or on a treadmill. You should not do this without medical advice if you are over 50, if you are obese, or if you have any history of heart problems.

After warming up for at least 15 minutes, run at an even pace for three minutes, as fast as you can. Jog for two minutes; then run again for three minutes as fast as you can. Your maximum heart rate is the maximum level reached during the second 3-minute run.

You can also determine your max heart rate while riding or racing. Simply put on your heart rate monitor and look at the max at the end of your race. It is a good idea to do these tests several times and take the average for an accurate max heart rate. However, do not mix the heart rates from different exercises when determining your max. Max Heart Rates are Sport Specific.

Once you have determined your max and resting heart rates, use this Heart Rate Calculator to determine your training zones.

2. Lactate Threshold Heart Rate
Another highly recommended way to determine heart rate training zones is through a Lactate Threshold Test (LTHR) which Coach Seiji has already covered in this article. I actually recommend the LTTHR to max heart rate, but the choice is yours.

Max Heart Rate Facts
Max HR is genetically determined; in other words, you're born with it.
Max HR is a biomarker, it's your individual number.
Max HR does not reflect your level of fitness (except for the severely out of shape).
Max HR s that are high do not predict better athletic performance.
Max HR s that are low do not predict worse athletic performance.
Max HR is sensitive to certain variables such as altitude, drugs, medication.
Max HR is a fixed number, unless you become unfit.
Max HR cannot be increased by training.
Max HR tends to be higher in women than men.
Max HR has great variability among people of the same age.
Max HR for children is frequently measured at over 200 bpm.
Max HR does not vary from day to day, but it is test-day sensitive.
Max HR testing requires the person to be fully rested.
Max HR testing needs to be done multiple times to determine the exact number.
Max HR is sport specific.
Max HR cannot be accurately predicted by any mathematic formula.

A 2002 study of 43 different formulae for Max Heart Rate, concluded the following:

1.) No "acceptable" formula currently existed, (they used the term "acceptable" to mean acceptable for both prediction of and prescription of exercise training HR ranges). In other words the widly used 220-age formula to predict max heart rate is dated and should NOT BE USED.

2.) The most accurate formula of those examined was: HRmax = 205.8 - (0.685 * age)

Why is my Maximum Heart Rate Different for Different Sports?
Your maximum heart rate will vary from sport to sport because you use different muscle groups in different ways depending on the sport. Running uses different muscles than cycling, rowing, or riding your bike so, your max heart rate will be different for each activity. Another factor involved is how good you are at a sport. If you are just starting out riding a motorcycle but are in pretty good shape, you may not be able to ride the bike hard enough to get your heart rate to it’s peak: same holds true for running, cycling and rowing. If you are not a very good runner, your legs may load-up and fail before your heart rate has a chance to peak.

If you are a runner, determine your max with the run test above and base your training zones off that. With my guys since we use actual riding as part of our training (and get to ride all the time), I know what each rider’s max heart rate is while on the bike and base their training zones off that number. I also determine their max heart rates while cycling (since that is my preferred exercise off the bike) and base those training zones off that number. Bottom line is that you need to determine your max heart rate with the exercise that you will primarily use in training and determine your training zones from there.

I Have my Zones….Now What?

Once you have determined your heart rate training zones you are ready to apply those numbers to your training. For example, if you are doing a recovery workout on Monday after racing on Sunday, use your heart rate monitor to make sure you stay in the required zone for the prescribed amount of time. If you are utilizing interval training, use the monitor to determine when you have transitioned from the aerobic to the anaerobic zones. There are several workouts on this website for training throughout the season, so I won’t go into detail about training for each phase. But now that you are able to determine your heart rate training zones, you can now effectively apply those zones to the workouts with your heart rate monitor. By doing so, you will increase the effectiveness of your workouts, make better use of your time allotted to training, and most importantly it will get you back to what you love to do most: riding

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    lewis parkinson March 11, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    were do i get a heart rate monitor from and are they easy to use?

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 11, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    You can get a heart rate monitor from just about any sporting goods store and they are incredibly easy to use.

  3. Gravatar
    Joel Younkins March 15, 2010 at 9:17 am

    I have a Polar Heart Rate Monitor...very nice!

  4. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 16, 2010 at 8:40 am

    Polar makes a great monitor for sure.

  5. Gravatar
    Joe March 18, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    what do I do with the zone info. There is no information on how many minutes in what zone and how many times a week to train in the various zones.

  6. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 19, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Check out the forum. Towards the end of this thread, Coach Seiji talks a lot about heart rate zones.

    Glad you brought this up. Great idea for an article.

  7. Gravatar
    KG April 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Excellent, insightful and tremendously helpful article, Aldon.
    Many thanks.

  8. Gravatar
    Logan February 09, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    When I was working out yesterday I was doing interval training for a 30 minute cycle on a stationary bike. I would go normal pace for 2:30 and sprint for 1:30. When I would sprint I noticed my heart rate was about 195 near the end of the sprint and the highest I got to was 204, but then I was wondering if I stay at a high heart rate for too long(204ish) can I have serious problems or what is a dangerous heart rate that I need to be aware of for how long I am performing at. If it helps i am 18 and I am about 165lbs.

  9. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer February 10, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Logan, I think the answer will be left up to how you feel. If you feel okay and are not dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous, etc. you should be fine. Your body will let you know when its had enough.

  10. Gravatar
    Charlie January 02, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Last comment has been a while here, but... Google searching heart rate info brought me to this article. It has me wondering how you are coming up with the percentage rate for training, using the Heart Rate Calculator the article links to. Using either mathematical method of determining max HR, mine is 174. 50% to 60% of that is 87 to 104.4 respectively. Using the provided calculator, 50% to 60% is 117 to 128 respectively. Changing the resting heart rate in the calculator has a slightly different result, but... What gives? Am I not understanding math? The "builder" of the calculator not understand math? Or is the training heart rate percentage coming from a number that I am oblivious to?

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