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Getting Started With Heart Rate Training

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This article comes to you from our friends at Training Peaks provides the complete web, mobile and desktop solution for enabling smart and effective endurance training. Training Peaks solutions are used by Tour de France teams, Ironman World Champions, Olympians, and age group athletes and coaches around the world to track, analyze and plan their training. It is also what we use at Virtual Trainer to administer our premium training plans. They also have great articles. And while they are written specifically for endurance athletes they are easily adapted for the motocross athlete. This is one such article. - Virtual Trainer

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Author: AJ Johnson

No matter if you are training for a 10k, Half marathon, IRONMAN, [or Motocross - Virtual Trainer] finding a way to more objectively track improvement and understand your fatigue and fitness is important. Most athletes start this process using a heart rate monitor. While it may seem complicated at first, following some basic steps will help you with your training. Here are some ideas and tips to help you get started.

Getting Started

The first step is deciding on which monitor to buy. There are many great products on the market that will get the job done. Most models will suffice, however, having a lap function is a nice feature. Other functions are helpful, like screen customization, alerts, and even wi-fi, but those are not necessary. [For motocross all you need is a basic watch that records heart rate and uploads the data to a computer. I recommend Polar or Garmin. - Virtual Trainer]

Accuracy is another main concern. Coach O’brien Forbes suggests athletes should opt for a device that uses a heart rate strap. “The most accurate heart rate monitor is one that uses a chest strap. I have had clients that have tried the wrist mounted monitors and they have all had issues.” he says. [I've asked people at both Polar and Garmin and for several reasons they both recommend a chest strap. - Virtual Trainer]

Understand that heart rate is only an indicator of effort - similar to perceived exertion. It is not an indicator of performance.

Testing and Setting Zones

Next comes figuring out what your lactate threshold is and to set your zones. This is done through testing, and it is the best way to ensure that you are progressing. There are several ways to test your fitness for running and cycling, the key is to use the same method every time to ensure consistency.

Once you have performed your test and have your threshold values, you can set up your training zones. Properly setting up your zones is crucial to accurately quantifying your training load using Training Stress Score (TSS).

Basic Usage

With your zones properly set up, you can now use your heart rate monitor to more accurately train and work on specific fitness limiters. Address your weaknesses as they relate to your key event, then work to improve those areas. As Coach Forbes says, “Training with heart rate and knowing your zones will allow you to scale your efforts correctly. First, it will allow you to build a plan specifically for your event or goal. Heart rate training and monitoring the data will help prevent over-training and allow you to customize training,” he comments. An example is that if you need to stay in zone 2 to build your endurance, you can use your heart rate monitor to make sure your effort is appropriate. [Unlike endurance sports like running and cycling, training with heart rate zones is NEVER recommended for on-the-bike motocross sessions. When you get time to ride the focus should be developing race speed and improving skills. Do NOT pay attention to heart rates or zones - Virtual Trainer]

Related Articles: Cardio Training by Coach Seiji
Heart Rate Training by Aldon Baker

Training with heart rate can also be used to ensure you are not going too hard on a rest day. Many athletes push their recovery days too hard, then cannot go hard enough during their tough training days. During easy training, set a maximum heart rate, typically zone 1 or mid zone 2, and make sure you do not exceed that level.

As suggested above, another manner to use your heart rate monitor is to know when you should cut back on a session or rest all together. An example is if you are using a plan or working with a coach and have some hard intervals where you are trying to reach a zone 4 heart rate. If during your intervals you can not get your heart rate into zone 4, that may be an indication of fatigue and you may want to stop the session completely.

Advanced Usage

Once you have a firm understanding of how training in different heart rate zones will help you improve different aerobic systems, you can move into some more advanced metrics. Expert endurance coach and author Joe Friel suggests looking at your Efficiency Factor (EF) to track your increase in aerobic fitness. “EF is simply Normalized Power® (NP®) divided by average heart rate for cyclists. An increasing EF over time for similar aerobic workouts is a good marker of improving aerobic fitness,” he says. [This can all be accomplished via and the Virtual Trainer premium training plans that are built specifically for motocross! - Virtual Trainer]

Heart rate has also been used to gauge if you are fully recovered from heavy training. As coach Mike Schultz wrote in this article for TrainingPeaks, “If you are experiencing a high level of perceived exertion and a hard time elevating your heart rate into the zone 2 to 3 ranges following a period of rest, that is a sign that additional rest is needed before taking on more training volume and intensity. At this point, making a change to the plan and backing off for a few additional days would be wise.” EF can also be calculated for runners using Normalized Graded Pace.

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Other Considerations

As important as training with data is, it is not the sole determinant of success. As Friel notes, “Understand that heart rate is only an indicator of effort - similar to perceived exertion. It is not an indicator of performance. The person with the highest heart rate does not necessarily win the race just as the person with the highest perceived exertion does not necessarily win the race. The perceived exertions and average heart rates of the first and last across the finish line may be the same.” Keep this in mind when a session doesn’t go as planned.

About the Author: AJ Johnson is the Content Editor and Power Analyst for TrainingPeaks. He is also a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified coach. A jack of all trades in endurance sports, he has raced everything from IRONMAN and marathons to road, mountain, and track cycling. A former freelance writer and editor of TRI and ROAD Magazines, when not editing or writing he spends his time with his family or out on long rides to think of more great content for TrainingPeaks readers.

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
    Mark S April 07, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Back when I was training a lot and hard in the 80"s I remember reading an article in runners world or something like that, which said a good indication of someones fitness was how far your heart rate fell after a long session of intense work load your. If your were training and your heart rate was up around 180 or something and after a few minutes it fell down to like 130 or 140 that you were in pretty good shape because your heart rate was getting closer to normal sooner. If your heart rate was still high 160 or so in the same rest time you weren't in good shape. This is kind of what I remember and I can't remember the specifics of time. It is much easier today where there is so many ways to track what you do and compare that it almost takes all the guesswork out of proper training.

  2. Gravatar
    Carrie Jackson April 25, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    I have a 9 yr. Old son that races a 65 in Intermediate class and he's getting fast but he's 4'3 and weighs 105 pounds. Without race gear. He has alot of muscle but he is on the chubby side. What is going to be the best work out for him. I know weights aren't a good thing this young. Thank you!

  3. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer April 25, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    Carrie - In my humble opinion and without knowing ANYTHING about your son, my first thought is diet. It has been my experience that the majority of overweight kids are a result of poor diet. Keep him as active as possible. Try other sports like track, basketball, soccer, swimming, etc. and ride as much as you can. Good luck!

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