If this is the first time you are using a structured training program you probably haven’t paid much attention to your heart rate before. If you have, it might have only been to see what your heart rate (HR) is during a workout, grabbing the handlebar on the treadmill or elliptical at the gym, but a lot of useful information can be found with your HR.
Your HR can actually say quite a bit about your fitness level. A person's Resting Heart Rate (RHR) is normally between 60 to 85 beats per minute (bpm) but many athletes have a RHR below 60.
The general rule of thumb is that the healthier and more fit you are, the lower your HR. Your heart is a muscle, and just like any other muscle in your body, the more you use it the stronger it becomes. A healthy heart is more efficient so it doesn’t need to beat as many times to move the same amount of blood. In turn, giving a healthy and fit individual a lower RHR.
There are other factors that can come into play. Medications and illness definitely play a factor, even caffeine, stress or being dehydrated can increase your heart rate.
Your Resting Heart Rate (RHR) is simply what your heart rate is while you are at rest. The best time to take your RHR is right after you wake up.
Make sure there are no distractions, like TV, and don’t talk while taking your HR. Even an emotional response to something can skew the results so just try to be as still as possible and you can either count how many beats per minute (bpm) your heart makes, or you can let a heart rate monitor do the work for you. Just be sure to leave the heart rate monitor by your bed so you don’t have to get up to get it.
If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, definitely make the investment into getting one. This and most of our other training programs, especially for endurance training, rely heavily on the use of a heart rate monitor.
There are many different styles and types with a wide variety of options and price ranges. We recommend a Garmin. They are an industry leader in athletic training and our workouts have been created into .FIT files that can be uploaded straight to your Garmin devices, but Fitbit and Wahoo also have great HR monitors as well.
There are two basic states that your body is in when exercising, aerobic or anaerobic. To keep it simple, in the aerobic state your body is using less oxygen than it needs to sustain a workout for a longer period of time, like walking.
When you are in an anaerobic state, your body is using more oxygen than your body can consume and you will need to recover in a relatively short period of time, like weightlifting.
Here in Level 1, we are going to keep your body in an aerobic state to build your endurance for longer distances. To make sure you stay in this state, we are going to show you how to find your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate (MAHR).
Your MAHR is the highest heart rate that your body can hold before crossing over into the anaerobic state. Since our focus in this program is endurance, we are going to stay BELOW our MAHR number.
For this program, we are going to keep it simple. One of the easiest and most effective formulas for finding your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate is by using Dr. Phil Maffetone’s formula of 180 minus your age.*
180 - AGE = MAHR
According to Maffetone, this number may need to be altered to compensate for the following conditions.
- If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
- If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.
- If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems in (1) or (2), keep the number (180-age) the same.
- If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems in (1) and (2), and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.
So for example, if you are 37 years old and on medication, your formula would look like…
180 - 37(age) - 10(medication) = 133
133 is your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate. Now you want to keep your heart rate below this number. Once you go over it, your body starts to transition very quickly to an anaerobic state, defeating the purpose of this exercise.
Since trying to keep your heart rate on one solid number is pretty much impossible, subtract another 10. Your MAHR range is 123 to 133, but try to stay towards the top end of this range as much as possible without going over it.
Don’t ask where the 180 came from in Dr. Phil Maffetone’s formula, it took him decades of research to find it and we’re not going to mess with it.
In the Beginning
You may notice that there is a very fine line between running and walking when it comes to staying in your MAHR zone. You’ll notice in the program that follows, we don’t tell you to jog or run, but rather MAHR for a set amount of time or distance. This is the amount of time or distance that you will need to spend in your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate. Your MAHR is unique to you, we can’t tell you how fast you need to be moving, just where your heart rate needs to be.
If you are jogging uphill during a period that is designated for you to be in your MAHR zone, you may find that simply walking will keep you there. Remember don’t go past your MAHR number. We don’t want your body to switch into an anaerobic state. So if you have to slow from a jog to a walk, that is fine. Don’t think that you are doing something wrong just because you have to switch to walking. Disciplined professional athletes do the same thing to keep their heart rate in the correct zone, so swallow your ego and slow down. The focus at this point isn’t speed, just adapting your body for endurance. Speed comes later.
What you will begin to see within the first few weeks, or days, is that your pace will begin to increase even though your heart rate won’t. You will need to run faster just to stay within your MAHR zone. Which of course is the whole point, go faster without burning yourself out. Speed will continue to increase over the course of your training while still maintaining your MAHR.
For those of you who are new to running but may already be pretty fit, you may feel like you are going too slow. If you feel like you are holding yourself back then you are doing it correctly. You will hear us say this over and over throughout our training programs. Some of the biggest progress is made while going slow.