Tuesday, January 5, 2010

THE Number You Gotta Know to Find Your Monster, Part 1

If you get into doing regular cardio you've probably heard about zones. That you need to work for so long in such and such a zone. It can be a bit confusing, but once you get a certain number it will help you plan so you can get the biggest bang for your workout buck, as well as give you a way to track cardio progress.

The most commonly advised way to figure zones is to take 220-your age as your Max Heart Rate(MHR, or the fastest possible beats per minute your heart can beat). This number does go down as we age, but like most other things, if we keep on truckin, it won't get decrepit THAT fast--Jack LaLanne can probably still pound you into the ground! If you are a person who is new to working out, using this formula is a good place to start because it gives a low estimation of what your MHR is(without having to actually test it), and give you a little padding to start off more gently and ease your bod into training--a good thing to avoid injury and too much fatigue. If you want to push a Suburban by yourself, you don't get it moving with a body slam! (Yes I can push my Suburban all by myself. With my hubby inside steering.).

Using MHR the five zones are calculated. Here is what I calculated for myself when I began using zones. You'll see the MHR number I use is NOT 220-my age(I'm 44). The reason for this is I ran up a long hill to see how fast I got my heart beating(to almost the barf point, not saying you should do it, go ask your doctor and all that, but...I was curious) and it was at 180. Then after a few months as my cardio improved I rounded it up to 200 to push my zone numbers up a tad to challenge me(I know that sounds like breaking the rules, but...it didn't kill me, and in fact as you'll see later, was a pretty good guess after all).

Choose a way to cardio--running/walking, biking, rowing are all good for riding. It's easiest and less confusing to choose one cardio method to track your cardio progress and learn to listen to your body and get a feel for how hard it works in the different zones. Different sports will give you a different MHR because of different muscle groups involved. I chose running/walking.

Zones Calculated on Max Heart Rate(200)
50-60% MHR
100-119 bpm
light aerobic effort, recovery, warm up, cool down
fuel: fat

61-70% MHR
121-140 bpm
easy aerobic effort, endurance, aerobic conditioning
fuel: fat

71-80% MHR
141-160 bpm
high level aerobic conditioning
fuel: fat/carb

81-90% MHR
161-180 bpm
anaerobic, performance gains(more speed and endurance at lower zones, improved cardio efficiency)
fuel: less fat/more carb

181-200 bpm
anaerobic, improves fast twitch(sprint ability) and lactic threshold(when your muscles start to burn)
fuel: carb

Here is a good article with more info on zones, and how to work up to each one.

I remember going to aerobics class in the late 80's and the leader harping DON'T GO ABOVE 120!!! The only thing I gained from those classes were a little better muscular strength and agility, no wonder it never felt like it did anything, I was just waving my pompoms! Even the low weight/high rep ad nauseum of the machines were futile too in the end, but that's for another post. Looking back, what really kicked my butt was riding my mountain bike at a pace on the cusp of burning muscles, which turns out to be Zone 4.

So this is a good place to begin. You NEED to make a good firm foundation working in Zones 1 and 2, the better your foundation the bigger monster you can build. To make it simple, when you can work consistently at 70%(top of Zone 2) for an hour or more(more is better), then your are ready to wake up the monster and it's time to make a new Zone chart.

Part 2 will be how using zones and improving cardio will benefit your riding, and Part 3 will be THE Number to unlock your monster. Part 1 came first so you can get off your butt and get going!

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