Determining Max Heart Rate, Anaerobic Threshold, and Training Zones

FasterSkierJune 27, 2003

This mini-series of Coaches’ articles will include examples of workouts with some of our athletes, how we’ve structured the sessions, and what we’ve focused on during the workouts.

With most of our residential and visiting athletes we early on like to determine their correct training zones. Training at the correct speed and heart rates is critical for the long-term effect and efficiency of the time spent training. In determining the correct training zones we use the athletes’ Max Heart Rate and Anaerobic Threshold as the base.

Determination of Max Heart Rate, Anaerobic Threshold, and Training Zones

Determining an individual’s true Max Heart Rate (MHR) is not always easy — it takes a special effort on the athlete’s part. Many master’s athletes use the old calculation of 220 beats — age, but we have seen that this method seldom gives a correct value. The standard deviation of the average person’s MHR is huge, which means that this value varies about as much as the weather does — we hardly ever hit the day’s historic average temperature, it is usually quite a bit over or under. The true MHR is also normally not seen in a regular workout, or even in a competition, unless your name is Bjoern Daehlie, and you’re able to mentally bring yourself to the level of exhaustion we’ve seen him at after collapsing across the finish line. We have seen and confirmed that 45 — 50-year old master skiers’ MHR vary from 165 to 225 between individuals.

To determine the MHR we ask our athletes to “rest up” for a day or two (easy training is ok). We then either take them to a gradual (more flat than steep) trail, or into the Exercise Physiology Lab we are working with. A good warm-up is a requisite, and it should contain 3 — 4 short bouts where we bring the heart rate up to at least 90 % of the perceived MHR. On the trail, we then plan to run (or ski) three times (approximately) three minutes. The first interval should be at about 90 % of perceived maximum effort, the last half of the last two at or above 100 %. Optimally, the trail section ends with a steeper uphill, where we coaches can stand and encourage (i.e. “yell”) the athlete to give it all.

In the Human Performance Lab, we usually see the athlete’s MHR at the completion of our Max VO2 and Anaerobic Threshold protocol. In this controlled environment (either running or rollerskiing), we can measure the athlete’s Oxygen (O2) and Carbondioxyde (CO2) ventilation ratio, and use this to determine both the absolute value of the Anaerobic Threshold and the Max VO2 (max capacity), as well as the equivalent heart rate values. The Anaerobic Threshold value is the most important value for us, and we use the equivalent heart rate as the key indicator when designing the athlete’s individual training zones.

Looking over the results

Torbjorn and John’s Personal Coaching Service can be designed for any athlete and coach interested in reaching their potential. Contact us through this site or <

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