underground symbol HEART RATE TRAINING
A guide to training zones and working out your maximum

There are a lot of people who still believe that all ergos should be done by pulling as hard as you possibly can, from start to finish. And, if you don't fall off vomiting at the end, having beaten your personal best - you haven't trained properly.

However, most coaches are now taking a more scientific approach to training and it's fairly common practice to find the level of intensity specified in your training programme. This is normally done by stating the percentage of your maximum Heart rate that the training session should be done at.

The following is an attempt to explain the benefits of the different heart rate training zones and some of the terms you may come across.

Your Maximum Heart Rate is, quite simply, the highest possible heart rate you can achieve.

You may have been told that you can roughly work out your max HR by taking your age away from 220. The problem is, that although this will give a reasonable approximation for people who DON'T exercise, Maximum HR declines at a lot slower rate in people who have been exercising regularly for years

In reality, the only real way to find out your true maximum heart rate, is to have it tested properly but, in the meantime, the following will give you a rough idea.

FOR FIT WOMEN (in beats per minute): MAX HR = 211 - (YOUR AGE/2)
FOR FIT MEN: (in beats per minute) MAX HR = 205 - (YOUR AGE/2)

Each morning as you wake up you should take your pulse. Either use a Heart Rate Monitor or alternatively a ten second count, multiplied by six. This should be averaged out over the week to find your resting heart rate.

Rather than using a straight percentage of your maxium, the best way to calculate your zones, takes account of your Resting Heart Rate as well as your Maximum Heart rate. The difference between these two figures is called the Working heart rate.

Each training zone is a percentage of your Working Heart Rate, added to your Resting Heart Rate.

For example

You have a resting Heart rate of 50 bpm
and a Maximum Heart rate of 195 bpm

your coach has told you do an ergo at 65% and you want to know what heart rate you should be keeping to.

Your working Heart Rate is 145 bpm (i.e. 195-50)
65% of 145 (your working HR) is about 94

Add this figure to your resting HR (50), giving a figure of 144 bpm.

but don't worry - you don't have to do lots of sums - you can use the following calculator to work out upper and lower heart rate limits. It uses a simple formula to work out Max HR, so if you know your true max and it's different, I suggest you lie about your age so it fits.

Training Zone Heart Rate Calculator

Enter your age, resting heart rate and the lower and upper training zone values (%) and then select the 'Calculate' button.

Age years Max Heart Rate bpm
Resting Heart Rate bpm Working Heart Rate bpm
Lower Training Zone % which is a Heart Rate of bpm
Upper Training Zone % which is a Heart Rate of bpm

The whole point of using different heart rate zones when training is that each training zone has a different effect on your fitness. It is worthwhile taking the time to understand the benefits of training in each zone.

The value of each training zone should not be underestimated and although it may feel strange the first time you do an ergo at 65% (because it doesn't hurt and you're not sweating like a pig), resist the temptation to pull harder and just keep at it, it's on your programme for a reason.

The Energy Efficient or Recovery Zone - 60% to 70%

Much of the benefits from heart rate training involve the body's energy systems and one of these systems is responsible for the long term supply of energy to your working muscles.

Fat is an abundant source of energy for the endurance athlete. Training within this heart rate zone - best accomplished by doing long, slow ergos, (or runs or water-work) - develops the body's ability to feed the working muscles more efficiently.

The other major advantage to training in this zone is weight loss, because you are almost exclusively burning FAT. You will also be allowing your muscles to re-energise with glycogen, which has been expended during those faster paced work-outs.

Underestimate this training zone at your peril.

The Aerobic Zone - 70% to 80%

When you train in this Heart Rate zone, you are training your cardiovascular system. Within this range, the body's ability to transport oxygen to, and carbon dioxide away from, the working muscles can be developed and improved.

As you become fitter and stronger from training in this zone you will get the benefits of some fat burning and improved aerobic capacity. 75% training often feels good.

This zone is also ideal for developing local muscle strength.

The Anaerobic Zone - 80% to 90%

This is the zone in which an enormous amount of benefit can be gained.

Somewhere between 80 and 90%, your individual anaerobic threshold is hiding. Between these heart rates, you use very little fat, instead you start to use glycogen - which is stored in your muscles - as the main source of energy.

Unfortuntely, one of the by-products of burning this glycogen, is the rower's worst enemy, Lactic Acid.

There is a point at which the working muscles are producing lactic acid at a faster rate than the body can remove it. The heart rate this happens at, depends on you as an individual but when you do hit this point - known as Anabolic Threshold it will be accompanied by a rapid rise in heart rate and a slowing of your pace - sound familiar?

Through the correct training it is possible to delay the Anabolic Threshold either:

  • by increasing the heart rate at which you reach it or
  • by increasing your body's ability to deal with the lactic acid for a longer period of time.

    The fitter you are the nearer you will be racing to your Anabolic Threshold. But beware, pulling a 1:45 split does not mean you are rowing at your Anabolic Threshold if the training you have been under-going is incorrect.

    Assuming you are fit you will be racing at just below, or right on, your AT (depending on the length of the race). Sometimes elite athletes can hold a pace above their AT but for most mere mortals "going off too hard" will only result in you "blowing up" half way through a race - something most of us have exerienced at some stage, and it's not pleasant.

  • The Red Line Zone 90% to 100%

    In this zone you will only be able to train for short periods of time. It effectively trains your fast twitch muscle fibres and helps to develop speed.

    It is worth being aware that to develop this speed you must first have developed your ability to deal with lactic acid.

    This zone is reserved for racing sprints and only the very fit are able to train effectively within the red line zone.

    Remember, training very near your maximum HR can be dangerous.

    I hope this is of some use and sheds a bit of light on what you're doing in the gym and on the river for hours every week.

    Ultimately, if you want to train using heart rate, you will need to buy a heart rate monitor. The watch can be easily attached to a blade handle or round the centre of the handle on an ergo, so you can see what's going on.

    Concept 2 also sell an attachement for their newer model ergs, which will pick up your HR (if you're wearing a HR belt) and display it in the drag box - just make sure your not erging near to someone else wearing a HRM, or you may wonder why your heart rate is 378 at quarter slide....

    The main benefit of Heart Rate training is that you train to your own realistic levels. Break free of the curse of the 500m Av split, as heart rate tells you when slow down as well as when you should pull harder. Just set the erg to "calories" and keep an eye on the heart rate monitor instead.

    If you want to find out more, there are lots of internet sites about Heart rate training, some of which make more sense than others. Most of the (VO2) max tests you'll find are for runners but I do have details (somewhere) on how you can work out your maximum heart rate, with the help of an ergo, a heart rate monitor and a friend. I'll link to it when I find it.

    happy training...

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