The Running Mike

Paleo / Primal Coach, Runner, and Triathlete

Archive for the tag “exercise”

Mike’s Guide to Heart Rate Training Part 3: Putting the Heart Rate Zones into Practice

OK, so at this point, you should have a good idea what your HR is and what the zones are.  As a refresher, let’s take a look at the heart rate zone chart:


Believe it or not, you want to spend a good amount of time in zone 1 and 2.  You would think that going slower is easy. . .  However, THIS IS VERY DIFFICULT TO DO.  When you first start doing this, people will pass you and you don’t even feel like you’re getting a great workout. Mentally, we know we could be passing those same people and push much harder.  It’s really important that you stick to this, trust me in that it will pay off! 

Although it will feel quite different physically, the key is that you are changing the way your body processes and consumes energy.  The human body has a very limited amount of blood glucose (sugar) but in comparison has an almost endless supply of fat.  Think hours/days of energy from fat versus minutes from glucose only.

Your body will burn a combination of fat and glucose – the key is to make it more efficient at converting fat into energy! In these lower heart rate zones you burn more fat than the blood glucose (sugar) in your muscles.  The more time you train at these levels, the more efficient the human body becomes at utilizing fat for fuel! 

Key weekly workout: Endurance Run 

This is usually the long, slow distance run you do every week.  Stay in the lower part of zone 2 (ideally in zone 1)and take your time running this one. Should feel super easy and like you’re just taking it easy.  This helps your body be more efficient at using fat for fuel.

Key weekly workout: Speed work

On the other end of the scale is the workout designed to increase your VO2 Max.  This is intentionally putting your heart rate into the higher zones to essentially improve growth of capillaries, strengthen the heart, and make our muscles more efficient at consuming oxygen. 

There are lots of great things that come out of speed work (improved form, etc.) but it is also the key workout for improving VO2 Max.  You’ll want to run 3 to 4 minutes in zone 4 and 5, slow jog for 2 to 3 minutes (try to get HR back to zone 1 if you can) and then repeat.  Now the Ifs:

  • If you do this at a track, aim for 800 (2 full laps) repeats.
  • If you’re new to speed work, repeat 3 to 5 times. 
  • If you’re an experienced runner, do the interval 6 to 8 times. 

You should be pretty wiped out after the speed workout.  This takes a lot out of you so unless you’re working on something specific, only do this once a week. 

Key weekly workout: Tempo Run

Every Week you should try to do a tempo run where you put your Heart Rate into Zone 4 and try to keep it there. If you’re just starting, run 2 to 3 miles in Zone 4 (and work up from there).  Experienced runners should run 3 miles in zone 4, then 3 to 5 minutes of an easy jog/walk (getting the HR back into Zone 1) and then 3 more miles in zone 4. 

The Tempo run is goaled at increasing your Lactate Threshold (LT).  I don’t think I’ve talked about LT very much.  There is a point during intense exercise when the human body is producing more lactic acid than it can consume and convert to energy.  Lactic Acid is actually a good thing, but when more is getting produced than can be utilized – muscles become fatigued. (Here is one of the better articles I’ve found on the process:

Strength Training

My forth key workout is actually strength training which I try to do on rolling hills or on a trail.  I currently live in a part of the country with few hills, so I tend to only do this once every couple weeks. It’s easy to turn this into a repeat of speed work heart rate zones – but my real aim is to build more strength in my legs and improve foot stability (uneven ground/trail). 

Yes, most weeks I actually run 5 to 6 times, so think of these additional runs as super easy recovery runs.  I try to keep them in zone 1 as much as I can.

That other heart rate zone:

Wait, what about zone 3? We have the workouts that improve efficiency of burning fat and improve VO2 Max. What about the zones in the middle? These zones will not make your body more efficient or faster! So… limit the training workouts in the middle zones. You can race in these zones though. Depending upon duration of the race, you can push faster than normal but avoid bonking. Just realize that this isn’t making the heart stronger or the body more efficient at burning fat for energy.

The Difference Between Training and Exercise

I am one of those guys that isn’t genetically cut out for endurance sports.  I have a very square body type with large shoulders.  Historically, I’d be the guy on the battlefield swinging a huge sword… probably not the skinny little guy running from one city to the next to take a message to the king. 

So here we are in modern day – why would a guy like me train for a marathon?  or a half ironman?  I’m not entirely sure :) but I know that I like the fact that it is a challenge.  If it were easy, everyone would do it. The other thing – I LIKE to train. I do not like to exercise.

WTF? Like to train but does not like to exercise?  The differentiator for me is the goal.  Run on a treadmill for an hour for exercise and you may or may not lose any weight… not motivational for me at all.  I could work really hard and go to the gym every day to exercise.  The scale and even my body fat percentage might not go anywhere.  Not very motivational and ultimately why exercise doesn’t work well for me.  Here’s how I suggest making it happen

STEP 1: Pick a Race. Training on the other hand has a more clear goal: Complete an event on a a specific day.  The goal should be a big one for you, but don’t be afraid to start small.  It could be as simple as “do a 5k on this date” or complete a sprint triathlon on this date.  The point is to get a goal out there.  I would encourage not only picking an event – but REGISTERING for it ahead of time.  Once you’re locked in you will have more motivation to complete the training to do it.

STEP 2: Get a training plan. Once you have your race and you’ve registered, figure out how to get there.  For running, I’m a big fan of, If you are just starting, check out the coach to 5k web site:  Get the plan and get started!

STEP 3: Start Training. You should find something different when you start this process.  It’s a feeling that if you don’t do the training, you will not be prepared for the event.  Keep your focus on the goal: completing your event.  Especially this first time around, it’s ok to try to eat healthy, but don’t make the goal to lose weight. 

Every person concerned with weight loss has been there: spend a bunch of hours in the gym and the scale won’t budge or worse gain weight.  In my opinion, it’s better to have gotten more fit and healthy overall.  At the end of any week, you can say “I’m on track and one week closer”

STEP 4: The Event. I’ll skip to the end.  There is a good chance you didn’t win the race.  There are likely lots of faster people out there, but that’s ok.  YOU WON THE WAR.  Look how far you’ve come.  Take a minute to reflect on your training.  Even if In just a couple months, you’ve become fitter!   Could you have ridden 50 miles on your bike before?  Could you have run a 5k, or half marathon?  Think about it in those terms and realize your success!

STEP 5: After the Event.  Plan your next event if you haven’t already.  If you finished your first 5k, maybe do a couple more over the next 4 weeks and get a half marathon on the calendar.  Pick one that builds on your progress and makes you go a little further.

I make a point to do events year round.  As soon as I stop and just “train on my own” I will almost immediately find excuses to not exercise.  For someone like me, the goal is very important and keeping the training up is very helpful.

STEP 6: At the end of the year – real reflection.  Odds are that you have run a half marathon or have done several events.  Think about the magnitude of how far you’ve come.  In addition to completing X events and adding up the training log of Y miles ran, biked, and swam, you’ll also find a number of interesting results.  You’ve definitely gotten fitter AND I would bet that you at least maintained your weight (which is awesome).  

Post Navigation