The power of your heart rate – fat loss and general health benefits

By: Quinton de Bruin

In about July 2015 a friend of mine was living in Singapore and was participating in a few triathlons. We had a discussion and he was heading back this way at the peak of the summer and conveniently our triathlon season. Long story short, he lay down the challenge for me to compete in a half-Ironman triathlon even with him. I had never done a triathlon in any shape or form, never mind a half-Ironman – cheers Greg! Being the guy who finds it difficult to back down in a challenge I was all in! There is was, something I had never done, what an opportunity to test myself. Then the reality hits - how does one prepare for an event that requires you to swim 1.9kms, then jump on a bike for 90kms only to then whip on the running shoes to do a 21km run?

Well, I spoke to a few friends who competed in these events and researched online. It should be said that while researching I was out running up a storm because I thought that, out of the three disciplines, that would be the one I need to work on most. Surprise surprise, before I was armed with a program or had gotten my head around what I should be doing, I pulled a calf muscle (and I mean pulled not twinged) – bugger, stopped in my tracks before I even got started! This did give time to go shopping. I had come to the conclusion (and fully supported by two of my seasoned triathlon buddies) that I needed a heart rate monitor. When I walked out of Rebel Sports with my new acquisition, I had no idea what a significant relationship I would end up having with this device – the highs and lows we would experience; the times it would be objective when I felt like I was tired and it would tell me that my heart was keen to work harder.

The theories behind heart rate training are not new. Athletes have been listening to this data for decades now. What is advancing is the methods in how we can utilise this in our own personal training to achieve outcomes we want while automatically taking into consideration factors such as our age and fitness level when we start a heart rate based training program. I won't be getting technical in this article but happy to discuss with you if you like. I followed the method advocated by Dr. Phil Maffetone (there are many specialists in this area– he just happened to be an endurance athlete and a G.P. so it made sense to adhere to his personal experience and the resulting method from that).

There are a number of ways in which to determine heart rate zones of which the most common among laymen is maximum heart rate (220 – your age) which for me would be 220-41 = 179bmp. From there the different zones are calculated. The MAF method (Dr. Maffetone's method), takes into account your starting point in terms of your frequency of exercise and current fitness level and so forth. I won't bore you with the calculation but for the record my rate for that came out at 137bpm. The relevance of this number being that the aim for any exercise I did, I did it up to that heart rate and that doing so increases your base fitness level – a longer process to achieve peak fitness but the one your body likes and would reduce the risk of being injured or over training.

Day 1 after calf rehab I put my heart rate monitor on and hit the pavement. I soon realised that to keep my heart rate at or below 137bpm, I was only just faster than a fast walk! My pace was at 7 minutes 12 seconds per kilometre! If you think treadmill, that is about level 9. As depressing as this was, it told me that my base level of fitness was low, that it was a long road ahead and most importantly I would have to run after dark to save embarrassment due to the speed (or lack thereof) I was running at! What was fascinating and pleasing was how quickly you made progress on this method of training. Now seeing as the aim is to keep your heart rate consistent at that 137bpm, the thing that improves is the pace at which you need to run to maintain that. Not only could you literally run or bike forever without feeling like you had lost a lung – running actually became enjoyable and pleasant! The most important thing though was that my pace was steadily increasing. What is more, I did not have one single injury from then on – I became totally and absolutely reliant on the information on my wrist and over time the trust you build in what it is telling you, looking back, is amazing.

The value in this for you though is to look at why the trend around wearable devices isn't just a case of cool tech which when the novelty wears off, becomes your excuse to overindulge because you have done the steps or burnt x number of calories. Learning about what happens to your body in different heart rate zones, will impact how you train. It will build the importance of warming up properly, training with a purpose without "skipping" zones and the satisfaction of being able to see the real improvement in your overall health and fitness because your ticker says so not because you can run further at a greater speed – although that too is a bonus side effect of heart rate training.

Without a shadow of a doubt, once people get the hang of training in zones, there is quickly a connection between hart rate zones and fat loss. Not only that but also a link between heart rate and what energy sources in the body you are using based on your level of intensity. What this means is that you can look at the data on your wrist and know you are burning fat stores rather than the muscle you are working so hard to build and / or maintain.

I ended up cut minutes off my pace per kilometre training this way in both running and cycling over the course of the months we were preparing for the event. Even now when I am not competing, I still often strap on my heart rate monitor to see how I am tracking on my base heart rate (137bpm). For me this has become the gage of my true level of fitness. Sure, we like to look good in the mirror and I feel coupled with this is ensuring your heart thinks you are fit too. I urge you to research heart rate training and by all means, I enjoy talking about my experience with it and happy to share this with you.

The small print: now is probably a good time to encourage you to have a discussion about your personal situation with your doctor, a nutritionist and the Body and Motion trainers to work out how best to achieve any challenges you have in mind. The thoughts in these blogs are my own personal opinion and shouldn't be taken as direct advice. Some of the choices around what I consume or what activity I partake in may not be endorsed by Body and Motion. However, the team will always be keen enablers of your fitness goals! Talk to us today.


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