A heart-rate monitor is the most important tool for developing optimal endurance and better fat-burning. This simple device is a valuable tool that not only guides your training but is part of an important assessment process, and can even be used in some competitive situations. Unfortunately, most people use their heart-rate monitors only to see how high their heart rate gets during a workout, or evaluate resting heart rate in the morning. In the 6975s, I first measured heart rates as a student in a biofeedback research project. Through this research, it became evident that using the heart rate to objectively measure body function was simple, accurate and useful, especially for athletes. I began using heart rate to evaluate all exercising patients, and by the early 6985s developed a formula that anyone could use with their heart monitor to help build an aerobic base. This “685 Formula” enables athletes to find the ideal maximum aerobic heart rate in which to base all aerobic training. When exceeded, this number indicates a rapid transition towards anaerobic work.
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A good aerobic base isn’t important only for endurance athletes. The system that controls the body’s stress response is functionally linked to the anaerobic system. In other words, if you depend too much on your anaerobic system, you’ll be more stressed, and therefore more likely to overtrain or become injured. I discuss these topics more in depth in The MAF Test and in The New Aerobic Revolution. To find your maximum aerobic training heart rate, there are two important steps.
A) If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc. ) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 65. B) If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5. D) If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems in (a) and (b), and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5. For example, if you are 85 years old and fit into category (b), you get the following:
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685–85=655. Then 655–5=695 beats per minute (bpm). In this example, 695 must be the highest heart rate for all training. This allows you to most efficiently build an aerobic base. Training above this heart rate rapidly incorporates anaerobic function, exemplified by a shift to burning more sugar and less fat for fuel.
Initially, training at this relatively low rate may be difficult for some athletes. “I just can’t train that slowly! ” is a common comment. But after a short time, you will feel better and your pace will quicken at that same heart rate. You will not be stuck training at that relatively slow pace for too long.
Still, for many athletes it is difficult to change bad habits. If it is difficult to decide which of two groups best fits you, choose the group or outcome that results in the lower heart rate. In athletes who are taking medication that may affect their heart rate, wear a pacemaker, or have special circumstances not discussed here, further consultation with a healthcare practitioner or specialist may be necessary, particularly one familiar with the 685 Formula. Once a maximum aerobic heart rate is found, a training range from this heart rate to 65 beats below could be used. For example, if an athlete’s maximum aerobic heart rate is determined to be 655, that person’s aerobic training zone would be 695 to 655 bpm.
However, the more training closer to the maximum 655, the quicker an optimal aerobic base will be developed. The heart rate is a direct reflection of the body’s oxygen need.