Target Heart Rate Training for Trail Running

Winter time is great base building time for trail running. The weather and trail conditions make it easier to decide to slow down and take it easy. Well you might as well get a little scientific and take advantage of your base building and work on your running efficiency.  Target heart rate training is a simple way to track your progress through the winter and prepare for the summer racing season.

The idea behind target heart rate training for trail running is to get your body use to performing at your max aerobic threshold(70-80% of max heart rate). As you train, your body will learn to burn fat better which will improve your speed and durability. You are building an aerobic endurance engine. Instead of running anaerobically by constantly pushing yourself on your runs, slow down and build your engine first!

Figure out your Target Heart Rate

There are many ways to measure or calculate your target heart rate. I like Mark Allen’s (six time Iron Man winner) simple approach for calculating your target heart rate:

So let’s figure out what heart rate will give you this kind of benefit and improvement. There is a formula that will determine your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate, which is the maximum heart rate you can go and still burn fat as the main source of energy in your muscles. It is the heart rate that will enable you to recover day to day from your training. It’s the maximum heart rate that will help you burn those last few pounds of fat. It is the heart that will build the size of your internal engine so that you have more power to give when you do want to maximize your heart rate in a race situation.

Here is the formula:

1. Take 180

2. Subtract your age

3. Take this number and correct it by the following:

-If you do not workout, subtract another 5 beats.

-If you workout only 1-2 days a week, only subtract 2 or 3 beats.

-If you workout 3-4 times a week keep the number where it is.

-If you workout 5-6 times a week keep the number where it is.

-If you workout 7 or more times a week and have done so for over a year, add 5 beats to the number.

-If you are over about 55 years old or younger than about 25 years old, add another 5 beats to whatever number you now have.

-If you are about 20 years old or younger, add an additional 5 beats to the corrected number you now have.

You now have your maximum aerobic heart rate, which again is the maximum heart rate that you can workout at and still burn mostly fat for fuel. Now go out and do ALL of your cardiovascular training at or below this heart rate and see how your pace improves. After just a few weeks you should start to see a dramatic improvement in the speed you can go at these lower heart rates.

Target Heart Rate Training

First you need to record a base time to judge your progress. The easiest way is use your favorite daily training route, you know, the one you run most often during the week. This time run the route not pushing over your target heart rate and record your time. It should be slower than you usually run it, if not, don’t worry, just keep at it. If you want to really get anal about it. Go out to your local track and run for an hour at or below your target heart rate and record your time.

For the rest of your trail runs, always keep at or below your target heart rate. When you come to a hill, slow down (shorter steps!) or even walk it to keep your heart rate down. When your training partners want to push it, let ’em go. You are on a mission! Every week or two, time yourself on your base route or track. You should start to have faster times even though you are running at the same effort. Keep this up for at least three months.

If you seem to reach a plateau where your times are no longer improving, it’s time to put in a speed workout or hill training workout to dive back into that anaerobic state and build some more muscle.

Give target heart rate training a try, You may be amazed by the results!

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