In my previous article I spoke about the importance of training variability for longevity and the common trap of training at a high intensity for too long and too often. We want to create variability within our tissues to create strength, tension and elasticity to respond to different speeds, loads, positions and vectors. We can apply this same understanding to our heart rate, where our goal is to create variability in our training and the response of our heart’s rhythm.

The rhythm of your heart changes with every single beat and the variability between beats is a good indicator of your overall wellness and adaptability. Low heart rate variability leaves you more prone to disease, faster ageing, less fitness etc. Essentially it makes you less adaptable to the stressors of life.

A stressed heart rate is more erratic with less variable rhythm, which results in a less efficient system. This can be a consequence of both a mental or a physical overload eg. a stressful day at work or overtraining. Ultimately both can lead to disease and overall, a lower level of wellness ie. you might be surviving rather than striving.

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We can incorporate this understanding of heart rate variability into what we do at Personal Best Fitness and our exercise routine. We want to be able to exercise in all exercise intestines in order to create a resilient body. This doesn’t just mean exercising at a high intensity all of the time. It is about being able to get your heart rate up followed by quickly allowing your heart to recover ie. High Intensity Interval Training. One very overlooked form of training in the fitness industry is low intensity training.

One thing I want to hit home with you both in my previous article and this one, is that our body does not differentiate between physical and mental stressors within our everyday life. Whether you’ve had a big training load, a lot going on at work or dealing with the loss of a loved one, all of these factors influence how our heart rate will respond to exercise. Quite often we look at exercise as a form of punishment or with a ‘go hard or go home attitude’. I am here to tell you that we need to stop that. If you have a lot of stressors influencing your everyday life, exercise, or more importantly, movement at a low intensity is likely to have more effective and long term benefits than attempting a high intensity session where you are not only likely not going to achieve the results you’re after, but also adding to the stressors in which your body is dealing with.

Below I will outline 4 of the main types of heart rate training we want to spend some time in. It is important to note that while we want to incorporate each of these types of exercise into our routine, we don’t want to exclusively spend time in the one training modality. Variability is key.

High Intensity Steady State (HISS)
Zone: Above lactic threshold (80% Heart Rate max)
Duration: 4-10mins

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Zone: Above and below lactate threshold
Duration: 15-30mins

Low intensity steady state (LISS)
Zone: Below lactic threshold (70% Heart Rate max)
Duration: 30 – 120mins

Low intensity interval Training (LIIT)
Zone: Below 60% Heart Rate max
Duration: Many hours
When things don’t go to plan
If you do have a number of stressors within your everyday life there are often two responses we see; (1) you can’t recover quickly or (2) you have an inability to get your heart rate up above lactic threshold.

Can’t Recover:
For those people who live in the ‘intense’ side of the spectrum and struggle with recovery, their chart often looks flatter, with less dramatic spikes. When they finally do get a chance to recover and stop exercise, it usually takes these people a long time to get their heart rate down below 65%, indicating that their system is probably over taxed. At the end of a workout, they have often spent too long in this 80%+ heart rate zone which isn’t ideal as it results in too much stress in a system that is already failing to cope.

Can’t Peak:
The other end of the spectrum is the people who can’t hit peak zones, this has nothing to do with being too fit, in fact it’s usually the opposite. The person who can’t get their heart rate up are not likely ready to go to the high zones and probably shouldn’t. This might happen depending on the type of movement chosen, but more often it’s indicating a lack of readiness whether it’s from high stress levels, poor hydration, emotional stress, or pain. This is powerful information about the wellness of their system.

In a world surrounded by data and numbers, the aim of this article is not for you to track and watch your heart rate religiously each session, simply to gain an understanding of what your heart rate response can mean for long term health and longevity. Now you have a basic understanding of our different heart rate and exercise zones, I want you to reflect on what zones you are spending most of your time in, whether you can hit your peak heart rate and whether you can recover quickly.

Sofia Tsamassiros
Senior Personal Trainer

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