If you are interested in doing a 5K, marathon, or triathlon for the first time, you might want to think about training with a heart rate monitor. Training with a heart rate monitor will help you to understand if you are working hard enough and can also help you to not push too hard based on that day’s workout goals. There are many new devices out there like the Fit Bit HR, which can take your heart rate from your wrist. I find that the most accurate device is the good ol’ chest strap and wrist watch monitor. Your heart rate monitor can help to determine your aerobic and anaerobic heart rate zones.

Heart rate calculations are simple. To get your max heart rate, you want to use the following equation (220 – your age). Max heart rate and all heart rates are just estimates though. If you want a truly accurate measurement, you should  visit a fitness lab for an evaluation. After you have your approximate max heart rate, take 65% of that as your aerobic zone. For instance, in a 35 year-old male with a max heart rate of 185, a heart rate of 120 or below is going to be considered aerobic exercise. Anything above 120 will be considered anaerobic. What’s the difference between the two? Let me elaborate.


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Think of aerobic exercise as fat-burning. With aerobic exercise your body is relying on fat storage for energy. This is where you want to spend most of your time as an endurance athlete to build a solid base of aerobic capacity. As your aerobic capacity increases, so will your speed. You will be able to race faster with less effort by building a strong base. Monitoring your heart rate will be a great start.

Anaerobic exercise is the exercise that has you working hard, breathing hard and unable to have a conversation. There are sub-levels of anaerobic like lactate threshold and VO2 max, but we are just going to stick to anaerobic for this post. You want to spend only a few workouts a week coupled with some good rest or you will be dealing with major fatigue. If you are not ready for this type of training, build more of an aerobic base.

The proper mix of both of these types of training will be a recipe for success for your first big race! Before beginning any training plan, it is best to consult a licensed and certified coach or personal trainer.

Cory is a husband, father of three, and vegan athlete. His blog, Lean Green DAD, is a lifestyle blog about food, family and fun that helps passionate people, mostly parents, who have over-scheduled, busy lives maintain a healthy balance of plant-based nutrition, fitness and overall wellness.

Cory Warren
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