Training without a heart rate monitor

  • Creator
    Topic
  • #52171
    Bruno Schull
    Participant

    Hi folks. I’ve got a question/theme that I haven’t seen addressed here often: For a variety of personal and psychological reasons, I don’t want to use a heart rate monitor. I’ve been training in one way or another for over thirty years (I’m in my late forties), and I used a heart rate monitor a bunch when I was young, but I have no interest in that now. So I generally go by feel. This spring, my training is basically of two kinds: strength training, and hiking, with some walk/run thrown into the mix, as I recover from a variety of injuries. My plan is to basically keep all my hiking and walking/running to easy nose breathing and light mouth breathing. My goal is to stay firmly in zone 1-2 although one can’t resist occasionally pushing a little harder on a hill, for example, just because it feels good! Volume is about 4-6 hours per week right now, with some longer days every so often. Goal is some long mountain hikes and (slow) trail runs in the late spring, and alpine climbing in the summer. Major pitfalls of this approach? What am I really missing by not using a HR monitor? Is the greater danger going too consistently hard, or not hard enough? Recovery monitoring? And so on. Here’s a quick table about using ventilation to monitor intensity that I copied from TFTNA. Thanks!

    Breaths not noticeable Recovery
    Easy nose breathing 1
    Labored nose breathing to deep breaths 2
    Controlled deep breaths to very deep breaths 3
    Uncontrolled deep breaths 4
    May hold breath 5

  • Keymaster
    Shashi on #52174

    Major pitfalls of this approach? What am I really missing by not using a HR monitor? Is the greater danger going too consistently hard, or not hard enough? Recovery monitoring?

    You have been training for thirty years, so most likely you have a good sense of your training intensity zones and what it feels like.

    For many people who are new to training, estimating training zones is tough and using generic formulas is not accurate. Using a heart rate monitor to do AeT/AnT tests and establish heart rate zones would be recommended. Also, on aerobic workouts, monitoring the heart helps to stay in the desired zone.

    The other benefit for people using a structured training plan in Training Peaks is to track their metrics – CTL, TSS, etc. Although an estimate, these metrics help to see the progression over time and plan for an event.

    You might want to read the Uphill Athlete series on Monitoring Intensity.

    Participant
    Emil on #52236

    RPE scales seem to be pretty well correlated with heart rate especially for experienced (and mindful athletes). Lot’s of studies out there. Besides, heart rate does not capture the eccentric muscle strain in downhill running, or lack of it in uphill running.

    Participant
    Bruno Schull on #52440

    @ Shashi and Emil–thanks for your replies!

    I have a follow-up question–not it gets tricky!

    In the eternal quest to diagnose/identify ADS…how might I approach approximating my AeT and AnT using ventilation/RPE?

    Could I use pace/time/capacity to tell (roughly) if I have ADS? For example, if I can walk/run/hike with light breathing and a light sweat for 3 hours, and so on.

    The question I am trying to ask is, without a heart rate monitor, how can I tell if and when to add some structured intensity into my walking, running, and hiking training?

    Thanks again,

    Bruno

    Keymaster
    Shashi on #52476

    how might I approach approximating my AeT and AnT using ventilation/RPE?

    Not sure if read the series on Monitoring Intensity I shared earlier. Part 2 of the series has the information you are looking for.

    This article also lists different methods to determine AeT/AnT and pros/cons of each approach.

    Scott answered a similar question here.

    how can I tell if and when to add some structured intensity into my walking, running, and hiking training?

    Once you find a test that works for you, repeat the AeT/AnT test every month or so (depends on your training volume) and see if your AeT is within 10% of AnT. If it is, then you can add some high-intensity workouts to your training.

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #53520

    I think you answered your own question:

    Major pitfalls of this approach?

    My goal is to stay firmly in zone 1-2 although one can’t resist occasionally pushing a little harder on a hill, for example, just because it feels good!

    We all fool ourselves too easily.

    Similar to what’s been said above, with thousands of measured training hours, RPE might be accurate enough to be reliable. As Emil said, an athlete that is both experienced and mindful can probably pull it off. But the reality is that most mistake their experience with mindfulness, tricking themselves into believing what isn’t easy enough is.

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #53521

    Related to that though, if you’re using (calibrated) ventilation as a limiter, then that should work, especially if it’s tied to cadence (steps breathing in/out.)

    Participant
    Bruno Schull on #53525

    Hi Scott–thanks for chiming in. If I’m reading your words correctly, you are suggesting that, unless I’m a super-aware Zen Master type athlete, it’s likely that I am pushing too hard, especially if/when I go a little harder? You’re probably right. Advice to self: slow down and walk more. I do wonder if I have ADS after so many years of endurance training.

    Can you elaborate a little about your second post? I assume that when you write “calibrated ventilation” you mean using a HR monitor to define zones, figuring out my ventilation feel/pattern at each zone, and then applying that? I agree that would work well, but I don’t want to go there. I’m not just being an old dinosaur who doesn’t want to use a heart monitor: one of my challenges (basically my biggest challenge) is mental health…I have struggled with OCD and ADHD since I was a teenager, taken medication for some 20 years, and so on. Part of my neuroses and anxiety are related to heart rate, so it would just be a bad idea to wear a monitor, although, as I said, I wore one for years when I was bike racing at a relatively high level. I’m happy to share more about being an athlete with mental health issues if anybody is curious, but here I was just thinking about training, so I didn’t mention it at first 🙂

    Regarding your second point, what do you mean about matching breaths to cadence? Can that even work on uneven terrain, for example, a single track hiking trail? I love the idea. I have found anything with breaths control and synchronization (meditation, yoga) to be quite powerful. How do you go about match your breaths and cadence?

    OK, thanks again.

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #55282

    Can you elaborate a little about your second post? I assume that when you write “calibrated ventilation” you mean using a HR monitor to define zones, figuring out my ventilation feel/pattern at each zone, and then applying that?

    Yes, via an HR monitor or lactate samples, but I understand your hesitation, so…

    …what do you mean about matching breaths to cadence? Can that even work on uneven terrain, for example, a single track hiking trail?

    Yes, I’ve been using this for years, and it’s very reliable once you know your own rhythms. It’s especially helpful during races when it’s easy to go too hard too soon. I think of it as a “poor man’s power meter.”

    But… as you suggest, it depends on terrain. When the movement pattern or terrain changes, often breathing does as well. Try these:

    For flat running:

    * Zone ~1: 4-steps-inhale, 6-steps-exhale
    * Zone 2-: 4-steps-inhale, 4-steps-exhale (easy effort)
    * Zone 2+: 4-steps-inhale, 4-steps-exhale (moderate effort)
    * Zone 3-: 3-steps-inhale, 3-steps-exhale (moderate)
    * Zone 3+: 3-steps-inhale, 3-steps-exhale (hard)
    * Zone 4-: 2-steps-inhale, 2-steps-exhale (hard)
    * Zone 4+: 1-steps-inhale, 1-steps-exhale (very hard)
    * Zone ~5: Breakaway breathing, no rhythm possible

    For uphill running (or skiing): (roughly half of flat terrain rhythms)

    * Zone ~1: 2-steps-inhale, 3-steps-exhale
    * Zone 2-: 2-steps-inhale, 2-steps-exhale (easy effort)
    * Zone 2+: 2-steps-inhale, 2-steps-exhale (moderate effort)
    * Zone 3-: 1-steps-inhale, 2-steps-exhale (moderate)
    * Zone 3+: 1-steps-inhale, 2-steps-exhale (hard)
    * Zone ~4: 1-steps-inhale, 1-steps-exhale (hard to very hard))
    * Zone ~5: Breakaway breathing, no rhythm possible

    I always use this in races, because start line jitters raise HR and everyone starts too fast. For a skimo race, I start at 2/2 for the first ten minutes (usually at the high-end of AeT) and then move to 1-1 for most of the race. for the last climb, I abandon breathing and go as hard as possible.

    Participant
    Bruno Schull on #55513

    Hi Scott,

    I want to thank you for sharing your breaths/steps pacing system. It’s really interesting, and, like so much of Uphill Athlete, reflects deep experience blended translated into accessible training advice. Awesome.

    I tried the breaths/steps system during a recent run. It wasn’t a training run, it was more like an “event” for me, although I was just out in the mountains doing my own thing. I wasn’t concerned with staying in a particular zone, but I did want to maintain a pace that would allow me to run/hike steadily for about 3 hours.

    Here’s what worked for me:

    Easy/moderate effort on flats
    3-4 steps-inhale, 3-4 steps-exhale

    Moderate climbs
    2 steps-inhale, 2 steps-exhale

    Really steep climbs
    1 step-inhale, 1 step-exhale, like mountaineering 🙂

    I found that on the less steep sections of long variable climbs I often had to hold myself back, staying at 2/2, even though I could have gone faster, knowing that, if I did go faster, I would have to slow way down, or even stop, once it grew steeper again. By staying at an even 2/2 pace, and even slowing down to 1/1, I could keep my effort steady all the way to the top.

    Going downhill, of course, my HR dropped. I don’t have the leg strength and joint stability to run downhill fast, at the speed I would need to maintain my HR. Instead, I alternate walking and light jogging on the downhills, knowing that my HR will go down, but saving my body from injury.

    Anyway, thanks again–your feedback really helped.

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #55515

    That’s great news. I’m glad that it helped.

    I was thinking more about this today and thought that the synchronization is probably based on two factors: the recruitment necessary for the movement pattern (steep terrain recruiting more muscle fiber than flats so increasing the demands) and the steps-per-minute (SPM or, in cycling, cadence at half the SPM.)

    I found that on the less steep sections of long variable climbs I often had to hold myself back, staying at 2/2, even though I could have gone faster, knowing that, if I did go faster, I would have to slow way down, or even stop, once it grew steeper again. By staying at an even 2/2 pace, and even slowing down to 1/1, I could keep my effort steady all the way to the top.

    That’s one of the qualities that I find really helpful. There’s a lot less lag than there is with heart rate, so with more real-time feedback, it’s pretty reliable to hit a rough intensity target.

    One exception is that after a high-intensity effort, the synchronization will totally change as the CV system catches up. This is really noticeable during recovery intervals in intense workouts. But again, it’s also good feedback that says that the load is still being absorbed.

    Going downhill, of course, my HR dropped. I don’t have the leg strength and joint stability to run downhill fast, at the speed I would need to maintain my HR. Instead, I alternate walking and light jogging on the downhills, knowing that my HR will go down, but saving my body from injury.

    This is normal. I just breathe normally (at random) when going downhill. Trying to put out enough effort to make synchronized breathing necessary would kill your legs from the eccentric loading. The local effect on your thighs would be way higher than what your ventilation would suggest.

    Another similar example is when really fit mountain athletes try to run in the flats to stress their CV system to the same extent that they would be going uphill. They often don’t have the strength endurance to withstand the pounding and end up with very sore legs afterward.

    I’m glad it helped. It can be quite meditative as well. I never use headphones while I run, so the combination of silence and synchronized breathing can be really great thinking time.

    Participant
    pezrosi on #61689

    Scott,

    do you think this could work for beginners with ADS, too?

    best
    p

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