Zone 2 training – better to go by heart rate or by respiration ease?

  • Creator
  • #22615

    Is it better to train off of respiration ease (run with mouth closed) or by heart rate? The reason I ask is that my pace/respiration seems to be very different at a given heart rate, depending on the day. Some days I feel out of breath at a heart rate of 140, and other days I seem to be able to run at 155+ and leave my mouth totally closed. I am using a chest-strap heart rate sensor, so I don’t think it’s a matter of the sensor being wacky.

    So, is it better to do zone 2 runs at a particular (individualized) heart rate, or by ease of breath? Which one estimates the AeT effort better? Thoughts?

  • Participant
    alexgauthier on #22630

    Have you completed an AeT test? If not, I would do that and use AeT as the marker for much of your training. There’s going to be variability in HR to a certain degree but in time you’ll be able to match perceived effort to HR almost without looking at your watch. This is useful too because I’ve had runs where my monitor reported 155 or so when I was running at an easy recovery pace and 155 is about my AnT. I even checked my pulse the old fashioned way against a second timer.These devices aren’t perfect.

    doughywilson on #22638

    Yeah, it could be the monitor being a bit out of whack, but the question still holds. Is it better to go by heart rate or respiration ease (or perceived effort) to get the best training effect? If heart rate is variable based on heat, altitude, etc, maybe breath is a better way to monitor?

    Anonymous on #22639

    Great question! If you can reliably feel where you’re at, then I would go by ventilation. But I think most people underestimate how intense they go by feel.

    If you have a lactate meter, you could carry it with you and try and calibrate your feeling of intensity with your actual lactate levels.

    It’s taken me years to feel my way to certain intensities. I admit I’m reluctant to go by feel in general, so it’s taken me longer than others.

    Anonymous on #22647

    Ventilation is a real time feedback on your the state of your metabolic system. So, it is a great tool. But as Scott said, it can fool you and many people over shoot when going be ventilation alone. Like you, I have daily variations in my ventilatory markers which may vary by 10bpm. On the days when my ventilation is higher (rate and depth of breath) I usually notice that my perceived effort is also higher than normal. This is my reminder to take it very easy that day. For whatever reason I am not fully recovered. On other days when I feel like I am flying with little effort and relaxed breathing (usually at a lower HR) I might even change the planned workout to include intensity (Z3-4) work as I am fully recovered and my aerobic system is firing on all 12 cylinder so I need to take advantage of that moment.

    As Scott says this all can take years to figure out. It’s about learning to feel how your body is reacting to training rather than going strictly by HR (which we have said many times, is an imperfect metric of intensity. But….it’s the best we we’ve got).

    Pay attention to these things and you will learn to control your training day to day to get the best effects.


    Jan on #22652

    So let’s say my AeT normally is at 150, and I go on a flat running course with my usual perceived effort/ventilation and my usual pace, but my HR monitor says I am at 155 – should I slow down to below 150 or just keep going?

    How would it be the other way around? I am below 150, but feel my breathing is heavier than normal? Should I go even slower or keep the HR close to 150?

    As both indicators may be unreliable for beginners/intermediates, would it be best to take the slower pace in both situations?

    alexgauthier on #22660

    With a difference like that, I would probably slow down in either case. If you’re trying to do an AC capacity type workout, crossing over AeT will start to limit the efficacy of the intended goal of the workout whereas slowing down below AeT would still get you the benefits you’re after for that workout.

    For a workout like that (assuming AC Capacity) during Base building I think even a well-trained athlete would opt to slow down because runs of that type done during that time would need to be closer to zone 1 anyway to avoid going too fast and leaving them too depleted to get the most out of more intense workouts.

    jegger1981 on #22661

    Sorry if I hijack this thread, but I have a question that concern ventilation similar to your.
    During my Z1/Z2 run I wear the chest-strap, but I use my ventilation to decide the pace. My AeT is 158 (founded with ventilation test), my Ant 178 bpm.
    On flat sometimes I can run with mouth closed at 160, others times at 152 like it happens to you.
    But on hills, I can’t run/walk with mouth closed with heart rate over 135/140. Never. Why?

    Anonymous on #22691

    Jan: Both ventilation and HR are proxies for intensity and neither is perfect. What we are trying to infer from each of them is what is the metabolic state inside the working muscle fibers. Seeing +/-5 bpm is not at all unusual from day to day depending on your recovery state. This is the rationale for also using perceived exertion. Does 155 feel easy or hard? If it feels easy and breathing is nice and controlled and you can say medium length sentences you’re probably fine in terms of keeping the run focused on aerobic base building. The only way to get a better look at what is really going on inside the muscle is with a gas exchange test, which is impractical on a daily basis. A portable lactate monitor is the only other way to get accurate real time info on what is going on inside the cell.

    AeT will change with training modality. It’ll be different for running, cycling, skiing and it will also vary with those depending on gradient. As I am sure you can see, the steeper the hill the more muscle fibers that will need to be engaged to lift you up the hill. What you are experiencing is showing you that you need to strengthen you legs and spend more time at lower HR for aerobic base building on the hills. See our ME program at the end of on strength for an idea.


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