The heart of the matter: here's a novel way to monitor your training load.
One simple way to become a better endurance athlete is to increase the amount of training you're doing. Provided you don't overtrain, increases in your workout load will generally produce upswings in aerobic capacity (V02max) and lactate threshold (LT), both of which will lead to heightened performances.
For example, let' s compare two runners - Wilma and Fred - who are both running 30 miles per week at seven minutes per mile pace. Although Wilma and Fred spend the same amount of time training and run equal weekly distances, their training is actually quite dissimilar because Wilma runs all her miles at 88 per cent of maximal heart rate (MHR) while Fred averages 75 per cent of MHR. Wilma's training is tougher or, to put it another way, her total training stimulus is greater.
Now let's say that Wilma suddenly decides to expand her training to 40 weekly miles. At first glance that appears to be a 33 per cent (10/30) advance in her total training load, but is it really?
It is, if heart rate and training speed are the same during the 40-mile week as they were during the 30-mile week, but that's not too likely, since most athletes tend to slow their average training intensities as they increase their miles. When volume (mileage) and intensity (speed or heart rate) vary simultaneously, volume can be a poor barometer of the change in training stimulus. In fact, once changes in intensity are taken into account, an athlete's increase in training load will often turn out to be quite small, even though the upswings in volume seem to be large.
Counting the heart beats per week
To take a very simple case, imagine an individual, currently training five days per week for 30 minutes per day, who decided to upgrade to 40 minutes of training per day. At first glance, that seems to be a 33 per cent upswing (from 150 to 200 minutes per week) but the reality is that the athlete conducts the 30-minute workouts with a heart rate of 170 but will slow to an average pulse of only 140 during the 40-minute sessions because of their greater length. As a result, the training stimulus will increase by a much smaller amount than expected.
In fact, when our hypothetical individual works out 150 minutes per week with a heart rate of 170, we can multiply the 150 minutes by 170 beats per minute to obtain a total training load of 25,500 heart beats per week. With the new 40-minute per day training, there will be 200 minutes of work per week. 200 minutes X 140 beats per minute (the new exercise heart rate) = 28,000 beats per week. Compared with the previous schedule, that's only 28,000 - 25,500 = 2,500 new heart beats per week, or a modest 10 per cent augmentation, not 33 per cent.
The point is that it's difficult to keep track of exactly what you're doing without some way to factor in both the length AND the intensity of your workouts. Fortunately, Eric Banister and his colleagues at the University of British Columbia have figured out a neat way to reckon your total training load. Banister's system allows you to accurately quantify your workouts, and therefore to plan incremental increases in your training over time.
Here's how it works
To use the Banister system, you simply determine your average heart rate during each workout. From your average workout heart rate, you subtract your resting heart rate to obtain a variable we'll call 'A'.
The rest is quite easy. From your maximum heart rate, you subtract your resting heart rate to obtain'B'. Finally, you divide A by B and multiply the result by the length (in minutes) of your workout.
Here's a specific example. Let's say that Wilma runs for 30 minutes at a heart rate of 150. Her resting heart rate is 50, so A is 150-50 = 100.
Wilma's max heart rate is 200, so B is 200-50 = 150. A divided by B = 100 divided by 150 = .67, the actual intensity of the workout. .67 X 30 minutes = 20.1, the overall value of the training session.
If you've been following closely, you'll note what a logical way this is to determine your workout value. 'A' is simply a measure of how far you climb above your resting heart rate during a workout, and 'B' is an assessment of how far above the resting rate you could go if your workout were truly maximal. That means that dividing A by B automatically calculates the intensity of your workout, or - more specifically - how close you are to working full-tilt during your effort. If A and B are identical, that means that you're at MHR throughout your session - you're working as hard as you possibly can. On the other hand, if you barely get above resting heart rate during your workout, A will be a very small number and the workout will have a low value. Multiplying A/B by the number of minutes in your workout simply allows you to weigh the overall quality of the session. 30 minutes at a heart rate of 150 has three times the value of 10 minutes at the same pulse rate, for example.
Calculating the value of interval workouts
However, figuring the value of interval workouts can get a bit tricky with Banister's method. For example, let's say that Wilma (who, you remember, has a max heart rate of 200 and a resting pulse of 50) conducts the following interval workout: (1)10 minutes of warm-up with a heart rate of 125
(2) Four 5-minute intervals, during which heart rate averages 180
(3) Four 5-minute recoveries, with pulse rate at around 140 To compute the total value of this interval session, Wilma must add together the value of the warm-up (125 - 50 divided by 200 - 50 = 75/150 = .5 .5 X 10 minutes = 5, the value of the warm-up), the value of the four work intervals, and the value of the four recoveries. Of course, heart rate will ascend during the work intervals and plummet during recoveries, so it's probably best to use an average pulse rate during those periods.
Although there' s a fair amount of maths involved, the Banister method allows you to attach a number to your weekly training load (or your 10-day or 3-day load, depending on what type of training cycle you're using), a number which takes into account both the intensity and length of your training sessions. That adds precision to your training and allows you to determine by how much your training has really increased compared to past efforts.
Overcoming the problems
However, the Banister plan does have some problems. For one thing, once you learn how to employ the technique, you still don't necessarily know which training CYCLE is optimal for you. Should you compute your load for five days, and then increase your training by 2-5 per cent for the following five-day period, or should you use weekly cycles, 14-day cycles, 3-day cycles, or what? Scientific research has not determined a nonpareil cycle length, and in fact the best cycle duration probably varies quite a lot from athlete to athlete.
To make matters worse, we don't know by how much the training load should be increased from week to week (or from training period to training period, if you don't like weekly cycles). A sensible plan would be to increase your total load by 3-5 per cent from week to week for a total of three or four weeks, with a 20 per cent cutback during the fourth (or fifth) week, but that' s just a guess based on the limited scientific information which is available.
Another problem with the Banister plan is that it doesn't treat fairly those athletes who slant their training towards the intensity, rather than the volume, end of things, nor does it take into account the specificity of training for a particular event.
For example, let' s say that Fred and Wilma can both run the SK in about 19 minutes and hope to set new PBs of 18:36 (six-minute per mile pace) in the near future. However, Fred and Wilma develop completely different training plans. Believing that high volume (mileage) is the answer, Fred trains for 600 minutes per week at a modest average heart rate of 140 beats per minute. Convinced that high intensity will help her run faster SKs, Wilma cuts back on her volume of training but raises her average running speed, ending up with just 120 minutes of training per week at an average heart rate of 170. A large share of Wilma's mileage is completed at around six-minute per mile tempo.
According to the Banister system, Fred is training 'better' (he is doing more total work, with 84,000 heart beats of training per week against 20,400 beats for Wilma). However, Wilma is much more likely to run a faster 5K because she is focused on the specific pace she needs for her new PB, and because Fred's mega-mileage is not necessary for, nor specific to, SK racing.
Fortunately, problems like this are remedied easily enough IF you remember to include very specific work-outs in each training cycle (a 'specific' workout is one in which the intensity - measured in heart rate or velocity - is very similar to the intensity needed during one's competitive effort).
Although it might seem that only heart-monitor owners could use the Banister system, regular people can employ it as well. It's only necessary to take one's pulse manually a couple of times during steady, continuous efforts or to gauge heart rate after a few work and recovery intervals during an interval session. While the heart rates obtained won't be precise, they'll be close enough to the true figures to give you a pretty good estimate of your workout value.
One bonus associated with the Banister method is that you'll end up with quantitative records of workout (and training-cycle) values during periods which preceded your best efforts. These can be compared with the Banister values associated with your current training. If your current values are higher than those that were present during your pre-PB periods, you might be on the verge of overtraining, while lower values might represent inadequate preparation for your races.
Overall, the Banister technique is a very interesting way to monitor your current training progress and to plan future training cycles. For the athlete with enough time to use the technique, the Banister tracking system should lead to improved training - and heightened performances.
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