Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Hail the Sunshine! Time to Get Out and Race

First of all, I apologise to all readers who are not located in the Southern Hemisphere. Just think, soon it will be ski season, so life can't be that bad.

But for all of us coming into Summer: life is awesome!

This is a great seasons to get out and be active, even if that is just a walk to smell the roses.

But, why stop there? Been plodding along on a treadmill for the dark, winter months? Want to see if you have actually improved? Want to do something worthwhile and maybe meet some cool people along the way?

If you said yes to even one of those, check out the calendars for Fun Run and events happening around the place. There is so much out there, surely you will find something to tempt you.

Start to Finish has a list of up coming events, including triatholons for kids!

Check out these beauties from Runner's World - Victoria for December, going back through to November (don't ask me why).

(Also love how Runner's World asks you what state you are from: ACT, New Zealand, NSW, NT, QLD, SA, TAS, VIC, WA. Points for the person who can spot the odd one out.)

DateTimeEventNameLocationDistance (km)Comments
Sun 9 Dec 12Anaconda Adventure Race, Race #3Lorne, VIC - Australia1.9 swim/13 paddle/14 run/18 bike/1.2 runSome rate the 50km course for the premier Lorne Anaconda Adventure Race as one of the hardest courses in the series. Others rate it as one of the more spectacular, especially when the sun is sparkling off the ocean in front of the adventure village event HQ, making the swim and paddle look particularly alluring. And some simply rate it as a must-do event on their bucket list of adventures.
Sun 9 Dec 12Sri Chinmoy Williamstown Foreshore RunMelbourne, VIC - Australia10, 5Location: Sadler Reserve, The Esplanade, Williamstown. Melways 56 B11. 8AM start. A picturesque, fast and flat 5km loop road circuit along Williamstown Beach. Features: Post race pancake breakfast, drink stations every 2.5km, online entry, age category awards and chip timing. Online entry available.
Wed 5 Dec 12Emma & Tom's Christmas Run 2012Albert Park, VIC - Australia5,10Get fit for summer, fundraise for a worthy cause and celebrate the festive season with us by entering the Emma & Tom’s Christmas Run. Catering for both serious runners and those participating for fun, the 5km or 10km run/walk around Albert Park Lake includes a group fitness warm-up and post event activities including event presentations, spot prizes, food and drinks.
Sat 24 Nov 1230/50 Team ChallengeMornington Peninsula, VIC - Australia30, 50The 30/50 is a team endurance event created by Australia’s leading Adventure Trekking and Events Company, SRTT.
Sat 24 Nov 12Mirabella MountainMt Buller, VIC - Australia21.1, 10Mirabella Mountain is the inaugural challenging mountain run/walk up Mt Buller. Choose between the 21.1 km or 10 km events followed by post event celebrations on top of the mountain. Awesome atmosphere and breathtaking scenery makes this event a unique, once in a life time opportunity.
Sun 18 Nov 12EveryRunBurnley, VIC - Australia2, 5, 10, 15This event will take place on Sunday 18 November along the beautiful Yarra Boulevard. Your entire family can choose from a range of events with discounts available for family entries (2 adults & up to 3 children). The event gets underway at 9am, with walkers and runners starting and finishing at Kevin Bartlett Reserve in Burnley. Whether you walk or run with friends and family or on your own, the day will be about participating and celebrating the joy of everyRun 2012. everyRun suppo
Sun 18 Nov 12Eureka ClimbMelbourne, VIC - Australia88 FloorsEureka Climb is a charity stairclimb event up 88 floors of one of the worlds highest residential towers,Eureka Tower. Registrations to this event - Australia's highest vertical race - open in early August.
Sat 17 Nov 12Run From The HillsAvoca, VIC - Australia21.5, 7, 1Run From The Hills - The trail run which sees a brand new track put to the running community. The run starts in the heart of the Pyrenees Range State Park Forest taking participants through the newly restored Pyrenees Endurance walking trail; down 21.5k of fire road, 4wd tracks, double tracks and single track. Finishing off with a sprint to the finish line through the grape vines ending at the beautiful Mount Avoca Winery.
Sat 17 Nov 12Upstream 50km ChallengeMelbourne, VIC - Australia50km walk/run50km walk/run from Docklands to Donvale. Individual, Team or Relay entry. Help raise funds for Camp Quality, Disability Sport & Recreation and Entrust Foundation. 100% of all funds raised are passed on to the beneficiaries.
Sun 11 Nov 12Marysville Marathon FestivalMarysville, VIC - Australia4, 10, 21.1, 42.2, 50
Sun 4 Nov 12Bendigo Bank Fun RunBendigo, VIC - Australia5,10The Bendigo Bank Fun Run is a fundraising event for the medical ward at Bendigo Health. People of all abilities can challenge themselves to either a 5km run/walk or a 10km run. The course is planned for Lake Weeroona, Linear Trail, QEO, historic View Street, Tom Flood sports centre, Rosiland Park and Bendigo's iconic CBD. contact: Kiri Earl. email: Visit the website for more details.
Sun 4 Nov 12Port of Portland 3-Bays MarathonPortland, VIC - Australia21.1, 42.2, 5 + 10 relaysThe 42.195 Kms is a hilly circuit through magnificent coastal and rural countryside. Drink and first-aid stations are situated every 5 kms. along the course and manned by Portland Community groups. Sponges are available from 20 Kms. Light refreshments are provided free to all competitors and officials after the race on presentation of race number.
Sun 4 Nov 12Lara Fun RunLara, VIC - Australia5, 10, kids dash (2km)The Lara Fun Run is a family focussed event where everyone can participate. This years event will be held on a great new course through Serendip Sanctuary, Lara. This is your only opportunity to run this great course, so dont miss out. The event aims to provide a great value, healthy, non competitive, enjoyable experience that also has numerous benefits for local not-for-profit organisations.
Well, I'll leave you with those tempting offers just to get you started.
Know of anything else that's happening around the place? Let me know!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Rowing Machines Part 3: Programs

One of the greatest things about ergos is that you can use them in almost any type of workout. Want to focus on your cardiovascular fitness? Great, jump on, keep the rating at a medium speed, and go for a long time. Need to build some muscle? Crank up the drag to 10 and try power strokes. Want to do a circuit? Add in a 250 sprint, or 25 stroke burst as one of your stations. See, so many options!

Having said that, I do not recommend making up your own exercise technique such as lying on the seat on your stomach, gripping the handle behind your back and using it for weird squats... yes, I've seen someone try this!

Today I'm going to look at some great tools for developing a rowing program, and then look at some preset programs that are for the keen to very keen.

Image courtesy of photostock /

Please note that even done correctly, rowing can put a lot of strain on your back if you haven't developed the muscles properly, which can lead to back pain and injury. Please build up slowly and don't just jump into a program developed for well trained athletes. 


One of the first things you should get into if you are at all interested in rowing machines is the Concept 2 website. There is both a UK and a US version to the website. I'm going to be citing from the UK site, but the US is just as good. 

Start by checking out their training guide. They have information on absolutely everything you would want to know. 

Particularly note the preset training guides if you are looking for a system to follow. They offer guides for a range of goals: basic conditioning, 20min and 40min programs, 2,000m race training and marathon training programs. (Yes, people complete and compete in half marathon and marathon length ergos. I've done the distance of a half marathon, but took a 2 min break every half an hour. It is one of my goals for the next few months to do a half marathon without a break).

One thing to note about these programs is that they can look complicated until you have worked out their notation (you might need to rewrite the workouts so you can understand at first) and you need to workout out your heart rate for their bands (Refer to my previous post on Heart Rate Reserve for the list of their bands.)

Here is an example of their 20minute preset workout.

Table 5.3
20 Minute Fitness Programme, 3-5 Sessions per Week
SessionLight WeekMedium WeekHard Week
Preparation Period
11 x 20' UT1 20spm1 x 20' UT1 22spm1 x 20' UT1 24spm
22 x 8' UT1 22spm2 x 8' UT1 23spm2 x 8' UT1 24spm
31 x 20' UT1 20spm1 x 20' UT1 22spm1 x 20' UT1 24spm
42 x 8' UT1 22spm2 x 8' UT1 23spm1 x 20' UT1 24spm
51 x 20' UT2 18-20spm1 x 20' UT2 18-20spm1 x 20' UT218-20spm
Development Period
12 x 8' AT 24spm2 x 8' AT 25spm2 x 8' AT 26spm
21 x 20' UT1 20spm1 x 20' UT1 22spm1 x 20' UT1 24spm
33 x 5' AT 26spm3 x 5' AT 27spm3 x 5' AT 28spm
41 x 20' UT1 22spm1 x 20' UT1 23spm1 x 20' UT1 24spm
51 x 20' UT2 18-20spm1 x 20' UT2 18-20spm1 x 20' UT2 18-20spm
Consolidation Period
13 x 4' TR 28spm3 x 4' TR 28spm3 x 4' TR 30spm
26 x 1' AN 32spm6 x 1' AN 34spm8 x 1' AN 36spm
34 x 2' TR 30spm5 x 2' TR 32spm6 x 2' TR 32spm
42 x 8' AT 24spm2 x 8' AT 26spm2 x 8' AT 28spm
51 x 20' UT1 20spm1 x 20' UT1 22spm1 x 20' UT1 24spm

Notes for Table 5.3
  1. 1 x 20' UT1 20spm means row for 20 minutes in your UT1 heart rate range at 20 strokes per minute.
  2. 2 x 8' UT1 20spm means row for eight minutes in your UT1 heart rate range at 20 strokes per minute, with a short rest of three to four minutes, then repeat.
  3. 6 x 1' AN 32spm means row one minute intervals in your AN heart rate range, with at least one to two minutes rest between each piece of work, repeat six times.
  4. 4 x 2'TR 30spm means row for two minutes in your TR heart rate at 30 strokes per minute with 30 to 90 seconds rest, repeat four times.
  5. Sessions 1 to 3 are fairly hard workouts as they are designed for people only completing three training sessions each week. The less training you do each week the harder the individual sessions need to be so that cumulatively you are doing enough work for it to be beneficial. As you complete more sessions per week the training load of the extra sessions can be reduced. Therefore sessions 4 & 5 are lighter workouts. When completing more than three sessions a week we recommend you adjust the sequence of the sessions to give a more balanced mix of light and hard sessions throughout the week.

They also have lots of good information on how to develop your own program. 

However, my favourite feature of their training guide is their interactive training programs. You can chose from 2,000m, Fast Track Fitness or Weight loss. You put in your details, how often you want to train and the results you want, and it will make up a training program for you. Awesome, no? 

The tricky bit is then going to the gym and doing it, but Concept 2 have thought up ways to help with that too! Their online training log is really useful. Not only does it let you record your workouts, you can then see where it ranks against other people in your age group doing the same distance/time etc. On the side bar there are interested things like the work out of the day to give you new ideas. Also, if you want to get really enthused, they have teams you can join, and challenges throughout the year.
The final thing from Concept 2 which I want to point you towards is the forums. There are threads on almost any topic you could want to know about, and if there isn't one already, start it and you will get a great response. 


For anyone who want to get serious results and are prepared to put in the effort to get them, the Wolverine Plan is for you. It was devised for the University of Michigan's women's crew by Mike Caviston. 

Note that it was designed for athletes, and works on the basis you are going to do 9 workouts a week on the ergo or water and two weight sessions. If you have not worked at that level before, DO NOT START HERE! But, if you are ready for a challenge, and want to get into peak condition, this could be for you. 

The plan is very details and sort of complicated. For an understanding of how the plan developed and its purpose, see the interview with Mike Caviston on row2k. The actual program is a PDF and you can download it from (among other places, this was just the neatest).


9 sessions of rowing a week a bit too much for you? But you still want a very similar plan? Then the Pete Plan is for you!

It was created by Pete Marston who started following the Wolverine Plan but found it had too many sessions and he didn't like the long, slow sessions (especially since most of his sessions he was doing in his lunch hour at the work gym). So he tinkered with it to create something that worked for him. It has since become rather famous. 

The big difference which I want to recommend between the two programs is that the Pete Plan is MUCH easier to understand and use.

It is based on a three week cycle, with six sessions a week. There are three types of sessions: speed intervals, “anaerobic threshold” intervals, and distance or endurance training.

The basic plan is this:

Monday - Speed intervals; 3 weekly rotation between:
8 x 500m, 3:30 rest
4 x 1k, 5min rest
250/500/750/1k/750/500/250 pyramid (1:30 rest per 250m after interval)

Tuesday - Steady distance (8 to 15k)

Wednesday - Steady distance (8 to 15k)

Thursday - Distance intervals; 3 weekly rotation between:
5 x 1500m, 5min rest
4 x 2k, 5min rest
3k/2.5k/2k, 5min rest

Friday - Steady distance (8 to 15k)

Saturday - Hard 10k

Sunday - Rest

He has also created a 'beginner' version with three core sessions and then two optional ones for those looking for something a bit less intense.
The thing a lot of people say against the Pete Plan is that as there are only three weeks, you get used to the work outs pretty soon, and come to loath some of them. It's pretty hard to make yourself go to the gym if you know you are going to be doing a work out you hate. However, that is largely an attitude problem, which you can turn around by seeing those as your own personal challenge to overcome. (And usually it is the workout that you loath the most that is the best for you.) 
For more discussion on the plan, see the Concept 2 forum thread with Peter Marston himself answering questions about the plan.

There are hundreds of different workouts that you can do on your rowing machine, and I hope this has given you just a taste. 

I thought I would finish with a link to this article I found, on why all runners should be rowers

Now get out there and try it!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Rowing Machines Part 2: Technique.

Today I thought it would be good to look at some of the basics of technique, and then some common mistakes.

But, instead of me just telling you the motions, I'm going to let Bobby Thatcher do it, partly because he's made a really good YouTube clip covering everything I would want to say and more, and partly because he's an Olympian and I'm not.

Even if you think you're pretty good on an ergo take the 7min and watch this because it's always good to get a refresher.

This video has been made by Concept2 and is useful if you think you might not be doing it correctly. It goes through the majority of the common mistakes, and gives you some drills to fix it.

Also, I'm totally jealous that she gets to ergo on a lake, and I'm stuck in a gym.
If you can move our ergo out into the sunshine, go for it!

I hope these two videos help. If you have any questions, feel free to ask and I'll try my best to answer.

And yes, I do know that I'm being totally lazy, but it's for your best, really it is.

Next time I'll look at some of the programs and different sorts of workouts you can do.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Rowing Machines Part 1: The Three Variables - Drag, Rating and Power

As mentioned before, I'm a rower. I have learned to love, then hate, then love my ergo. 
What's an ergo? 
It's the proper name for a rowing machine. It's short for ergometer, which comes from the Greek (just showing that Classics is a useful degree!) ergo = work, meter = measure. 

In Australia we call it ergo for short. In the UK they just call it an erg, which is silly because that isn't a proper word but once it gets stuck in your head it's hard to get it out again. 

Any Americans out there? Know what you call them? (I did go over to Seattle to compete, but can't remember their term for it.)

Anyway, ergos are a great way to work out even if you never want to go in a boat. It uses all your major muscles (legs, core, arms), builds flexibility and teaches you to control your breathing.

However, it does require some actual technique and knowledge. And let me tell you, most gym goers do not have that technique. 

There are some original youtube videos out there of people in the gym making a fool of themselves, but it felt mean putting them up. So I've chosen this one as it demonstrates some of the worst moves out there, but the guy is doing it intentionally, I think. So feel free to laugh. 

So, I'm doing a quick series on the rowing machine because it's a great piece of gym equipment... if you use it correctly.

Today I'm going to start with just being able to set up and use the machine. 

There are three basic things you need to know about to use the machine effectively:
- drag/resistance.
- rating/speed.
- power. 

In running you can make a work out harder by going faster and/or going up hills. 

On a rowing machine there are three variables. 
1. There is going faster: driving your legs down faster and moving your hands faster. This increases your rating, which is measured in the number of strokes per minute. 

(this screen is at 28 strokes per minute, up in the right hand corner). 
As a general indication here's the rates I use for different types of workouts.
Active recovery/ Cardiovascular work: 18-20spm.
Endurance training: 24-26.
Race training: 28-32. 
Sprinting: as fast as possible with good technique. (In a race you generally try to take off for the first few hundred meters at 44+). 

2. Increasing resistance: using the drag on the machine to make it harder (like increasing the incline).
At the side of the machine you will see the fly wheel with a moveable lever:

This increases the feel of resistance when you pull the handle. 1 is the easiest and 10 the hardest. 

This is not a test of how macho you are! You should not do all work out at 10!

Once again it depends on the work that you are doing.  On a treadmill you wouldn't think of doing a longer run at maximum incline, you save that for short hill sprints. So you also shouldn't do long work outs at 10, you vary other aspects instead.

Between 3-4 is the generally recommended basic use, because it should be equivalent to the resistance you get when you are on water. If you are particularly weak, you could use it lower, or if you are focusing on building strength and muscle you could have it a bit higher.

Note: when the flywheel gets dusty or dirty, the drag factor changes. Therefore, if you want to make sure that you are working out at the same drag factor across machines, you can't trust the numbers on the dial. Instead, you need test the drag factor through the monitor.

For the older monitors (PM2) turn on the monitor, wait for the zeros to be displayed and press the READY and REST buttons together. 

On the new PM3/4 monitors, from the Main Menu select 'More Options' and then 'Display Drag Factors'. 


Take a few strokes and look at the value displayed. According to Concept 2 (makers of the rowing machines) a brand new machine will have a drag factor of about 90-100 at the 1 damper setting, and about 210-220 at the 10 setting.

Generally, aerobic work should be roughly between 120-135.

3. Along with rating and resistance, rowing also has a third important factor of power. The stronger your leg driver, the hard you pull, the faster your boat will go in the water. 
Rowing is strange in that you can move slowly, but still get a faster speed because you are relying on your strength. Or you can have less strength, but move faster and still have a good speed. Obviously, the best is if you can move fast and put in the power. 
Overall speed is measured by your 'split' (also called other things like pace, etc, but split is what I work with). This is a measure of the amount of time it would take you at your current speed to do 500m. 

You can vary the information given on your screen, but having your split up is usually the best.


Your aim is to keep that time/500m as low as possible. And you don't have to move faster up and down the slide in order to do that. Better technique and driving harder with your legs, good body rock and a strong finish with your arms will also drop your split. 

So, your challenge for this coming week:
Row for a minute at a rating of 26 with a drag factor of 125, trying to keep your split constant. 
After a 30 second break, then row at a rating of 20 still with a drag factor of 125 and try to keep the same split by working harder. The stronger you are, the easier it will be to get a good split with a lower rating.

As I'm reasonably strong, but with shocking cardiovascular fitness, I find lower ratings with hard work much easier than trying to row at a higher rating for an extended period of time. 

So trying playing with varying your strength, speed and resistance to see how they all feel. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Heart Rates Part 3: Heart Rate Reserve and Target Zones

Well done if you have worked out your resting heart rate and your maximum heart rate! You are well on the one to constructing a workout program that is best for your body. The final step in this process is understanding the target zones for exercising in and your heart rate reserve.

Let me start with the concept of target heart rate zones, which most of you might know about already but bear with me. The idea argues that there are a series of zones between your resting heart rate and your maximum heart rate which develop different aspects of your fitness. Ideally, you should be creating a program that involves working at a number of different levels across the cycle.

For most simple programs these zones are based on a percentage of your maximum heart rate. Here is a sample chart which demonstrates the concept:

Fitness Target Zones: Heart Rates

Exercise LevelBenefitsIntensity Level
(Max HR %)
Light ExerciseHealthy Heart
50% - 60%
Weight LossBurn Fat & Calories60% - 70%
Base - AerobicIncrease stamina & endurance70% - 80%
ConditioningFitness conditioning, muscle building, and athletic training80% - 90%
Athletic - eliteAthletic training and endurance90% - 100%

From the website Heart.

As you have now worked out your maximum heart rate, you can develop or understand programs that work on this model.
Please keep in mind that these divisions are very simplified and only indications. For example, obviously all exercise must burn calories, it is just that the lower heart rate levels allow the body to rely on its fat burning processes rather than using other processes. However, any process has to burn something to create the energy and so will use calories in one form or another, it might just not use your fat stores first.

This method relies only upon your maximum heart rate and as general fitness does not affect maximum heart rate as much as resting heart rate, these zones do not take into account your own fitness very much.

Another method takes into account the available spread of heart rates that an individual can work within. This spread is based on the range between your resting heart rate (which can vary up to 60 or 70 bpm between a fit and unfit person) and your maximum heart rate.

If you are not very healthy at all, you could have a resting heart rate of 100 and a maximum heart rate of say 180, therefore an active range of 80bpm. On the other hand, an athlete might have a resting heart rate of 50 and the same maximum of 180, so has an active range of 130 bpm. So how can we take into account this range?

This is where Heart Rate Reserve comes into play. Your heart rate reserve is just this, your active heart rate range. It is calculated by subtracting your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate.
Our not so healthy person: 180 (MHR) - 100 (RHR) = 80 (HRR).
Our athlete: 180 (MHR) - 50 (RHR) = 130 (HRR).

Based on this theory, target heart rate zones are calculated based on a percentage of the heart rate reserve which is then added back onto the resting heart rate (being your bottom line.)

This is used by a lot of more developed training programs, such as the rowing programs on the Concept 2 webpage, who define the different target zones as follows (based on Heart Rate Reserve):


 Band  Type of Work % HRWhat it is good for How you Feel 
 UT2Utilisation 2. Light aerobic, low intensity work. Sustainable and fat burning. 55-70General CV fitnessRelaxed. Able to carry on a conversation.
 UT1Utilisation 1. Heavy aerobic work using more oxygen. 70-80 Higher level of CV fitnessWorking. Feel warmer. Heart rate and respiration up. May sweat. 
 ATAnaerobic Threshold. Harder work. On the aerobic limit. Pushing into anaerobic area. 80-85High level of CV fitness. Building mental and physical tolerance.Hard work. Heart rate and respiration up. Carbon dioxide build up. Sweating. Breathing hard. 
 TROxygen Transportation. Working hard. Unsustainable for long periods.  85-90Developing oxygen transport to the muscles under stress. Increasing cardiac output. Stressed. Panting. Sweating freely.
 ANAnaerobic (without oxygen). Short bursts of maximum effort. Unsustainable. Burning carbohydrate.  90-100Anaerobic work. Increasing speed. Accustoming the body to work without oxygen.Very stressful. Gasping. Sweating heavily.

From Concept 2.

So, let us compare the two methods for our two examples the not so fit (NSF) person and the athlete. Say that both of them want to build up a good cardiovascular (CV) base by doing some conditioning work staying in the aerobic band.

According to our first and second chart:
Base - AerobicIncrease stamina & endurance70% - 80%

UT1Utilisation 1. Heavy aerobic work using more oxygen. 70-80

(Keep in mind that the two charts do not align against each other perfectly, but the example shows the variance between a fit and an unfit person.)

So, for our NSF person with a max of 180
Chart 1: 126 - 144 bpm is the range they should be working in.
(180 x 0.7 - 180 x 0.8)

Chart 2: 156 - 164 is the range they should be working in.
Reserve = 80.
Resting = 100
So (80 x 0.7) + 100 and (80 x 0.8) + 100 
56 + 100 and 64 + 100. 

And our athlete?
Chart 1 will be the same: 126 - 144

Chart 2: 141 - 154 is the range.

Reserve = 130
Resting = 50
So (130 x 0.7) + 50 and (130 x 0.8) = 50.
91 + 50 and 104+ 50.

What can we learn from this?
First, when working out your zone, make sure whether the program is referring to % of maximum or % of reserve, as there is a big difference.
Second, generally as you get fitter the target heart rate you are working at will need to drop to stay in the lower zones. Your body will become more effective, and so if you keep working at a higher rate, you will be in a different zone.
Third, using a percentage of your heart rate reserve gives you a more personalised program.

Even if you don't use it, take time to sit down and work out your target zones based on your heart rate reserve and Concept 2's bands just so you can get a feel for how it might be different to what your treadmill chart might be asking you to do.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Heart Rates Part 2: Maximum Heart Rate

So, have you worked out your resting heart rate yet? 

Well, now that you have that, the next important figure to work out is your maximum heart rate. Why, I hear you ask? (Well, probably not, but you should, because it is an important question).

Maximum heart rate is not the rate that you should aim to exercise at, just to make that clear at the beginning. However, a lot of training programs work on a series of exercises that focus on maintaining a particular % of your maximum or your heart rate reserve (more on that in a later post). Therefore, to use these programs most effectively you need to know your max. 

Many of you would have been told to calculate your maximum heart rate based on a formula that uses your age. 

The most common formula I've come across is 220 - your age = maximum heart rate. (Some now adjust that to 226 - your age for females).

Therefore, since I'm 29, my maximum would therefore be 191 or 197.

Online calculators like the one at My Dr ask only for your age and from that tell you what you should be working out at, apparently using the 220 formula as they recommend 191 for me.  

Anyone else see any problem with this? That all males and females, regardless of exercise history, health, anything like that all have the same maximum heart rate? True maximum heart rate does not change like resting heart rate does, but still, there must be more variation than that!

Considering 2 years ago I used to sit on 198/199 for roughly half an hour once a week, I some how doubt that those figures given are my maximum. (By the way, totally do not recommend working at that level, I just had little choice.)

There has been a lot of research into the area, which I think has been summarized nicely by Brian Mac, who then allows you to enter your age (though didn't ask for gender, which is strange as that is one variable he discusses), sport and level (average/elite) and will then give you a range of answers based on the different research he discussed. Highly recommend you check it out to show how much formulae can vary.  

However, while using a formula can be alright to give you a general idea, since they can vary +/-20 beats, it's probably worth doing some testing yourself. 

An accurate, but expensive, way is to go to a sports clinic and actually have a maximum heart rate stress test performed. They hook you up to a whole lot of fancy equipment and make you run on a treadmill. The results come with a lot of other important and interesting information, so is worth the money. The only downside that I've heard from friends (I haven't done it myself) is that you are doing a one off test. If you are slightly sick that day, aren't prepared to push yourself as hard as you otherwise might, etc. the results can come in lower than they might otherwise be. 

The other cheaper, but less accurate on a once off test, is to perform similar tests yourself. 

NOTE: I recommend having someone with you when you do this, in case of a medical emergency.

Also, you will need a heart monitor for this. Using the ones on a treadmill isn't really practical, as it is not safe to run with your hands on the grips over a speed of about 6.5km/h. A band around your chest with a watch that you can program with your age and gender is much better. (I'll do another post later on different models of heart rate monitor. For this, if you haven't got one yet, try to borrow a good one off a friend, or you can pick up cheap ones at Big-W and places like that usually for around $30 (the expensive ones start at around $200, so you are saving a lot).)

Polar (heart rate monitor company) gives these two tests to try out: (note that they expect you to know what 85% of your maximum heart rate is already, which is a bit counter intuitive, but you can use a formula for a basic number).

A sub maximal test is not as specific as the VO2 Max test, however it is more individual than the age based formula and it can be performed readily in the field.

Example 1: Running
Ensure the Polar heart rate monitor is set to display heart rate in beats per minute. You must first perform a 15-20 minute warm up with your heart rate gradually reaching 85% of your maximum heart rate.
Now, on a running track or other open environment, perform a 2 minute run at maximal effort, recover for 2 minutes (either remain stationary or slow walk) and then perform a second 2 minute run at maximum effort. Take note of the highest heart rate value reached either in the first or second interval and add 5 additional beats to the highest value. This number can now be used as your maximum heart rate.

Example 2: Cycling
Ensure the Polar heart rate monitor is set to display heart rate in beats per minute. You must first perform a 15-20 minute warm up with your heart rate gradually reaching 85% of your maximum heart rate.
Now, at the base of a hill which has a steady gradient of approximately 4-5%, perform a 3-4 minute seated climb at maximal effort, in a gear that allows you to maintain a cadence of 60-70rpm. Take note of the highest heart rate value reached. Add 5 additional beats to the highest value and this new number can be used as your maximum heart rate.

These are good as they are pretty simple, and as long as you have a heart rate monitor, you can do it almost anywhere, any time. 

However, as a rower, my favourite is based on the Concept 2 suggestion. It is hell, but I think more accurate. Please note, this is for generally healthy, fit people without any heart conditions.

They suggest a Step Test. The Polar method is two sets of maximum effort, which is good that they did it twice but most of the time when we jump from a lower rate to a higher rate, we don't really know how far our maximum really is. This test, on the other hand, gets you to work up step by step until you utterly cannot continue ('until you blow' is their wording).

Most gyms will have a Concept 2 rowing machine, but make sure you know the proper technique before trying to do this test or you might end up straining something or taking out someone else's eye (oh you laugh, but not as much as I laugh at the people who think they can row at my gym!). 

It's easiest if you know how to set the machine to do 1.30min intervals. If not, I recommend having a friend next to you monitoring your heart rate and reminding you to step up ever 1.30mins. 

Start off rowing at an easy rate that gives you a heart rate of 140bpm. If you have already warmed up, you only need to do this for 1.30mins, but if you haven't warmed up already, I personally recommend just doing a few more minutes to make sure you don't injury yourself. 

Now, if you can put your display so it is showing watts, every 1.30mins step up 25 watts. If you can't get it to display watts (though it's quite simple, just press the 'change display' button until it cycles through to watts) then you can just do it based on split using the table below.

Watts  25  50 75  100  125  150   175
500m  4:01.0 3:11.3  2:47.1 2:31.8
2:12.6  2:06.0 2:00.5
 225 250  275  300  325  350  375
500m 1:55.9  1:51.9  1:48.4   1:45.3 1:42.5  1:40.0  1:37.7  1:35.6
 Watts  425 450  475  500  525  550  550  600
500m 1:33.7 1:32.0 1:30.3
1:28.8 1:27.4

And as the name 'Step Test' suggests, you keep stepping up every minute and a half until you feel like you are going to die. 

Well done, that's your maximum heart rate. (Though, some people do recommend adding on 5bpm all the same.)

So, this week's challenge: using either one of the Polar Methods, or if you are feeling brave the Concept 2 method, test out your maximum heart rate.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Heart Rates Part 1: Your Resting Heart Rate

Why should you know your own heart rate before, during and after exercise? Why monitor your heart rate, and does working out at specific heart rates work better than at specific speeds?

This is the first in a series of posts on understanding your own heart rate and how to use that information to better tailor your exercise programs. Understanding your own heart rate, your maximum hr, your anaerobic thresholds, and your resting rate is pretty much fundamental for beginning any sort of serious exercise program.

In a later posts I will look at working out your maximum heart rate, understanding the different thresholds, and exercise programs based on working out at specific heart rates, such as the much discussed Maffetone Method. But today we start at the beginning: your resting heart rate.

Your heart rate, as might be very obvious, is the speed at which your heart is pumping. When your muscles require more blood, your heart pumps faster, when you are at rest your heart pumps slower. However, a higher heart rate doesn't always mean you are doing good things to your body. Your heart also pumps faster when it is stressed or sick, or if it is working very inefficiently.

So, do you want a high resting heart rate or a low one?

One of the biggest aims of fitness is to have your body able to do more with less effort. You want to be able to run faster with your heart pumping slower, because this means its not as stressed. Generally speaking, as you get fitter, your resting heart rate will go down. Your heart will be able to pump more blood with less effort.

Therefore, it is important to work out at the beginning of a program what your current resting heart rate is, which lets you know how fit you are now, and gives you a basis to see if you are improving later.

Working out your resting heart rate is super easy and needs only a clock that counts seconds.

It's best to take your resting heart rate just after waking up, but any time you have been lying still and not moving for a period of time will work (this is one of the few times I'm going to recommend watching TV, so enjoy it.)

Find your pulse either at your radial artery on your wrist just below your thumb or at your carotid artery in your neck. Make sure you are using just your index and middle finger to find the pulse, as your thumb has a slight pulse of its own and can confuse the counting.

Now, time yourself and count how many times it pulses in ten seconds. Then times this by 6 and you have your resting heart rate in beats per minutes. (You can also count for 30 seconds and times it by 2, if you feel this is more accurate, or count for the full 60 seconds, as with only 10 seconds miss-counting by one can have a much larger effect.)

It is suggested that:
60 or below beats per minute: = a fit athlete.
60- 80 bpm = average.
81-100 bpm = is high, but ok.
101 + bpm = not so good.

It is best to record your heart rate every morning for a week to try and get an average as its quite easy to have an unusual reading, such as waking up after a scary dream.

If you are serious about a new exercise program, particularly if you are an athlete, it is highly recommended that you take your resting heart rate every single morning. The major reason for this is that your resting heart rate will generally go up 10 bpm if your body is starting to fight an illness, and is a good indicator that you should cut down on your training until it returns to normal. This is an excellent way to try and avoid over-training.

Now that you know your resting heart rate, in the next post we will look at your maximum heart rate.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Couch to 5k - Jenny's First Session.

Yesterday my little sister, Jenny, bravely went to the gym with me to test out the Couch to 5k program for those who are not joggers.

First of all, please note that we were doing it on a treadmill. Jenny suggested afterwards that it would be quite a different experience outside as judging the speed would be hard.

The first thing we realised is that Jenny's natural 'jogging' speed is about 8km/h, which for her feels reasonably fast. However, the Couch to 5k program promises by the end that you will be able to run 5k in 30mins, which means it expects you to run at 10k/h which is quite a bit different.

So, what it calls 'jogging' might be a quite a fast pace for non-joggers.

However, she agreed to start off doing 10k/h on the treadmill for her jogging sessions. As it turns out, she managed to get all the way through alternating between 10k/h and 5k/h.

Based on my experience supporting Jenny, I highly recommend using a heart rate monitor, or just after coming to a walk using the heart rate grips on the machine. During the jogging part, your heart rate should go up quite significantly, but during the walking period it should drop right down again. If your heart rate is not dropping down enough, it means you are not recovering in between and should probably take slightly longer breaks or walk slower.

For Jenny, her heart rate in the first few intervals hit around 176 then dropped down to 135-145ish. As she progressed, it hit a maximum of around 186 and only dropped to around 145. The 186 indicates that she was pretty much at her limit, and I wouldn't want her going any faster/longer.

Afterwards she said she felt good. Her breathing had become tight, but not painful. This morning she could still walk, and reported not much pain at all.

She definitely like the interval training more than trying to stay at a jog for longer bursts. The minute was short enough that she could hold out and so push herself more than she probably would otherwise.

However, she still can't imagine being able to run at that speed for 30mins in 9 weeks. We shall see.

She is going to try and continue with the program, but since her own treadmill has just died, she will have to be running outside and so isn't sure she will be hitting the 10k/h in the jogging sections.

Review so far: the science behind doing intervals is pretty solid. It is meant to be one of the fastest ways to increase speed. However, it does mean in the interval pushing yourself harder than you would normally go.

We're not yet sure how it will go when the program starts evens out, as most interval training works on the principal of continually increasing the speed of the interval, not necessarily the length.

Jenny's Verdict: It's hard, but not as hard as you would think.

So, get out there and try it!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Couch to 5k - Become a Jogger!

This is for everyone who wants to run but can't get past the front gate. Even if you only secretly want to run, because it seems to much to hope for.

I'm not going to tell you the story of how I was a shocking jogger (was, still sort of am). Instead, I'm going to look at a program that I didn't use, but a lot of my less fitness focused friends and acquaintances used and highly recommend.

You might have heard of the Couch to 5k program. It is sometimes abbreviated as C25K (that really confused me for a while, C25K is meant to be slightly different, as it's trademarked, but the principal is the same).

The point of the program is to take you from not being able to jog for more than a minute at a time to being able to jog 5km non-stop in 8/9 weeks.

According to my internet sources, the program was developed by Josh Clarke in 1996. So I followed the links to find out why he had done it. According to his blog he is actually a software designers, that started running the hard way but once converted wanted to get other people on board. He claims that he developed the C25K program with his 50 year old mother in mind, so don't be put off that he was young and already running.

The program lasts for 9 weeks and requires that you commit to a 20-30min sessions three times a week. As Josh points out, this is the same amount of time that is generally recommended for general fitness, though that is being revised and some health organisations now say 30mins everyday is closer to what we need to be healthy.

The program breaks up each workout into a series of intervals mixing walking and jogging. As the weeks go on the walking intervals become shorter and the jogging intervals become longer.

Now, the intervals can either be a set time or a set distance, depending on which is easier to monitor. Most of the apps or downloadable programs, though, work in set times.

A sample of the first two weeks looks like this:

WeekWorkout 1Workout 2Workout 3
1Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.
2Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes.Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes.Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

(see Cool Running for the full program, it's there for free, I just felt bad stealing it all without directing you to their site.)

However, that is not the best part of the program.

They have MP3 or mobile apps to help you. They have everything timed and a pleasant voice says 'start running' and after 60 seconds 'start walking'. 

Now, I will point out that I've now tested both the MP3 and the app versions and I prefer the app, mostly because the MP3 version you have to listen to their music, while the app works on top of your own music. But otherwise, both are good.

As programs that appear to be effective and take almost no thinking, this is high up there. You don't need anything complex, if you don't have a smart phone or MP3 player, you can just use a normal watch and count it out for yourself.  

But I'm Already A Jogger!

So, you are already a jogger and think that this program has no use for you?

Well, think again. The purpose of the program is to work up gradually to a much faster speed. It is focused on the transition from walking to jogging, but there is no reason it can't be used for the transition from jogging to running, or just faster jogging.

I downloaded the app today and took it to the gym as I want to improve my running speed. Currently I can jog quite comfortably at 8.5km/hour (which is really slow, I know) and I can do 10km/h in a 10km race. So, I set my 'walking' pace to be 8km/h (slightly slower than my normal jogging pace because it is 'recovery' and my heart rate has to slow) and my 'jogging' pace to be 12km/h and used the program that way. It worked really well. I don't know if I'll be able to even it out to be running the full 30mins at 12km/h in 8 weeks, but I'll keep giving it a go and see.

(On an aside, while looking for the necessary sites to link you to, I came across this: Pooch to 5 km how to jog with your dog.)

Now, my super awesome little sister has 'volunteered' to test out the program for non-runners.

Introducing...Jenny! (and me, I'm the taller one)
She has in the past managed to jog 5km (it was slow, but she managed it!) but hasn't done much this year and recently sprained her ankle so is out of shape. 

But for the sake of science she is prepared to put herself out there and test the program.

If anyone else feels up to the challenge and wants to join Jenny, post your name and the amount you can currently jog below. 

(Also, I'm probably going to need more guinea pigs for different programs later on, so if you are ever interested in testing out something strange, let me know).