Life in the Zone(s)

Happy Valentine’s Day,

I try to pay close attention to my heart.  Both my physical heart and my emotional heart.  On this day, where we celebrate the loves in our lives, I thought I would write about a connection I’ve been making lately from my training to my life.  In almost all of my training, unless I forget to put it on, I wear a heart rate monitor.  At a glance, I can see the rate at which my heart is beating in beats per minute.  I can use this number, along with the physical sensations that go with it, to gauge the intensity of the workout I am doing.

A common system of physical training uses heart rate zones.  There are various formulas (each with their own limitations) you can use to set up your training zones.  Most of these formulas start with your maximum heart rate.  This is the fastest your heart can beat-you’d know it on this particular day because it was the rate your heart was beating when you first realized you were falling in love with your sweetie.  Another way people find it is through VO2 Max testing or various other tests that involve upping your intensity in an activity in increments until your heart (or you) can’t go any faster.  I found mine by wearing my heart rate monitor and noting the highest heart rate I saw recorded…mine is 185.

People used to think that our max heart rate was 220 minus our age and that max heart rate declined with age.  From what I understand now, if we stay in good physical condition, our max heart rate doesn’t have to decline with age.  Another interesting thing is that max heart rate is unique to you and unique to each activity you do.  My max heart rate in hockey is different than in hiking than in swimming and likewise, we shouldn’t make the mistake of comparing our max heart rates–just because mine is higher or lower than yours doesn’t mean anything about our relative fitness.

Another important heart rate number is your resting heart rate.  Ideally this is taken first thing in the morning before you move or get up.  Sometimes you find it by sleeping in your heart rate monitor or by having your basal metabolic rate tested.  My resting heart rate is about 40 these days.  Our resting heart rate is a good indicator of fitness as resting heart rates do decline with increased fitness because the heart becomes more efficient at doing its job.  I monitor my resting heart rate fairly often because a rise in it is an indicator of overreaching or overtraining (which I am trying very hard to avoid this time).

Back to heart rate zones…so the formula I use is called the Karvonen method that uses something called the heart rate reserve.  The heart rate reserve is your maximum heart rate minus your resting heart rate.  So my heart rate reserve is 145 and I can use this number to set my training zones (have I lost you yet?).

So, my maximum heart rate is 185.
My resting heart rate is 40.
My heart rate reserve is 145.

My Zone 1 (long slow activity) would be in between:
Low value: 40 + 60 % * 145 = 127 beats per minute
High value: 40 + 70 % * 145 = 142 bpm

My Zone 2 (easy aerobic) would be in between:
Low value: 40 + 70 % * 145 = 142 bpm
High value: 40 + 80 % * 145 = 156 bpm

My Zone 3 (anaerobic threshold) would be in between:
Low value: 40 + 80% * 145 = 156 bpm
High value: 40 + 90% * 145 = 163 bpm

My Zone 4 (high intensity intervals) would be in between:
Low value: 40 + 90 % * 145 = 163 bpm

High value: 40 + 100 % * 145 = 185 bpm

Each zone invokes a different physiological response in the body and depending on your training goals, your training program would prescribe different amount of time spent in each zone over the course of a training week or training phase.  Some coaches use four zones, some use six and some use as many as eight.  Each person will have a unique set of zone boundaries based on their individual parameters.

As you can probably surmise, the intensity of the work also varies with the zone.  In Zone One, you can workout for hours and this provides a solid endurance base.  In Zone Four, you can only work out for 30 seconds to a minute without needing to rest–it’s really hard work and tough to stay with.  So here’s the kicker (a tribute to the freestyle skiers at the Olympics–the kicker is the jump they use to get airbourne)…

This week I saw that my physical heart has zones but my emotional heart/soul/life has them too!  I saw that I could divide my life into various zones that call upon me to adapt to different stresses/tasks/demands.  With Marian’s surgery and my dad’s death, the last six weeks of 2009 were pretty much in Zone Four and to balance that out I found that I’ve really needed to keep the first six weeks of 2010 in Zones One and Two!

Life in Zones One and Two hums along with quiet efficiency and grace.  Zone Three things begin to get much tougher but are still manageable and Zone Four requires that I go all out, use multiple coping strategies, and reach out for support.  I think sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in keeping life in the upper zones and getting off on the adrenaline that courses through us with that level of stress.  I know it’s been my goal in general, and in specific to Everest to intentionally keep life/training at a manageable level so that I attain of my goal of arriving at the mountain well trained yet well rested.  It’s been a challenge to remind myself of that goal and make decisions accordingly but I’m loving life in the lower zones!

If by chance, I’ve piqued your interest in heart rate zone training/testing and you live in St. John’s, my sponsor Allied Health Services at Memorial University does both VO2 max and basal metabolic rate testing (  Besides thinking about life in the zone, I had a good week of training both using the hypoxic training gear and working out with Phil Alcock at the Core Health Spa (  You can see some photos of some of the unique workouts Phil has me do in this gallery:  (

I also paid a visit to one of my other sponsors, AppleCore Interactive, and shared lunch and a bit of inspiration with their staff.  They got to meet Flat Stanley and see pictures of the fake apple I pinched from the fruit at AppleCore in 2006.  Here’s the AppleCore blog entry about the visit:  (  For my last link of this link filled paragraph, the Tire Pullers and I were caught in action by CBC on Thursday where we were doing our biggest pull to date…a Three Pull!  You can see the video clip here:

Okay…need to finish up so I can get some supper and catch some Olympics!  Need a dose of Olympic inspiration!  Go Canada Go!

Thanks for zoning in instead of zoning out!


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