Don’t Call Low Heart Rate Training “Slow” Training!

2 blog posts ago I said I was finished brainwashing TriForcers about their Prep & Conditioning training.  I lied, but this is the last brainwashing post, I swear! (fingers crossed)

Averaging 7:06 / mile at IMCdA at 154 bpm.  Training speed at low HRs is key for IM success, but is helpful for all distances.

One thing I preach for the first 6 weeks of training is to keep the heart rate low– preferably near the bottom of your steady zone (zone 2) for almost all of your training.   One purpose of keeping the HR low is to keep the training gentle for: (a) athletes who are getting back into shape after an off season; or (b) athletes who decided to keep the ball rolling straight off of the last season and who need to let their bodies heal and reset a bit.

But a much more important purpose of keeping the heart rate low is to train our bodies to be fast at low heart rates.  Some people might say low heart rate training is anachronistic, but I’ve seen it work wonders.  To quote an article by Mark Allen, 6 time Kona Champion and one of the greatest triathletes at ALL distances including shorter distances:

“To keep my heart rate below 155 beats/minute, I had to slow my pace down to an 8:15 mile. That’s three minutes/mile SLOWER than I had been trying to hit in every single workout I did! My body just couldn’t utilize fat for fuel. So, for the next four months, I did exclusively aerobic training keeping my heart rate at or below my maximum aerobic heart rate, using the monitor every single workout. And at the end of that period, my pace at the same heart rate of 155 beats/minute had improved by over a minute. And after nearly a year of doing mostly aerobic training, which by the way was much more comfortable and less taxing than the anaerobic style that I was used to, my pace at 155 beats/minute had improved to a blistering 5:20 mile.”

One of the top ten ironman triathletes

Mark Allen Racing in the Famous “Iron War”

Mark Allen isn’t the only one to successfully use this method.  I once heard 3 time Kona Champion Peter Reid say in an interview on IM Talk that he was so dedicated to keeping his heart rate low for part of the year that he would get off of his bike and walk it up a hill if his heart rate exceeded his ceiling.  And in a more recent IM Talk interview, controversial coach Brett Sutton says he insists on his athletes keeping their HRs with 10 beats of their IM racing heart rates for some workouts since they’ll need to train at low heart rates to be ready to race at low heart rates.

One other person who has had great success with low heart rate training is… me!  While I haven’t won Kona, I’ve been lucky enough to race there for the past 2 years and one thing I always focus on is the ability to be powerful on the bike and fast on the run at low heart rates.   The first time I tried running at under 160 beats per minute I had to jog ridiculously slowly and walk up the hills.  After a winter of low heart rate training I was down in the 7:00s / mile at sub 160.  And even better, the first time I returned to the track I was confused to find myself running blazingly fast!  I can now go in the high 6:00s per mile at sub 160 when I’m in shape and I hope to make it 6:30/ mile or faster by the end of my run base training this year.  (And I’ve had similar results on the bike at 143 bpm).

So please don’t call low heart rate training “slow training”- even though you might be slow at first the goal is to go fast !

For more articles about early season training, visit the team Preparation & Conditioning Resources Page.

About Coady

Lucky to be coaching some really awesome & fun people!
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