How to Burn Fat Using a Heart Rate Monitor
I was not a techno savvy runner till I bought my first Heart Rate Monitor(HRM). For few years prior to buying a HRM, I read up a lot on HRM training and how it is useful for runners to improve aerobic levels, use fat as main source of energy and reduce injuries. It was a time of awakening to this sport of obsessive repetition of a single movement of putting one feet in front of other.
I could not buy it until recently after buying that I came across this book accidentally by downloading it through a torrent. It is called The Big Book of Endurance and Racing by Dr Philip Maffetone. My eyes opened and concepts got clear about importance aerobic efficiency in endurance sports and proper and effective use of HRM.
When does body start burning fat?
First let’s see how body derives energy. It is through aerobic and anaerobic means.
Traditionally aerobic means when body uses oxygen to derive energy and anaerobic means when body does not need oxygen to derive energy. Dr Maffetone gave it a new look. Aerobic means when body burns more fat and less sugar to derive energy and anaerobic means when body burns more sugar and less fat to derive energy.
That means we need to train to train at aerobic levels to burn fat, right? Right. We need to determine our aerobic zone in which we must train to lose fat. But before we jump there, let’s see the benefits of training in the aerobic zone apart from burning fat.
Benefits of training in aerobic zone
As we saw above that training in aerobic zone can help burn more fat. But apart from that what are the other benefits of training in that zone.
1. Training at aerobic zone helps lay foundation for a sound athletic career. Slow twitch muscle fibers are aerobic and burn primarily fat for energy. Therefore, if most of your training is in aerobic zone, then you will increase mitochondria in your muscle cells to generate energy (ATP) and increase oxygen utilization efficiency. These mitochondria burn more fat than glucose (sugar).
2. Aerobic training is beneficial for those who runs sprint races or do weight training or play any sport which requires you to sprint like football, hockey etc. Read Once A Runner in which the protagonist being a miler ran insane distances. Aerobic training helps in faster recovery during interval sessions.
3. A solid base of aerobic training will help you in faster recovery, less fatigue after workout and in fact increase in energy levels. Also it will help you prevent injury.
But that does not mean one should not train anaerobically. Anaerobic training will help in improving your aerobic fitness levels and make you faster at aerobic zone.
How to burn fat using a Heart Rate Monitor?
There are a two techniques of measuring your aerobic zone or in fact use a HRM.
1. The ‘180 minus age’ method by Dr Philip Maffetone. I use this one because it is damn simple to use and understand.
2. The next one is Joe Friel’s Field Test and Zone Training, which I find very confusing after seeing the percentages of different zones. I won’t talk about this method in this article.
180 minus age method
The moment I read up about this method in his book called The Big Book of Endurance and Racing, I knew this is the one to use because it was simple to use and understand. It precisely gave the numbers I was looking for just by simple subtraction and addition. I hate all those percentage calculations. Let’s go over the mechanics of this method as explained in the book.
1. Subtract your age from 180.
2. Now modify this number by selecting among the following categories that best matches your current fitness profile:
- If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
- If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.
- If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180-age) the same.
- If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.
For example, if you are thirty one years old and fit into second category, you get the following: 180-31=149. Then 149-5=144 beats per minute.
144 will be the Max Aerobic Heart Rate(MAHR) for all your training. Training above this heart rate will incorporate anaerobic function, resulting in burning more sugar and less fat for fuel.
3. Warm up for about 10-15 minutes at a heart rate of 10-20 beats below your MAHR.
4. Exercise at 0-10 beats below your MAHR, but not over.
5. Cool down for 10-15 minutes at a HR similar to the warm-up, but now with decreasing intensity.
6. If you plan to exercise for 20-30 minutes, your workout will be a warm-up & cool-down only.
7. Now to gauge your progress with this system i.e whether you are improving/ increasing speed with the same heart rate, Dr Maffetone uses a tool called Max Aerobic Function or MAF test. It is quite simple to understand and perform
1. This test can be performed with any of your endurance activities. First, do a 10-15 minutes warm up at 10-20 beats less than your MAHR.
2. Do a 3-5 mile time trial with time recorded for each mile at a consistent heart rate.
3. Perform this test once every month. In case you notice any drop or stagnation in timings i.e your time is not decreasing with the same heart rate, then it is time to do a reality check with regards to your diet, stress levels, sleep pattern and diet. Also, it will be a good idea then to incorporate some anaerobic session in the training.
Do you want to become a better athlete, improve your aerobic system, develop very high endurance levels and lose weight? If you answered ‘yes’ to any one of them, then I strongly recommend you to invest in a Heart Rate Monitor.
Earlier I used to think that there should be no frills attached to this pure sport of running. But now I feel I was a fool to think like that. A HRM can significantly take you to the next level of the sport.
Till then stay fit and keep running.
Do you own a HRM? If yes, then which one?
Which method do you use to train with it?
How often do you use a HRM?