Coach Aaron: What one factor makes an athlete more successful than anything else?

What one factor makes an athlete more successful than anything else? Emotion. What one factor derails an athlete's success more than anything else? Emotion. All good athletes are motivated and determined. They're willing to push through adversity. They're not afraid of intensity. This work ethic is what makes them successful, but for many aspiring athletes they reach a point where simply working hard reaches a plateau, or even begins to work against them. No matter how many miles, how many hours or how hard they push, they can't reach the next level in their training. This is where tools like heart rate monitors can become a game changer.

Every individual has a variety of “zones” they can train in.  You've probably seen these on a treadmill at the gym. Some chart aligned by age and heart rate to say that this is your “fat burning” zone and that is your “cardio” zone, etc.  First let's dispel that myth.  Every person is unique. 

Age, fitness, genetics, sleep and nutrition can all play roles in where your particular heart rate zones are. A generic table might be a well educated guess for a number of people, but don't assume they're correct for you. And these zones can change over time depending on the factors listed above.

Regardless of how these zones are calculated, why does the difference matter? Physiologically your body will have different reactions to the various intensities of work you do. A “fat burning” zone is done at an easier heart rate (relatively) and will indeed promote metabolizing fat, but it comes at a cost. By always going easy like this you will loose speed over time. Vice versa, always training at very high intensities (VO2max) will increase strength and speed but will train your body to be very dependent on carbohydrates for fuel. You can break all these small effects down into as many zones as you'd like, but what I want you to take away is that an athlete needs to train at a variety of intensities to progress and be a well rounded athlete. But this is where emotions can work against the athlete.

For all the triathletes reading this, do you have a favorite sport? I'll bet you do. I know I do.  My clients do. Every multi-sport athlete I talk to has something they favor more than another. They also have a favorite type of workout. They might love doing sprints at the track or spend all week looking forward to that long ride on the weekend. I'm not even going to give a swimming example. That's how much I don't enjoy swimming. Because I love cycling and running.

The trap comes when you've achieved a base level of fitness. Getting off the couch and doing anything will make you better at first. And you'll probably get better at the things you love to do first. If you enjoy it, you'll do more of it. Simple as that. But then you start to do the same things over and over.

Your body isn't challenged by that long ride anymore. It needs the variety to adapt and grow. It can work the other way where someone pushes their absolute max every workout. They finish exhausted and the rush of endorphins makes them feel great. But if that's the majority of their workouts, they won't see themselves getting any faster from all that hard work.

Training using a heart rate monitor takes the emotional side out of the equation. An athlete can have a plan and know what they need to do. If I'm training for a long race at the end of the year, I might do lots of intervals early on, making sure my heart rate gets into the proper high intensity zone to increase my speed. Then as the race gets closer I'll do less of those intervals and more longer rides at moderate efforts. My heart rate monitor is that thing outside my head that keeps me in check.  I'm not tempted to go too hard which is what I love to do. I can't slack off on those speed days. I know the number I need to hit.

This is where the heart rate monitor pays off. It doesn't care that your friends want to soft pedal.  It doesn't care how much you hate that hill. It tells you what's going on with your body. Pure unemotional fact.

Now, how do you determine your zones? How do you use that information to formulate a training plan for you next race? That's a lot more than I can put into one article. Stop by a Playtri Store today and ask. We are always up for a great heart rate discussion anytime!

Contact Coach Aaron Patel for more questions about heart rate training, zones and more.
He has been a Playtri and USAT Certified Coach for 7 years and is one of our experts
in heart rate training and tools.