Q - Power

Indoor Rowing Team

Intensity (6 of 6)

Diagram 9.

The classic rowing training bands have been calculated with regard to the prescribed %HRR but applied to the example athlete's RHR and MHR.

It can be hard to ascertain %HRR just by looking... but it can't hurt to try.

So how to do the “classic” rowing training bands (e.g. UT2, UT1 etc.) fit into all of the above. Not well, is the short answer. However that is not to say that such bands do not have their benefits, providing one appreciates what the bands mean.

There are 5 training bands and each is defined with respect to a percentage of maximum heart rate, although a closer inspection of the way they are defined indicates that RHR (resting heart rate) is taken into account, which suggests that the more useful %HRR is being used as opposed to simply %MHR. However the first problem is that we do not know whose resting heart rate it is and what it is. The second problem is that these bands are described as a percentage of HRR without knowing where VT1 and VT2 are (because of course they are different for each individual. It is said that reference has been  had to "aerobic threshold" (i.e. VT1) and to "anaerobic threshold" (i.e. VT2), but this cannot be more than a general estimate as to where these thresholds lie across the population (or perhaps the athletic population) as a whole.

The problem that this can cause is that a well trained athlete might be able to tick along at 75%HRR for an hour without it causing excessive strain. An untrained person might be in serious trouble after 15 minutes.

I have overlaid the 5 train bands onto Diagram 9 for interest, but note that whereas VT1 and VT2 can and normally do move in response to training, the bands do not (being like speed limits in the car example). Incidentally, the reason for stopping at 50%HRR is that it is generally considered that exercise below 50%VO2 max will not elicit a training response. (The more attentive reader will doubtless complain that we established in Diagram 5 on page 3 that in James's case that 50% VO2max apparently occurs at 70%HRR - I do not have an answer for that. It does seem very high and I cannot rule out the possibility of elevated HRs at lower intensities during that test caused by excessive adrenaline). 

Now this is not intended to be in any way critical of the classic banding. Far from it. It is impossible to devise a range of %HRR bands which will be right for everyone all the time, and the system is far better than many in that it is at least conscious of a resting heart rate component of some description. It should also be noted that if one is training at any particular intensity with regard to your ventilatory thresholds, you are of course also training within one of the bands by definition (or below UT2).

The challenge therefore is to determine what the correct training intensity is (for a particular session) rather than necessarily what you call it. This will be the subject of another article, but what can be said is that it seems more likely that the determination of training intensity might be achieved by reference to physiologically significant markers than arbitrary bands... although as one enters the world of heart rate variability, is that actually right?

In any event, hopefully this article has served its purpose in clarifying what the various training intensities we hear about mean, and how they actually relate (or do not, as the case may be) to each other.

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