Q - Power

Indoor Rowing Team

Intensity (2 of 6)

There is an additional question that you might ask. Rather than how fast is the car going, you might also sensibly consider how hard you are pushing your car. Driving along at 22.01 wheel revolutions per second (or 70mph if you prefer) in your Mercedes E class is unlikely to be as challenging for your vehicle as the same speed in a Ford Fiesta.

The body works in much the same way. You might be paddling along at a 2:00/500m split. Plainly you are only rowing at one intensity… it is just that there are a whole variety of ways of measuring it or defining it. Further, the amount of strain that intensity is putting on you rather depends on whether you are a Mercedes or a Ford Fiesta. To make it even more interesting, you have to bear in mind that a Mercedes might be designed to easily cope with working at 95% of its ultimate performance capability for hours. A Ford Fiesta may only be designed to be driven around town at 50% of its ultimate performance capability for most of its life.

So let’s start to build up our intensity scale. It will help if we have an example athlete. Well, there are two points which are easy enough to put on the intensity scale… “flat out” and “nothing”. Already we have made an error. Unlike your car, the body doesn’t do “nothing” (well it does, but this is normally followed by a wooden box and some church music). However our body, like a car, can idle. So we can see in Diagram 1 that “100%” and “idle” can be added.

If we are going to compare several different “currencies” of intensity, it is useful to have a starting point. The currency I want to use is percentage of heart rate reserve (%HRR). HRR is the spread between resting heart rate (RHR) and maximum heart rate (MHR). Each of these needs a little explanation because neither of them is quite as simple as they might seem.

With respect to RHR, this is the lowest that your heart rate goes over a short sustained period of time. It is not your heart rate when you are sitting down, or even necessarily lying down. You will need to be caffeine free and not digesting food. You want to be properly rehydrated and the chances are that you will also need to be asleep (you can run your heart rate monitor overnight). Even by the time you are waking up your body has nudged the throttles forward a fraction. 

MHR also has its quirks. It is the highest you can get your HR… but by doing any activity (typically running). There is a subtle distinction between that and the highest heart rate you can achieve doing any particular activity (e.g. cycling or rowing). Your “maximum” heart rate for a given activity is your “peak HR” for that activity. Given we are concerned exclusively with rowing, technically the top of our scale should be HR(peak/rowing) (HRP/R). In my experience the gap between MHR and HRP/R in well trained rowers tends to be very small (say 2 beats per minute). For convenience I am going to refer to the top of our scale as MHR (but I put my hands up to the inaccuracy in terminology). What is important as a rower however is that you calibrate your MHR as the highest your heart rate goes whilst rowing (so at least the number is correct, even if the terminology is fractionally off).

Now in the example athlete's case the highest his heart rate goes when rowing is 190 (he can lumber up to 191 running - it is not pretty - but we can ignore that because he does all his training rowing). Getting MHR correct is very important – even a small inaccuracy here will have a big impact on interpreting the training data we get from our HR monitors). As for RHR, he has seen 37 on his monitor during waking hours, but a series of overnight tests wearing a HR monitor whilst sleeping showed a steady 34 around 4-5am. Heart rates need to be reasonably current - the fact that the athlete recorded a heart rate of 31 whilst awake a few years beforehand is irrelevant and should be ignored. We can display the current figures in Diagram 1. 


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Diagram 1

Q succeeded in reducing resting HRs across the team, but with a minor side effect.

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