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Training Zones and how to use them - Arron Collins-Thomas - Episode 13

Watch Episode 13 here


If you would prefer to read a text version of Arron's latest vlog - check out the video transcript below

Amy Williams:

Hello, it's Amy Williams for the U Perform channel. And today we've got Arron, our fitness expert. Now last week, Arron, we talked about wearables, watches, how they can benefit your training and help you. Today we're going to talk a little bit more about the zones and the levels of training and how hard you train. There's lots of different colors isn't there, which can kind of coordinate with your watches, or when you go into a gym. Help us and explain it to us please.

Arron Collins-Thomas:

Well, it's a bit of a minefield, isn't it? There's so much data out there. There's so much conflicting data, always. And it's really hard to know where to start and what to do. And as we were talking about last week, I think watches and wearables can be incredible, incredibly useful for those of you who are training, you've got specific goals.

But some people don't understand it and it can actually be really detrimental to their health, where they're just trying to push themselves too hard all the time. We're looking for maximum calorie burn. Every session that they do that is not very healthy for us and actually not a very safe way to train. So by understanding the training zones and what we've done on a day-to-day basis, we can understand where we need to be in different days and depending on what we are in our training program within a week, a month, a year, or whatever, to actually get results and to get to where we want to get to.

So we look at the training zones, there's lots of different charts and things out there. Yu know, there's cycling ones which has to do with FTP, which is your functional threshold power. And then there's some running ones out there that are to do with the heart rate zones.

So let's have a think about the running one, that heart rate zone. Lots of different colors in the charts. Generally, the charts will have a grayish color to start with, and that's the low level intensity. That's really low effort. RPE, which is our 'rate of perceived effort' level, kind of one to three, a long walk, a cycle. This is our recovery session. After a really tough session on one day, the next day, you ideally want to do a slower session, to allow the nervous system to recover, to allow the body just to reset rest and repair itself. Right.

Amy Williams:

And that scale I'm going to butt in here for people don't even know that kind of scale. You know, you have a scale of one to 10, don't you. One easiest. Chat away. 10 is going to be your hardcore on your knees type of thing. So just for people to know within that one to three, like you say, is that easiest level, still being able to chat and have a good old full-on conversation while you're exercising.

Arron Collins-Thomas:

Yeah. Almost enjoyable at the end of the scale, the other end of the scale, not so enjoyable. So yeah, exactly. The RPE scale is really important. If people don't have wearables then RPE is a great way of just determining where they are on any given day and kind of working to how their body feels.

I think actually it's an important thing to note, that don't always trust these. Don't always go by these, some days, just go by feel. We're quite intuitive naturally in our bodies. We should know how hard to push ourselves some days, but these definitely keep us on track on those days that we need to hit certain targets and certain kind of training zones.

So at that kind of gray color of the bottom, and then we moved to the bluish color on most of the charts. That's, as we're starting to go up into that three to four, three to five effort level on your RPE. And that's just a little bit harder. We're still working at the speed of chat, as we say. And it's just working the cardiovascular a little bit. We're going to get the blood pumping a bit more, but it's still recovering and repairing. And you could be at this level for a couple of hours quite comfortably.

And as we step up, it starts to get a little bit tougher. We're working on maybe that green color on most of the charts. That green zone, we're currently going up to five to six on that RPE. So starting to stress the body a bit more, this is where we're going to get cardiovascular gains. We're going to start to improve that cardiovascular endurance. And you could be again here for a couple of hours and it just starts to push you out of that comfort zone a little bit. You might not be able to talk quite so easily at this level.

Then we have the orange zone as we're starting to work a little bit tougher now kind of seven to eight on that RPE scale. This is where we're going to start to push that cardiovascular threshold a little bit. And we're maybe going to start to work to our lactate threshold, which is when we work to a certain level, we start to build up lactic acid in the body that as it reaches a certain level, especially in the top zone will stop us from being able to breathe fully. It might make us feel a bit sick for some people. That's why people often sit when they work at that really high level. And it often kind of hinders the performance and your focus as well. So that's when we're starting to improve that threshold and push those boundaries.

And the final level, the nine to 10 on the RPE scale, the red zone! Often we see on those charts, the pain zone. This zone here, we should only be able to be in for a couple of minutes, maximum. Two or three minutes and we're going to have to bow out of that and come into a lower zone. This is perfect for short bursts, high intensity work, sprinting intervals are really great for improving the fitness, improving the strength of the body, but importantly, it can only be there for short bursts at a time. If we've spent a long session having dipping in and out of that red zone, and we've maybe done an hour session, we've done some intervals in the red for a bit and then out, and then maybe at the end of the session, you've done 10 to 15 minutes of red zone.

The next day. You're probably going to need a rest because you've really pushed your body quite hard and it needs that recovery. But the problem is, as we know, a lot of people are fixated on this red zone. Often with a lot of the fitness apps, you get more points if you're in that red zone longer. And so people push themselves to be in that red zone far, much more than they should do. And they almost do it every day and we're not getting enough time to recover and repair. We're going to stop getting results that we want to, we're not going to get as strong as, as we want to. We're probably going to pick up some injuries. Our nervous system is going to be burnt out. So it can be very, very detrimental to our goals and to our health. If we're spending too long in that red zone.

Amy Williams:

I guess that's where people need to listen to their bodies. Maybe let their pride, you know, disappear a bit. If you've got these competitions in gyms, if you've got that leaderboard, if you constantly want to be the best person, they are going to have to step it down a bit, realise they need to put in those, those rest days, maybe look at the heart rate when they wake up, is it a bit higher than normal? Have they recovered? Have they not recovered? And like you say, before, they know it, they might be getting more ill. They might be picking up colds, maybe picking up injuries and to kind of, yeah. Not get too caught up in it, I guess. And that's what almost, it's a bit of a trend at the moment, isn't it?

Arron Collins-Thomas:

Yeah. It's that competitive streak. We've all got that element of competition in us and that's great because it keeps us striving to get results. It keeps us pushing forward. But the problem is that if you do that every day, obviously it's going to be detrimental to your health. As an athlete you wouldn't be at your peak performance every single day. You'd build up, you'd build up, you have the right rest days. You'd make sure everything was right, so that you performed on that one moment.

Whereas people are expecting themselves to beat everyone else's score every day of the week. It's just not possible, without causing problems. And so, yeah, I think these gym classes are brilliant where they're kind of encouraging you to push yourself. But I think some of these gym classes have been created for you to do a couple of days a week, not every single day at your maximum. And if you go to a personal trainer, if you seek some professional advice, they'll generally structure your week. So you do weights on one day, a bit of a lighter cardio session on the next, maybe more intense cardio session. And it builds up. Even a marathon training program. You won't be running tempo, pace runs, hill sprints every day. It's all about that, that balance and finding the right route to do it for you based on how your body is reacting.

Amy Williams:

So how would you in like encourage or help people make those decisions? You know, you've just said it that potentially then writing it all out. Really let people, normal people who are, you know, not professional athletes, but still maybe plan their week, plan those days every second day, every third day that they do one of those red zone sessions. What advice would you give people to be able to just keep on track on top of it and track it?

Arron Collins-Thomas:

I think the great things about these wearables is that we can track all this data so we can see where we might be going wrong. And it generally gives you a little chart at the end of the week and you can see what you've had and what you've been doing. And if you see that you've done to many of those red zone sessions, and maybe you're feeling a bit tired, you're feeling a bit lethargic, you know, you've got to listen to body and have a rest day then, or just do that long, slow endurance session.

People obviously think about rest days about doing nothing. And that's quite scary for a lot of people that are, Oh God, I can't do nothing today. I've got to keep moving. So it can still be a long walk. It could be a yoga session. It could be some Qigong, it could be anything that's still staying active. It's active recovery, low level of intensity.

And it really is amazing the data you can get off these, it tells you how great your sleep is often. Even some of them tell you how much your nervous system is recovering and repairing. So listen to the data on those. Don't just ignore them because you want to hit a red zone every day and you want to get more calorie burn because it really will kind of detriment to your goals in the end of it. And you're not going to get to where you want to get to.

Amy Williams:

To be fair, I did a run for the first time in months the other day. And as soon as I finished, my watch told me how many hours rest I should have. And I was quite shocked; it was something like 54 hours after one 5km run. It wasn't fast, but it kind of did show you, hang on a minute. If you really want to fully recover from this, this is what we're advising you to do before you put out that next big effort. So yeah, you're right. They do tell you if you want to listen to them.

Arron Collins-Thomas:

It is surprising how much rest you actually need. But you know, when you were training to perform at a high level, you would have been taking very specific rest days. Everything would have been planned out for you even before you probably had a fitness watch with you all the time?

Amy Williams:

Yeah, we didn't have all these watches and all of that. You had to listen to your body. And actually I went through a phase of every morning, I woke up every morning, taking my heart rate and that just let you know whether you were 10 beats more, 15 beats more, five beats more were you tired and actually did that have an effect on your performance. So we were really old school, literally, hand to the throat, taking your heart rate before we even had the watches on our wrist.

Arron Collins-Thomas:

You were still doing the same thing. You had to be aware of your heart rate, how your body was feeling in order to get that best performance without injuring yourself.

Amy Williams:

So Arron, I know when I sit on my Wattbike, it's more about your peak power. You're working through the power zones rather than your heart rate zones, explain to everyone the difference working with that peak power and thresholds to the heart rate ones.

Arron Collins-Thomas:

A little confusing one for us all.

Amy Williams:

Yes!

Arron Collins-Thomas:

Okay. So peak power. For that you would have to do a functional threshold power test, which is normally on a bike; a Wattbike might work if you have one. So you would do the test. There's a couple of short ones, like a three-minute one, there's a 20 minute one. And then I think there's an hour and 20 minute one, which is really miserable, but basically it's finding out what level of power you can sustain over a long period of time. Then it works out your peak power based on that.

So therefore, when you're doing that on your bike, it will give you your power zones to work from rather than your heart rate zones, which especially for the bike is actually more accurate for you. The heart rate can be a bit variable. If you've had a day where you're not very well, you just had a coffee or you're particularly hot. Your heart rate can be up. So, that can be a variable on there that will distort how it shows when you're working out.

Whereas the power from your legs, if you're tired, one day that legs would just stop working. They're not going to give you all that power that you want. So it's going to be really obvious when you need to have a rest from those sessions, because you just won't be able to hit those thresholds. So yeah, that will tell you when you need a rest day,

Amy Williams:

Because people who are then on Zwift or anything like that, you know, there's always the watts that you need to like link with. And then some days you sit on and you're, I cannot reach those numbers. So yeah, it just goes to prove doesn't it, when your muscles are tired, they're tired. They, you know, they need a day off.

Arron Collins-Thomas:

Yeah, definitely. You have to have those rest days if you want to be able to perform.

Amy Williams:

Wow. Another very interesting day. Thank you. Thank you all for watching. Please hit that bell and subscribe. Now next week, fill us in, what are we going to be talking about next week?

Arron Collins-Thomas:

How to get back to training after a little bit of a break.

Amy Williams:

Okay. So if you're intrigued about that, please set your reminders and we will see you then.

Tune in next week for Episode 14.

See you then!

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