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Low Heart Rate Training Q&A with Coach Pamela Gutsch

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Coming off the burnout of two years of COVID chaos, too much hard training and not enough rest and self-care, discovering Low Heart Rate training was perfectly timed for me. It has been just over a month since I switched to this type of training, and I'm already feeling some amazing benefits!

I've shared my journey with this new-to-me type of training on my Instagram @jenlarun, and I've received many questions. So I decided to "sit down" with my amazing coach, Pamela Gutsch, all the way from Germany, to get some answers!

Pamela is a personal/rehab trainer and running coach with a special passion for working with injured athletes, heart patients, people with disabilities and runners who want to achieve their running goals.

I'm excited to share her knowledge with you here, so grab a cup of coffee and settle in! This woman is a powerhouse of information, and what she shares here is priceless.

Pamela, can you tell me why someone would want to use Low Heart Rate Training?

Low Heart Rate Training trains your heart to work stronger and more efficiently. It allows your system to build a higher capacity, so it can achieve higher levels, with less strain on organs and connective tissue. It also builds a higher immune system.

What is the purpose /science behind Low Heart Rate Training?

In low level heart rates, where the heart works gently, our bodies build and grow stronger in countless ways. Gentle heart rates stimulate our brains to signal the body into a relaxed, but elevated state of cell building. We have all kinds of good oxygen flowing through our lungs and heart, at a level they can keep up with. Our cells (Mitochondria) expand and produce more, in order to transport and store all that beautiful air we’re breathing in. The bigger the cells grow in quantity and size, the more storage we have within them, for not only oxygen, but also energy! This is our storage unit called Base. The bigger the storage unit is, the more we can fit into it.

When we train primarily, for example, at higher heart rate levels, the heart has to work faster, to deliver the goods (oxygen, energy, etc). It has to rely on the storage cells the Mitochondria provide. If we don’t have much, we won’t be able to go as far or as fast. Our base storage will be more limited or even compromised. Our hearts get tired from having to work harder.

Higher heart rates cause stress, rather than stimulation. Our cortisol levels rise, our muscles become tired, our heart becomes tired, as well as our brains. Training in lower heart rate zones is more like a gentle nudge, allowing free and relaxed production. We have time to build our storage unit bigger. Our hearts gain more power to cover a wider heart rate zone (Hear Rate Variability), being able to eventually put out more, under less workload!

Who can benefit from Low Heart Rate Training?

Everyone! Our hearts can do more work, under less strain and fewer beats! It’s essential in everyday energy levels. You’ll notice you have more general energy, less burn-out, better sleep, more patience and strength for other stressful factors in your normal life. Your immune system will be able to fight potential illnesses better (hence why people who train this way are rarely sick. People who train with higher heart rates, tend to get sick more often, risk burn-out, sleep less, get injured more, etc). Our inflammatory levels within our bodies are reduced significantly, which in turn, helps reduce our risk for cancer and other diseases, as well as injury and aging effects. The benefits are endless.

What are the potential benefits / results of Low Heart Rate Training? In terms of endurance sport, if we build a big base, full of low level base runs that encompass a foundation of 80%, we’ll notice wonderful things start to happen, like a lower resting heart rate (while we’re sleeping), more energy to do more speedwork, faster speedwork, faster recovery, less overall lactate and injury potential, more capability to build new muscle, better all around cognitive concentration, healthier skin (because there’s more oxygen and blood flow, less acidity). The biggest most important factor however is, we’ll be able to pump more blood per beat, with less heartbeats! And this all day long! 24/7! That’s the same as someone being able to get the same amount of work done in a 30hr work week, as opposed to someone else having to work 50hrs! Someone who runs normally at a heart rate of, for example, of 145/min will need 8700 heartbeats to deliver what the body needs at the speed we’re running. If that person re-calibrated their inner settings to beat 125/min for the same hour of running, they would save their hearts 1,000 beats and have more blood and bigger cells as well! That’s a LOT of beats of good quality stuff that adds up, with much more to offer! Say we train that 80% base, that leaves us 20% to work on other things associated with speed and strength-endurance! When we do our intervals, our heart rates will sink much faster, which means our energy reserves will fill up much faster! And because our heart rates lower quicker, this means that our blood is delivering oxygen quicker, which breaks down the lactic acid at a quicker rate! This allows us to start our next interval with much fresher recovery, so we can run the next maybe even faster! Or longer! We can train our bodies to do what we want them to, but only if our storage unit of base is big enough to handle the demands we ask! How long does it take to start seeing the benefits of Low Heart Rate Training? Normally with most things we change in our bodies, in takes between 4-6 weeks for our bodies to adapt. Some may see changes after just 3 wks or some after 8 wks. It depends on the sport and health background of the individual. Should I begin Low Heart Rate Training if I have a race in a few months and I want to PR that soon? Or should I wait to begin until I don’t have a goal race for 6 months or more? It’s better to give it a good 6 months, but some may be able to PR even after say, 3 months! It all depends on that particular person and their backgrounds in sport, how their bodies adapt and how their everyday lives play a role. They can observe how their body is responding in their speed trainings and threshold runs. It will give them a good idea of where they will stand with PRing in their goal race. This process is a long term, cell changing adaptation that will continue to improve over a few years! How do I know what heart rates to run at? The younger we are, the higher our heart’s beat in general. The general range I have my clients achieve, between 18 - 29yrs old is 120 - 134bpm. Ages 30 - 49 I try to get them down to 119 - 129. From 50 - 60 then 112 - 127. In general, the lower the heart rate in base training, the more we profit! Now, as far as UPPER level heart rate zones, this all depends on the background, age, gender, their particular genetically set maximum heart rate and their goals. It varies immensely! A lactic acid test can help guide where the training levels may be. How to determine per “feel” is a whole other theme. But, for base levels, the ranges above are pretty good to go by. I have to walk to get my heart rate that low. Is that ok? Is that still considered a “running” workout? Yes! You’re still moving on your feet and it’s just a matter of time before your system adapts to what you want it to do. I do however, recommend jogging as slow as possible, to keep the running connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, etc) from becoming weaker, if we find ourselves walking more than running, to achieve the heart rate. During my battle with Lyme Disease, sometimes I even jogged in place very gently, if my heart rate shot up. I made little forward movements, at a snail’s pace, barely moving. That was extreme though, but because my body was fighting so hard inside with the disease, any type of movement was extremely taxing. But it kept me going and helped me get rid of Lyme. Because I was strict about the heart rate zones, my immune system became very strong. I see this same thing happening to people who have had COVID. So, my biggest suggestion is to muster up your inner patience and do just that: walk or even jog in place, all very gently, if you have to, if you find yourself having to walk more than jog! But don’t be put off with even 16min /mile jog tempos! Keep on it! The more consistent we are, the quicker the body adapts. Even just 20min/day (or even 10!) will bring you farther quicker, than just 3x per week for 60min. The consistency is what matters. Is there a specific training plan I should follow with Low Heart Rate Training? It’s very individual, depending on your goals and where you want to take it! You can take it anywhere you want! Even to long ultra runs! But, in general, the best guideline to follow is that what your body tells you. In the beginning, run no more than the allowed low heart rate base zones. You may notice your heart rate stabilizes and your speed gets faster after just 3 weeks. But, it can take longer as well, depending on all the other factors mentioned above. Listen to your body. First after you notice the stabilizing effect, then you can start integrating faster stuff, like gentle threshold sessions of 15 - 30min or just above threshold, longer interval repeats of say 5 -7 min. After a few weeks of more gentle speed stuff, then work up to faster stuff in higher lactate ranges. But do it all gradually. Avoid sudden fast stuff that might be too hard on your ligaments, tendons and muscles. Remember fibers will break down after a few weeks, but they will build back up fast too! It’s just the beginning transition weeks, where we need to take care and let our bodies adapt. Should I add in any faster/harder efforts during Low Heart Rate Training, and if so, how often? Hold off on faster stuff until you notice your stabilization in the first few weeks. After that build up, as suggested above. Give your body 1 workout a week that is threshold (just under your Anaerobic threshold) with 15 - 30min. Train another day per week at interval repeats in levels just above your Anaerobic threshold. Never give 100% effort. It takes too long for your body to recover and fibers begin to breakdown again by the time you’re ready for the next session. The best rule is 90-95%. You may feel like you still have reserves and could have given more effort, but your body will still give you the same effect of building the fast twitch fibers you want, but with a much shorter recovery time! Less is often more! Keep your faster stuff within that 20% portion of your overall training. The other 80% should be base. Within this 20% there shouldn’t be any more than a maximum of 10% in lacatate Zone 4 - 5 zones! Best is 5 - 7% The rest of the 20% should be done as the longer threshold runs (sub-anerobic threshold up to the threshold itself, but not over it). Again, which heart rates these are, depends on each individual and is a whole different theme, as far as “how to feel” where they’re at without doing a lactic acid test. Is Low Heart Rate Training something to do every so often like a trainings cycle or indefinitely? Our hearts are our engines that never stop beating, at least we hope! LOL! Therefore, we need to keep it tuned and taken care of. It’s a life long partnership and should always be a part of our training and our lives. Always train your base. The more, the better! Speed and other taxing things make up only a minute portion.

Connect with Coach Pamela on Instagram at @scrimshaw97 and find out more on her website here.

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