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by Polar (USA) Fitness Articles

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Polar Sport Zones

Polar sport zones

Polar sport zones introduce a new level of effectiveness in heart rate-based training. Training is divided into five sport zones based on percentages of maximum heart rate. With sport zones, you can easily select and monitor training intensities.

Target zone
Intensity % of HRmax, bpm
Example durations

Training benefit

MAXIMUM

90–100%
171–190 bpm

less than 5 minutes
Benefits: Maximal or near maximal effort for breathing and muscles.
Feels like: Very exhausting for breathing and muscles.
Recommended for: Very experienced and fi t runners.Short intervals only, usually in final preparation for short running events.

HARD

80–90%
152–172 bpm
2–10 minutes

Benefits: Increased ability to sustain high speed endurance.
Feels like: Causes muscular fatigue and heavy breathing.
Recommended for: Experienced runners for all year round training in varying length.Becomes more important during pre competition season.

MODERATE

70–80%
133–152 bpm
10–40 minutes

Benefits: Enhances general training pace, makes Moderate intensity efforts easier and improves effiency.
Feels like: Steady controlled fast breathing.
Recommended for: Runners progressing towards events or looking for performance gains, particularly for half and full marathon training.

LIGHT

60–70%
114-133 bpm
40–80 minutes

Benefits: Improves general base fitness, improves recovery and boosts metabolism.
Feels like: Comfortable and easy, low muscle and cardiovascular load.
Recommended for: Everybody for long training sessions during base training periods and for recovery exercises during competition season.

VERY LIGHT

50–60%
104–114 bpm
0–40 minutes

Benefits: Helps to warm up and cool down and assists recovery.
Feels like: Very easy, little strain.
Recommended for: For recovery and cool-down exercises throughout the training season.

HRmax = Maximum heart rate (220-age).Example: 30 years old, 220–30=190 bpm.

Running in sport zone 1 is done at a very low intensity. The main training principle is that your performance level improves during recovery after training, not only during training. You can accelerate your recovery process with very light intensity training.

Sport zone 2 is for endurance training, an essential part of any training program. Running sessions in this zone are easy andaerobic. Long-duration training in this light zone results in effective energy expenditure. Progress will require persistence.

Aerobic power is enhanced in sport zone 3. The training intensity is higher than in sport zones 1 and 2, but still mainly aerobic. Training in sport zone 3 may, for example, consist of intervals followed by recovery. Running in this zone is especially effective for improving the efficiency of blood circulation in the heart and skeletal muscles.

If your goal is to compete at top potential, you will have to train in sport zones 4 and 5. In these zones, you run anaerobically, in intervals of up to 10 minutes. The shorter the interval, the higher the intensity. Sufficient recovery between intervals is very important. The training pattern in zones 4 and 5 is designed to produce peak performance.

The Polar sport zones can be personalized by using a laboratory measured HRmax value, or by taking a field test to measure the value yourself. When running in a sport zone, try to make use of the entire zone. The mid-zone is a good target, but keeping your heart rate at that exact level all the time is not necessary. Heart rate gradually adjusts to training intensity. For instance, when crossing from sport zone 1 to 3, the circulatory system and heart rate will adjust in 3-5 minutes.

Heart rate responds to exercise intensity depending on factors such as fitness and recovery levels, as well as environmental, factors. It is important to look out for subjective feelings of fatigue, and to adjust your training program accordingly. A simple way of making use of the sport zones is making your target heart rate zones. For further instructions, see Plan Your Training.

After the exercise, exercise duration is displayed in sport zones. Access the Weekly display to see in which sport zones you have been exercising, and the duration spent in each sport zone.

The Polar ProTrainer 5 offers up to 10 sport zones to better serve your training needs and heart rate reserve.

OwnZone Training

Your running computer determines automatically an individual and safe exercise intensity zone: your OwnZone. The unique Polar OwnZone defines your personal training zone for aerobic training. The function guides you through your warm-up, and takes your present physical and mental condition into account. For most adults, OwnZone corresponds to 65-85% of maximum heart rate.

OwnZone can be determined in 1-5 minutes during a warm-up period by walking, jogging, or doing some other sport. The idea is to start exercising slowly at a light intensity, and to gradually increase intensity and heart rate. OwnZone is developed for use by healthy people. Some health conditions may cause heart rate variability-based OwnZone determination to fail. These conditions include high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, and certain medications.

Listening to and interpreting the signals your body sends during physical exertion is an important part of getting fit. Since warm-up routines differ for different types of exercise, and since your physical and mental state may also vary from day to day (due to stress or illness), using the OwnZone function for every session guarantees the most effective heart rate target zone for that particular type of exercise and day.

Maximum Heart Rate

Maximum heart rate (HRmax) is the highest number of heartbeats per minute (bpm) during maximum physical exertion. It is individual and depends on age, hereditary factors, and fitness level. It may also vary according to the type of sport performed. HRmax is used to express exercise intensity.

Determining Maximum Heart Rate

Your HRmax can be determined in several ways.

The most accurate way is to have your HRmax clinically measured, usually on a maximal treadmill or by taking a bicycle stress test supervised by a cardiologist or exercise physiologist.

You can also determine your HRmax by taking a field test together with a training partner.

You can obtain a HRmax-p score that predicts your HRmax by taking a Polar Fitness Test.

HRmax can also be estimated by using the commonly used formula: 220 - age, although research shows that the method is not very accurate, especially for older persons or those who have been fit for many years.

If you have done some hard training in recent weeks and know that you can safely reach maximum heart rate, you can safely take a test to determine your HRmax yourself. Having a training buddy with you during the test is recommended. If you are uncertain, consult your physician before undertaking the test.

Here is an example of a simple test.

Step 1: Warm up for 15 minutes on a flat surface, building up to your usual training pace.

Step 2: Choose a hill or stairwell that will take more than 2 minutes to climb. Run up the hill/steps once, building to as hard a pace as you can hold for 20 minutes. Return to the base of the hill/steps.

Step 3: Run up the hill/steps again, building towards a pace you could just about hold for 3 kilometers. Note your highest heart rate. Your maximum is approximately 10 beats higher than the noted value.

Step 4: Run back down the hill, allowing your heart rate to drop 30-40 beats per minute.

Step 5: Run up the hill/steps once again at a pace that you can only hold for 1 minute. Try to run halfway up the hills/steps. Note your highest heart rate. This brings you close to your maximum heart rate. Use this value as your maximum heart rate to set training zones.

Step 6: Make sure you get a good cool-down, a minimum of 10 minutes.

Heart Rate Value in a Sitting Position

HRsit is your average heart rate when completely still (i.e. while sitting). To easily determine HRsit, wear your transmitter, sit down, and do not engage in any physical activity. For a more precise measurement, repeat the procedure several times and calculate your average.

Polar Running Index

Running Index offers an easy way to monitor performance changes. Performance (how fast/easily you run at a given pace) is directly influenced by aerobic fitness (VO2max) and exercise economy (how efficient your body is at running), and Running Index is a measurement of this influence. By recording your Running Index over time, you can monitor progress. Improvement means that running at a given pace requires less of an effort, or that your pace is faster at a given level of exertion. The Running Index feature calculates such improvements. Running Index also gives you daily information on your running performance level which may vary from day to day.

Benefits of Running Index:

emphasizes the positive effects of good training sessions and resting days.

monitors fitness and performance development at different heart rate levels - not only during maximal performance.

you can determine your optimal running speed by comparing running indexes from different kinds of trainings.

stresses progress through better running technique and fitness level.

Running Index is calculated during every exercise when heart rate and the foot pod* signal is recorded, and when the following requirements apply:

speed should be 6km/h / 3,75 mi or faster and duration 12 minutes minimum.

heart rate should be above 40% HRmax.

Make sure that the foot pod is calibrated. Calculation begins when you start recording the session. During the session, you may stop once at traffic lights, for example, without interrupting the calculation.

In the end, your running computer displays a Running Index value and stores the result in the File section. Compare your result to the table below. Using the software, you can monitor and analyze your progress in Running Index values against time and different running speeds. Or compare values from different exercise sessions and analyze them in the short and long term.

Short-term analysis

Running Index

Performance Level

< 30 Very poor
31-37 Poor
38-44 Fair
45-51 Average
52-58 Good
59-65 Very good
> 65 Excellent

There may be some daily variation in the Running Indexes due to running circumstances e.g. surface, hills, wind, temperature.

*Optional S1 foot pod required.

It is worth to remember that in addition to good Running Index, maximal running performance demands good preparation, optimal running conditions, speed endurance and guts. Training quantity and quality have an affect as well as natural talent.

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