Are you exhausted after every workout? Are you attacking every set like a madman? Do you believe in NO PAIN NO GAIN?
Are you disappointed that you did not improve your times as much as you had hoped at your last swim meet? I replied yes to all those questions. I responded by training with a Polar Vantage XL heart rate monitor. I have used it for both workouts and races. During workouts I set it to record every 60 seconds so that I can graph the work out later; heart rate versus each set. This monitor always displays the current heart rate to EKG accuracy.
My perceived efforts during workouts were that I was over-training. Within a week of first using the monitor I knew 80-90% of my workouts were anaerobic! I changed to a slower lane, using the heart rate monitor to determine my speed and rest interval, so that no more than 10% of a normal workout was anaerobic. In two weeks my resting heart rate (taken first thing in the morning) decreased from 61 to 48. Elevated resting heart rate can indicate overtraining, fatigue, injuries, and sickness. Because I had no other problem except swimming too hard, this decrease indicated I was overtraining. Few masters know that a hard anaerobic workout (Lactic Acid set) actually damages the muscle cell walls so that aerobic capacity is decreased for 24 to 96 hours. I still have one anaerobic workout per week, but I now follow it up with a recovery workout the next day, keeping my heart rate near the bottom of the aerobic zone. Your heart has a maximal rate that it cannot exceed even during the most exhaustive exercise. The maximal heart rate is sport specific, being very different for running, cycling or swimming. There is only one way to find your maximal heart rate during swimming accurately, and that is to use an EKG accurate heart monitor during testing in a prescribed method. You can use your wrist or neck pulse for your morning resting heart rate, but the errors introduced testing yourself at maximal heart rate by the palpation method are just too great. THE HEART RATE MONITOR BOOK by Sally Edwards describes ways to obtain your maximum heart rate. Once you know your max heart rate accurately you can figure your own values for each of the five training heart rate zones described in the book.
I recommend getting and reading THE HEART RATE MONITOR BOOK to determine if you want a heart rate monitor at all, and if you do, how to use it effectively. Along with the Polar Vantage XL monitor I also recommend the Polar Accurex II, which records 44 lap times and the heart rate at the end of each of those laps. The heart rate monitor consists of two pieces, a watch-like receiver, and a transmitter belt that goes just under the breast area. Wearing the monitor in a swim race is a problem for men as high speed in water causes the transmitter belt to flutter, loosing contact with the heart electrical pulse. I made up a neck harness with $2.00 worth of stretch nylon that works fine in practice, and also use a Speedo 2000 suit for swim meets. Women do not have this same problem, as the monitor transmitter is covered by the breasts and a swim suit. Both monitors have many more features, such as alarms at your entered high and low heart rates, and warm up timers. The Vantage XL also will record your heart rate at 5, 15, and 60 second intervals.
Next issue I will tell you how to use a heart rate monitor to race faster, to develop biofeed-back techniques, to actually increase your maximal heart rate, and how a team could use heart rate monitors for better workouts.
Last issue I described ways to check if you are over-training, by using a heart rate monitor, as well as some of the features of these monitors. This issue we will advance our uses of heart rate monitors.
During races I set my Polar Vantage XL heart rate monitor to record every 5 seconds, starting it when I step on to the blocks. When I graph the race later it is amazing how much the heart rate drops off during the turn and underwater strokes of breaststroke. Breaststrokers in short course 200 races spend a whopping 39% of their time turning and completing their underwater strokes. I now try to relax my muscles as much as possible during the under-water glide, while staying just as streamlined. When Ipull down I relax my legs, when I kick to the surface I relax the arm, chest and neck muscles. This biofeed-back technique results in a decrease in heart rate longer than six seconds per lap. Not only does my heart rate decrease from a race maximum of 160 to as low as 125 during the underwater strokes, there is an additional 3-5 seconds before my heart rate gets back to maximum. This means that for over half of each lap my heart is getting some relief from being maxed out. These relaxation techniques in breaststroke allow me to put more effort into the swim portion of the race. Strangely my heart rate remains maxed out the whole race of a short course 200 Butterfly. My heart rate doesn't seem to drop off during the seven turns. I am going to try to develop biofeed-back techniques to reduce my heart rate off of each turn of the butterfly race. Biofeed-back is facilitated with a heart rate monitor to look at, as you can raise or lower your heart rate by thinking about it.
There seems to be evidence that for very fit athletes the maximal heart rate can remain the same, or a very slight decrease over many years. Dr. Gabe Mirkin contends making the skeletal muscles stronger can increase the maximal heart rate. If so researchers should devise specific exercises to increase those skeletal muscles to increase maximal heart rate. One of the main reasons our times get slower is that the maximal heart rate slows as we age, reducing the amount of oxygen delivered to the muscles. Making our heart beat faster and stronger will lead to quicker performances in all age groups.
I am finding out that Dr. Mirkins may be right. May through September 1993 my max heart rate was 161, tested many times including a treadmill stress test. From August 1992 to August 1993 I did not use weight training. After long course Nationals I started Nautilus weight training, and by November my maximum heart rate was up ten beats per minute, along with my swimming performance. I look at some of masters best breaststrokers, such as Bruce Howell and Chester Miltenberger and wonder how much of their success can be attributed to strong high heart rates, due to their weight training. Pure power is not the answer or how can you explain a 98 pound 14 year old girl swimming faster in the Olympics than any of these powerful men.
There is still much information to be gained using the heart rate monitor for Masters swimmers. We should question all parts of our workouts and relate them to masters swimming, not to age group swimming. For instance what effect does Zoomers have on the heart rate during faster than race pace sets? Should the intervals be increased or indexed to when your heart recovers to a lower aerobic level? During kicking sets (90% breaststroke) my heart rate never gets anaerobic (8-100s on 2:15, all 1:20 to 1:25), yet fifty yards of breaststroke pull puts me anaerobic, and by the second pull set my heart-rate is maxed out. This means that I need much more rest between sets of pulls than kicks. Flyers, freestylers and backstrokers will probably all have different requirements for training smarter. I could envision a coach with one monitor finding the max heart rate for everyone on the team, and using that information to develop sets and intervals that would improve everyones times. After knowing max heart rate each swimmer could then use a perceived exertion scale such as the GUNNAR BORG SCALE; their pulse rate by the palpitation method; or by individual heart rate monitors, for determining aerobic and anaerobic sets, with feedback to the coach. The heart rate monitor will give you biofeedback as good as a laboratory, allowing you to train smarter rather than longer or harder
How about it coaches? I am sure you can come up with many improvements, using the heart-rate monitor to help train master swimmers to even faster times.
Wayne A. McCauley