Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"Total Heart Rate Training" by Joe Friel

A couple of weeks ago, I purchased the book "Total Heart Rate Training" by Joe Friel (ISBN 978-1-56975-562-4, published in 2006). In this post, I will describe the book. In a future post, I will describe how its contents have influenced my training.

Joe Friel has published many books on training, including books about cycling, running, swimming, and competing in triathlons and I expect to read more of his books in the future. This book covers the use of a heart rate monitor in all of these sports. I originally downloaded the trial version of this book for my Kindle, but found that I didn't like the formatting of the Kindle edition so purchased the paperback edition for $15.95. This book is short; 176 pages, 43 of which are appendices and an index.  I think this shortness is a good thing, the book is packed with content but contains little filler. "Total Heart Rate Training" is very balanced and objective; although it suggests that a heart rate monitor is helpful, it does not oversell this device. This book discusses both the positives and the negatives of using a heart rate monitor, and provides information that can be used to obtain many of the benefits of heart rate training without a heart rate monitor. This book is stand-alone, it does not depend on any other of Joe Friel's books. You can design workouts based only on the information in this book. The reason I am interested in reading more of Joe Friel's books is to go beyond what is in this book, not to complete it.

How does the advice in this book compare to the advice in Phillip Maffetone's "The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing", the book that my current training is based upon? Although there are differences, nothing in Friel's book would suggest that the training I am doing based on Maffetone's book should be changed. That said, Friel's book is much more detailed and extensive on the topics I care about despite being shorter. Maffetone's book contains a lot of personal history and discussion about how he developed his ideas, as well as advice on massage, diet, and other holistic considerations. Perhaps I should be interested in these things, but as of today, I am not. Friel certainly has his theories about diet, and I assume other things as well, but you won't read about them in this book; it focuses tightly on training using a heart rate monitor.

How much is there to say about heart rate training? A lot, as it turns out. I was inspired to purchase this book because of questions I had about my personal experiences with heart rate training, and because when I directed my questions to Google, it frequently sent me to Joe Friel's blog. (I used data from that blog in my post on "Personalized Training".) Some of the topics covered in this book are as follows:

  1. I wondered why sometimes my speed will slow towards the end of a ride even though my heart rate stays constant. Friel discusses this. It is a phenomenon he names "decoupling" or "cardiac drift". Although he says its cause is "not fully understood", the fact that he acknowledges it is helpful by itself. However, he then goes on to list 18 factors which he has found to contribute to this phenomenon and notes that it indicates a lack of aerobic fitness for the portion of the ride where it is observed. That is, when I ride the first 30 miles of a 37 mile ride at a roughly contant speed and heart rate, but find my speed tending down and/or heart rate creeping up for the last 7 miles, Friel would say I am in good shape for a 30 mile ride, but not for longer rides.
  2. As regular readers know, overtraining is a concern of mine and I have been frustrated that my objective symptoms don't consistently indicate overtraining when my subjective feelings suggest that is going on. In this book, Friel describes how the two parts of the nervous system that regulate heart rate, the sympathetic and parasympathetic system, can both be affected by overtraining. In younger athletes, the effects of overtraining show up most often in the sympathetic system whereas in older athletes (me), overtraining most often shows up in the parasympathetic system. Because most discussions of overtraining focus on younger athletes, it is perhaps not surprising that the symptoms described don't match mine. Friel lists the symptoms of both sympathetic and parasympathetic overtraining, and in fact the parasympathetic symptoms match my experience quite closely. 
  3. In my "Personalized Training" post, I struggle to determine which heart rates correspond to which zones for me. Friel defines zones both in terms of heart rate as well as into a 10 level "Rating of Perceived Exertion" which provides a way to check that the heart rate zones are appropriate. 
  4. Friel not only talks about heart rate training during base training, but throughout the training season.
  5. Common to all zone-based heart rate training, the heart rates corresponding to different zones will be different for different athletes. In most zone-based training, personalization of heart rate zones is accomplished by expressing zones as percentage of maximum heart rate, the highest heart rate an individual is capable of. Friel explains why he prefers not to use maximum heart rate to define training zones but instead uses the heart rate at lactate threshold, a heart rate which can be determined much easier and more safely than the maximum heart rate.

In summary, I recommend "Total Heart Rate Training" enthusiastically. The one weakness of this book is the flip side of one of its strengths; its nuanced and detail oriented consideration of every aspect of training. I think if I had read this book before "The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing" I might have missed the main point; that it is valuable to train at well below maximum effort. That point is certainly made in "Total Heart Rate Training", but I think it is easily missed among all the other details. Now that I have internalized that, I can use the greater detail of "Total Heart Rate Training" to refine my training and carry it through its various phases to what I hope is a successful brevet season.

My Garmin heart rate monitor has failed, so I cannot perform any MAF tests and my posting of these results is suspended until it is replaced. Fortunately, having just read "Total Heart Rate Training", I am able to continue my base training substituting "Rating of Perceived Exertion" for Heart Rate.

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