Revised Paddle Monster Training Zones

You’ve all probably seen the notes I made in the programs a few weeks ago saying that I was going to revise our training zones.  We’ll here we go.  For those of you who have been with us for a while you’re going to have to adjust just a little.  And for those of you that are new, I think you’re going to find the new zones easier to understand.  Let’s take a look at them, why we revised them, how they differ from what we were using before and how your coaches are going to use them to prescribe intensity in your training programs.

Why Change?

We went with the training zones we’ve been using because they differentiate all the different levels of work that you need to do at one point or another in a comprehensive training program.  That said, going with a level 2A and 2B and three different levels of level 5, can be a little confusing.  After answering a lot of questions and knowing that as new members come aboard that there’d be more to come, I thought it might be better to just simplify things a bit. 

There’s also been the observation that for really short, very high intensity intervals it’s often hard to hit the heart rate required.  Asking someone to go level 5++ for a 15 second piece doesn’t work that well when their heart rate can’t get that high in 15 seconds.  So it makes sense to ditch that zone and stay with a simple level 5, using perceived exertion and clear instructions from the coach to describe the intensity expectations for that type of work instead.

Another reason to revise them to something simpler is that going with only 5 zones aligns really well with the training zones used by Garmin and Polar, two of the largest manufacturers of heart rate monitors.  If we’re bringing new members into Paddle Monster who have used heart rate monitors to train before, why ask them to adjust to new zones?

Finally, and this is the most important reason, these new zones make it easy for all of the Paddle Monster coaches to be working from the same page when it comes to heart rate training.  We’ve already brought Teneale aboard for surfski and kayak and will have an exciting new announcement in the coming weeks about outrigger.  Rather than have different coaches use different zones for each discipline it just makes sense to standardize them. 

You’ll see that Teneale has already shared her training zones and they align perfectly with what you see in the chart here.  She’s added something she calls level 6, which is basically just the level 5 that you do when racing, when you dig even deeper into the well.  It’s not really a training zone per se, but rather an acknowledgement that the “all out” you do in training and in a race are usually two different things.  You’re always going a little harder in a race because “racing takes you to the next level”.

The revised zones

Check out the new chart.  At first glance it looks the same, but it has consolidated level 2A and 2B into one level 2 and levels 5, 5+ and 5++ into one level 5.  You’ll note that I’ve left the different types of work within these newly consolidated training zones in the chart because there is still a difference between, for example, aerobic power work and neuromuscular speed training.  However it’s going to be up to us as coaches to outline what the expectations are for any level 5 work we give you, so that you know what the focus of the work should be and whether the work is a more sustainable “all out” or a very short “all out” sprint. 

* HR may not reach max as interval length often too short to allow HR to climb to max level

“Feels like” for each training zone:

  1. Very relaxed. Easy technique work, drills and recovery paddles. Able to carry on a hopefully somewhat stimulating conversation.
  2. Working. Long continuous paddles or harder technique work. Feel warmer. Heart rate and respiration up. Sweating moderately. Can still talk if you have some interesting to say
  3. Hard work. Working at or just below threshold. Heart rate and respiration up. Sweating moderately to heavily. Oxygen demand way up. Breathing hard. Hard to talk..
  4. Very hard work. Race traveling pace. Breathing heavily. Sweating heavily. Very difficult to talk.
  5. Max effort above sustainable traveling speed. Breathing very heavily. Sweating heavily. Can’t sustain for long periods. Build up of large amounts of lactic acid.

What’s new?

Those of you that are really observant will notice that we’ve revised the perceived exertion scale.  If you were used to the 20-point Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion that we used in the old training zone chart, you’ll need to make an adjustment here.  I think it should be an easy one to make as we’re moving to something that seems to me to be a bit more intuitive and also aligns with the HR percentages for each zone.

Sport scientists and exercise physiologists have used the Borg scale for years as a way to assess or measure perceived exertion.  The idea is that athletes training or being tested could assign a whole number value to their level of exertion when communicating with the coach or, when testing, the exercise physiologist.  There are no fractional or decimal values in the Borg scale.  It’s essentially a 10-point scale that has been doubled to remove the need for numbers like 7.5 being used to describe a level of exertion. 

The problem with that from my perspective is that it becomes complicated.  If your HR is at 75% of your max and it feels like you’re working at 75% of your max effort, isn’t it confusing to describe your exertion as a “15”?  I’m just of the opinion that we’ll all understand each other better if we say perceived exertion is 7.5/10.  That allows us to also say we’re working at 75%.  While a sport scientist might frown upon it, it’s super easy for us in practice.

The other thing that you’ll note is a new “Feels Like” for each training zone.  This should help you better and more effectively link your perceived exertion to each zone by providing you with a description of how you should feel physically at each level.  It’s just one more tool you can use to make sure you’re doing the work your coach prescribes at the intended level. 

Like anything new this might take a period of adjustment, but it is my hope it will be a relatively smooth transition, particularly since we’re moving to something that is simpler and more intuitive.  You’ll also find it will likely be easier to program your HR monitor now, which is something that I’m sure those that do will appreciate.



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