How to Raise Threshold Heart Rate

I am a master’s skier, mid 40’s, and have been racing for about 30 years. In the past, I have been fairly successful. In the past 3-4 years, my threshold HR has gone down significantly. It used to be 165, now it’s much lower. I recently did two races, a 30 k and a 50 k, and my average HR was 152. I usually do intervals twice a week. I’m having problems with my quads really burning a lot, so that I can’t push hard enough to raise my HR very high. I have tried Incorporating more recovery into all my training, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Do I need to do short intervals, 30 sec-1 min with short rest to raise my HR without my legs burning so much and then gradually increase them? I do a lot of endurance, 14-18 hours total training/week.


Certainly try to shorten the intervals in the manner you outlined, that is, make them long enough to get the heart-rate up, but short enough so that you aren’t feeling fatigued in the legs right immediately. With shorter intervals, you would want to consider adding more repetitions so that you maintain training volume so as not to get a de-training effect.

Strength training. I don’t know if you are currently engaged in a strength-training regime, but having a strength plan that targets the leg and core muscles may help solve your leg-problem. You can even devote one strength session entirely to legs and reserve another day for arms to target the legs more dramatically.

After tweaking your training to account for these two suggestions over the next 6-7 weeks, I would re-test and reevaluate your threshold HR to see if catering to the limiting factor (legs) provides positive feedback. Hopefully you will see improvements in your threshold HR and/or quads.

Karmen M. Whitham
CXC Development Coach


Factors that Influence Heart Rate During Outdoor Training

The following factors affect your heart rate during outdoor training:

ACTIVITY. Heart rate can change across activities, due to different muscle mass involved, level of experience and technical proficiency. Running typically elicits the highest maximum heart rate during a stress test, whereas cycling and paddling maximum heart rates can be 10-15 beats lower during a similar test. This means that you may need to adjust your training heart rate intensities by 5-10 beats for activities other than running.

HEAT AND HUMIDITY. Temperature and humidity will influence your heart rate. As the environment gets warmer and more humid, heart rate will gradually increase throughout your activity, even if your pace doesn’t change. This is due to your “air-conditioning” and level of hydration. You produce a lot of energy in the form of heat when you move and this heat needs to be dissipated, typically via sweating. Humidity reduces the effectiveness of sweating, resulting in an increase in body temperature, and thus an increase in heart rate. Even if the humidity is low, heart rate will still be elevated, due the extra work the heart must do to help cool your body. It’s not uncommon for heart rates to be 5-10 beats above normal ranges in these conditions. Use your heart rate combined with perceived exertion and subjective feeling to set an appropriate pace.

HYDRATION. Failing to stay hydrated can result in an increase in heart rate, as your blood volume decreases and your body runs low on the fluids needed to maintain body temperature. Dehydration can occur in cold as well as hot environments. If you notice your heart rate increasing with no change in pace or other variables, then increase your fluid intake.

ALTITUDE. The lower air pressure at altitude means there is less pressure to drive oxygen into your lungs. Less pressure means your heart has to work harder to deliver enough oxygen to your working muscles. The result is a higher heart rate at a given pace. Fortunately, your body adapts to higher altitude in several days to 2 weeks, but if you’re only at altitude briefly, you’ll need to slow your pace to keep your heart rate in the proper range. It also takes longer to recover from a hard effort at altitude, so rest periods may need to be longer.

FUEL. Your body is always using a combination of carbohydrates, fats and proteins for energy production. As the exercise intensity increases, you burn more carbohydrates and less fat (protein metabolism is always fairly small). Even at low intensities, you need some carbohydrate to burn fats (fats burn in the flame of carbohydrate). What does this have to do with heart rate? If you start to run low on carbohydrate, it will become difficult to maintain your pace at a given heart rate. Your perceived exertion and subjective feeling will increase, but your heart rate will be falling. This is informally called “bonking” and can be remedied by eating foods high in carbohydrate. As a rule of thumb, always bring along some form of ingestible energy on any outing lasting more than 2 hours.

Training Heart Rate Range (THRR)

Monitoring your heart rate allows you to maximize the effectiveness of your training. By knowing your Training Heart Rate Range (THRR), you can adjust your effort to work within those values, based on your goals for each workout.

Use the formulas on this page to determine your approximate THRR. For more accurate calculations, visit your physician and have a stress test done.

To determine your THRR you need to first determine the following values:

  • Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
  • Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
  • Heart Rate Reserve (HRR)


The rule of thumb for MHR used to be 220 minus your age. However, recent studies have shown 205.8 – (0.685 × age) to be a more accurate guide.¹

¹ The Surprising History of the “HRmax=220-age” Equation, Robert A. Robergs and Roberto Landwehr, Journal of Exercise Physiology Volume 5 Number 2 May 2002.

You can also:

• Run or bike up a steep hill for about 2 minutes twice. Use your heart rate monitor or count your heart rate immediately after you stop each time for 10 seconds and multiply it by 6.

• Use the highest number you have recorded during Max VO2 Test, intensity workout, race or time trials.

To determine your RHR, take your pulse first thing in the morning, before engaging in any significant activity (ideally, before you get out of bed). For greater accuracy, do this for several days and average the results.

HRR = MHR minus RHR

Training Heart Rate Range

To determine your THRR, take percentages of your HRR and add them to your RHR. The percentage you take depends on whether you are doing aerobic or anaerobic threshold training:

  • For aerobic training, take 50–75% of your HRR and add it to your RHR
  • For anaerobic threshold training, take 80–85% or your HRR and add it to your RHR


A 50-year-old with an RHR of 62 results in the following values:

  • MHR: 205.8 – (0.685 x 50) = 172
  • HRR: 172 – 62 = 110
  • THRR for Aerobic Training: 115–143 beats per minute (bpm)
  • THRR for Anaerobic Threshold Training: 148–154 bpm



Post Workout Insomnia

Q: I often don’t sleep well after a 45-60 minute midday or morning weight lifting workout. I try to stay fueled and hydrated afterwards. My schedule has me doing weights twice a week. I’ll wake up hours early. I’ve read that it’s caused by too much cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Am I overdoing it? My workout schedule is currently 7-8 hrs wk and I sleep well otherwise after OD or interval workouts. Having a beer in the evening helps but causes other issues like dehydration and some sleep apnea. Should I back off and have more frequent shorter weight sessions, take a sleep aid like chamomile, melatonin, or something else like eating before bed? I’m 47, a fairly fit ectomorph, and am training for some ski marathons.
Mike in AK

A: In general, exercise increases cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline which makes it difficult to fall asleep…if your workout is close to bedtime. Since your workout session is morning/midday I would assume that acute hormonal response to exercise is not the culprit to your sleeplessness. However, it is a possibility if your morning session is particularly taxing.

Over-exercising or improper recovery can also cause insomnia. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be quick to diagnose overtraining with just this one symptom. Classic overtraining symptoms include low energy, generally feeling worn out, prolonged muscle soreness, frequently sick, irritability, unintentional weight loss and higher resting heart rate. If you are experiencing more than two of these, you may be overdoing it. In that case, go lighter on your workouts and see if your sleeping and training become better.


If you are not tracking your resting heart rate in the morning, doing so can be a great tool to monitor your body’s internal stress. If you find that your heart rate spikes one morning, that can be a sign that your body has not come back to homeostasis (full recovery). There are several methods for obtaining the resting heart rate. The method I suggest is to lay flat on your back for 3 minutes, then come to standing and stand still for another 3 minutes. Do this first thing in the morning after you wake up. Grab the average heart rate for the total 6 minutes to get your heart rate average for the day.

Sleeping aids are certainly an option, through you don’t want to rely on them. Understanding that they will be a “quick-fix” and may mask underlying sleeping problems is important.

First I would suggest trying to fit the strength session in earlier in the day to see if that changes anything. If you’re still having problems, I would try shortening or lightening your sessions. Next, monitor your morning heart rates for a few weeks to check that they are normal, consistent and within a healthy range for you.

Goodnight and good luck!!

Karmen M. Whitham
CXC Development Coach

The Benefit of Bringing Heart Rate Down Between Interval Sets

The recovery period between intervals is an extremely important part of the workout. It allows us to focus on pushing that race pace without overstressing the body. By breaking up that workload we are able to spend more time in that Level 4 zone without the lingering effects of a full length race effort.

The 120 bpm mark is set to be solidly in Level 1 territory for athletes of all abilities and is used as a mark to show that full recovery is attained between interval sets. One sign of potential overtraining is an inability to recover between sets (an elevated heart rate for many minutes longer than expected). That being said, the 120 bpm mark is arbitrary and not specific to you. We would expect that you take at least 2 min to recover between each interval or until your heart rate is back to Level 1.

Heart Rates and Sr. Athletes

Q: I have used the Age + Fitness level based formula (Karvonen formula), but feel the numbers don’t add up. How do you find your true max heart rate?

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 2.36.30 PM

A: As you have seen, all the methods you have used using age can be very different than the max heart rates we can actually hit at a certain age.

We use VO2 Max tests and Lactate curve tests to establish zones. Each one of those can give you a picture of what the body is doing at a given heart rate.

Now that you have a heart rate monitor, you can establish quickly (in most Level 4 workouts) what your true max heart rate is. A lot of times running, bounding, and skating workouts will give us higher max heart rates. Double poling tends to not get us to our max heart rate, as it is a movement that uses a small amount of muscle groups. In these Level 4 workouts, see what your heart rate gets to on the last couple intervals. Usually this will be at or within 5 beats of our max. Once you have established this max you can use the percentages of max to establish your zones.

I use these as starting points for zones:

Zone 1: 60-70% of Max
Zone 2: 70-80%
Zone 3: 80-90%
Zone 4: 90-95%
Zone 5: 95-100%

After establishing an estimated actual max, the numbers you are actually hitting while out training will start to make more sense than the supposed zones that you have used while using the formulas that include age.

It also should be noted that when somebody does not have a developed aerobic system (Level 1) their HR’s tend to be higher for that Level 1. As athletes do more easy distance training with being strict in keeping HR low, they will start to see their HR drop in these workouts. They will be able to hold a higher pace at the same HR’s as before.

Hopefully this helps and good luck with training going forward.

Related Topis: Level 1, Heart Rate, VO2 Max


Sergey Ustyugov About Training


Sergey Ustyugov gave an extended interview to the “Ski Sport” magazine. is publishing the most interesting answers of Sergey about strength training, abnormal racing heartbeat levels, distance tactics, proper nutrition and selection of correct length of poles.

Is it necessary to control the heartbeat rate during training?

— Before I joined our regional team, I was training with my personal coach and we didn’t pay too much attention to the heartbeat rate, but we were still measuring it occasionally. When I finally joined the regional team, they gave us personal heart rate monitors and we were training, strictly controlling our heartbeat rate. We were severely criticized for any violation of heartbeat zones… Today main principles are pretty same, i.e. we pass an examination, which allow us to identify heartbeat zones, which we have to observe during training sessions in future. So, I think that it’s necessary to observe your heartbeat rate and use it as a reference point.

What is your opinion about training at high altitude?

— Each person has one great altitude value, which allows him or her to show amazing results and feel the pump after reaching it, but there is also altitude, which simply kills all your feelings when you reach it and you literally feel nothing. To tell the truth, I like to run after high altitude training camps and competitions, and all my best results were shown exactly after such high altitude mountain training camps. For example, before I won four out of four races during the World Junior Championship in Turkey, we were training in Bulgarian Belmeken. I was feeling great, even though Turkey had a pretty high altitude too. Another example, before winning the sprint race for the first time during the World Cup in the city of Nove Mesto, we were training at “Khmelevsky Lakes”, which is a mountain range located next to the “Laura” mountain ski complex in Sochi. It also has high altitude, which gives me great pump effect. I was also going down to Sochi from there and I felt great difference, even though the altitude change was somewhere around one hundred meters.

Which length of skis and poles do you use for classic races? Are these values different for long distance runs or sprints (or the same)?

— If we take just a classic ski race, without taking city sprint into account, poles have to be 157,5 cm in length and skis – 207 cm. And if we consider such things as sprints in Drammen or Stockholm, I can say that I use a little bit longer poles. This year during the Stockholm sprint race, Nikita Kryukov discovered that I was going to use longer poles, thus he asked me to give him my old ones, which were slightly longer than his own. I gave him my poles; he used them in race and even won that competition.

What is your normal heartbeat rate at standstill state (in the morning) and in the peak condition (before competitions)?

— I can’t measure my heartbeat rate every morning, but usually it’s around 38-40 beats per minute. Sometimes, my heart rate monitor is showing 42-43 beats per minute right before I start my training.

What is your average and maximum heartbeat rate during 10-15 km races?

— It always depends on my current state of health. Values during one race can reach 195-196 for the average heartbeat rate and 207-208 for maximum, like it was this year. But usually my average heartbeat rate is 185 and maximum one is 203-204 beats per minute.

Do you train on the bile during the off-season?

— I was using it last year, but this year my knee started to disturb me during such workouts, thus I switched to cross running.

One more question, what do you eat right before races start?

— We eat a lot of macaroni and pasta. We were eating it all summer and autumn. Probably, I will remember that forever. We were eating, eating and eating… Of course, there were different products, but the main part of our diet was taken with pasta (he’s smiling). If we are talking about special sport drinks, then I can say that during multiday races we use special carbloaders. We have no restrictions in our nutrition program. Isabel and Reto explained us that it’s much better to eat properly during our breakfast, lunch and dinner than come back to our rooms and eat something sweet or go to a café in the evening to have a cup of coffee with donuts. We have to be full before starting our training.

Isabel prepares a special drink for us during races. I can’t tell its name for sure, but I think it’s Vitargo Electrolyte. I was always telling her that I didn’t want to drink it, because it was making my mouth extremely dry, but she was telling that it was a normal reaction. During long distance races you have to drink a lot in order to avoid “drying” of your body and maintain maximum performance. And in 10 kilometers before the finish line we drink Coca-Cola. Many athletes are drinking Coca-Cola with activators during marathon races.

What do you mean “with activators”?

— Those are special substances, which we add to our drinks, e.g. guarana.

Sergey, what do you think is the secret of an overwhelming superiority of Norwegian skiers these days?

— Skiing is in their blood.