What the Hell is Heart and Swole?

Ready to take a deep dive into benefiting your future self? Today we’ll be chatting about the benefits of using a heart rate monitor to monitor workouts and track progress, why we’re using heart rate monitors as part of our brand-spankin’-new class called Heart & Swole, and why we’re adding this new class and technology to the mix to help you get 1% better.

 

First things first: Why is it beneficial to track your heart rate?

What Does It Matter
In a nutshell, using a chest-strap heart rate monitor gives you cold hard data about what’s happening when you get hot and sweaty. Our bodies change in different ways when we’re consistently participating in cardiovascular activities at low intensities, at high intensities, and when doing intervals.

Most of the time we’re pretty successful going by feel and can guesstimate what intensity we’re at— just like when you look out the window to check the weather before you leave the house. In the same way when you’re not quite sure you take an umbrella anyway, using a chest-strap heart rate monitor is great verification that you’re working at the intensity that you want to.

 

Keep it Close to Your Heart

Heartbeat
You might have picked up that I’m stressing the phrase “chest-strap heart rate monitor” rather than referring to wrist-based wearable devices, and the reason for that is simple: A wrist-based wearable such as the Apple Watch, FitBit, or Garmin product is not accurate enough to use for real-time exercise monitoring.

Measuring your heart rate is important if you’re tracking interval training, and a chest strap is your best option. Chest-strap based heart rate monitors that measure the electrical signal from your heart will measure intervals with far more accuracy than a wrist-based tracker that uses optical sensors to measure blood flow through the skin. I’ll take a wrist-based measurement over no measurement, but if you really want to make the most of your fitness adventures, using a chest strap is the way to do it. 

Wrist-based wearables are useful for measuring steps or general physical activity through a day, but when we’re holding ourselves to the #SeriousFitness standard, they don’t cut it.  For context, one of my mentors, Brandon Marcello, the world’s leading expert on recovery, said: 

“Using a wearable to track heart rate is like using a random number generator. The Apple Watch is the best on the market and 95% of differences fall within -27 and +29 BPM of the electrocardiogram. Wear a chest strap.”

That range is massive, and because our bodies respond differently to different intensities, better data makes for better workouts.

 

Case Study: The Scissor Sister of Strength

At the beginning of the summer, our very own Amanda Wheeler started training using a heart rate monitor and has seen some incredible progress in her own fitness. In her own words, here’s the journey she went on:

“I’m painfully aware that my aerobic capacity is one of the weakest links in my fitness. I’ve always hated doing “cardio” type workouts because I’d feel super gassed, and like I couldn’t perform to the best of my ability due to my heart rate being through the roof, and not being able to recover during rest periods.

Instead of continuing to avoid it, like I have for the last 37 years, I decided to tackle my heart muscle head on this summer.

Over the last 12 weeks, I’ve incorporated specific work capacity days (think Kick-Ass Conditioning this past round) as well as cardiac output days (steady state heart rate) into my weekly practice. 

While I felt TERRIBLE the first few weeks, the results of adding in this type of heart training has taken my fitness and ability to perform to new levels. 

Below are the visual/stats from one of my workouts from Week 1 to Week 6. 

  • The workout: Max distance in 5 minutes on 7 different cardio machines 
  • Rest as needed but as little as possible between sets
  • The cardio selection:
    • Rower: Week 1 = 1,118 meters / Week 6 = 1,216 meters
    • Versa Climber: Week 1 = 409 steps / Week 6 = 533 steps
    • Ski Erg: Week 1 = 890 meters / Week 6 = 1,024 meters
    • Assault Bike: Week 1 = 1.4 miles / Week 6 = 1.8 miles
    • Treadmill: Week 1 = .37 miles / Week 6 = .55 miles
    • Box Jumps: Week 1 = 81 / Week 6 = 111 
    • Rower Repeat: Week 1 = 1,096 meters / Week 6 = 1,208 meters

Here is the heart-rate data from Week 1 to Week 6:

Wheels HR Data

The top is my first day. I couldn’t recover at all between 5 minute bouts, so my ability to do work suffered. The bottom was Week 6. Even though I’m hitting the red zone for the 5 minutes, my ability to recover between sets made my ability to do work much greater, as you can see from the stats above. 

The ability to recover has also transferred over into my strength training as well, and I’m hitting numbers in my lifts that I haven’t since I was in my 20s. 

Deliberately doing the thing I wasn’t good at, instead of avoiding it, has had a huge impact on my training, confidence, and mindset around doing cardio type training. The visual heart-rate data kept me excited every week to see what I could do. This will continue to be part of my training practice.” 

 

A History of Heart Rate Training At MFF

Project X
We started using the MyZone chest straps at MFF when we launched Snatched: Project X in 2016, and we used them to help us focus on two types of conditioning. During the three weekly Project X classes, we finish class with interval training that goes up to 90% of our max heart rates before recovering down to 70%. In those workouts, the goal was to learn how to step on the gas really hard before backing off.

We also ask Ninjas to take one class a week that focuses on setting “cruise control” and to spend the entire class living around 70% of their max heart rate. This means we can get the benefits of more moderate intensity exercises without the inherent stress of really high intensities.

 

Why I Choose MyZone

MyZone
When I first got into mountain biking 5 years ago, I realized that while I was strong from powerlifting I was also pretty deconditioned.  I started using a heart rate monitor so that I could track my heart rate and adjust the intensity of my bike rides, so that rather than training minimally or maximally, I could train optimally in the middle.

I’ve used a few different heart rate monitors over the years, and started using the MyZone chest strap at MFF 3 years ago. What I like most about MyZone is that there’s a mobile app that is super easy to use that gives you a color-coded system for tracking intensity, and we get to project our heart rates onto a TV screen in the Snatchery, so that each class has a chance to work together and build community as we work at different intensities.

MyZone Effort Tiles

It’s that exact experience that we’re sharing with the Ninja Army with our new class, Heart & Swole. We want to include the benefits of using a chest-strap heart rate monitor to track the intensity of class, and do it in a way that helps us honor our timeless adage of “Run your own race!” Let’s dig into what you can expect in Heart & Swole.

 

Anatomy of Heart and Swole

Heart and Swole
Like every class at MFF, we’ll prepare our minds and bodies for the workout with a name game and warm-up that focuses on getting hips and shoulders mobile, the core stability to keep the lower back safe, and getting us a bit hot and sweaty.

After that, we’ll have an Equalizer period during which we get our heart rates elevated enough that we can start class right at the appropriate intensity. You can think of this as the entrance ramp onto the highway!

Then we’ll go through four different rounds of class, and each round includes three different sections:

  • The Swole section includes 3 different exercises done for 60 seconds each.  The focus here is strength endurance, with the goal being quality reps. As individual muscles start to fill up with blood as they fatigue, you might feel the “pump” of blood or the “burn” of lactate building up in your muscles.  Hell yeah!
  • The Heart section alternates 2 different exercises for 30 seconds each, and the goal is to let that heart pump blood throughout your body as much as possible. Your heart rate will climb a little bit higher during the 2 minutes we spend on this section.
  • The Core section includes two different core exercises or active rest, and this is a way to check back in with the work we want our abdominals and obliques to do during a workout: Stabilize your body! We’ll end the section with 30 seconds of rest as we reset and move on to the next round.

 

Zoning Out

Throughout each section of class, we have a new and unique approach to guiding exercise intensity. Traditionally we’ve always used alternative exercises as our A track and B track, but now we’re going to be focused on different heart rate intensities.

  • When you come in ready to slay, the goal is to live in the yellow or red zones.
  • When you come in ready to play, the goal is to live in the blue or green zones.

At the beginning of each class, your trainer will ask you where you want to live that day, so we can get a better idea of how to take care of you. Stressful day at work? Maybe take it easy.  8 hours of sleep and great nutrition? Go crush it!

Our goal is to help you figure out what intensity level is most appropriate for you on any given day, and to help you live there so you can get the most out of each Heart & Swole class.

 

Making This Work In Your Schedule

My personal dream for every Ninja is diversifying your class schedule as much as possible, which might feel a bit harder if you have one more class to choose from.

Heart & Swole should slot right in between Circuit Party and Kick-Ass Conditioning because it’s going to combine some of the play that makes Circuit Party so fun with more of the high-intensity work that makes Kickass feel so damn good.

Heart and Swole Chart

If you’re a die-hard Circuit Party or Kickass Conditioning Ninja, then you’ll probably fall in love with Heart & Swole, but it also might feel redundant to add to your schedule.

If you’re drawn towards Superhero Strength or Semi-Privates, then Heart & Swole might feel fast-and-furious, and will be a great high-intensity contrast to support all of the strength training that you’ve been working on.

Ultimately, finding a balance between both ends of this spectrum of conditioning and strength is useful, and Heart & Swole can be a great addition to your fitness journey!


For more information on Heart & Swole, click here.


Harold Gibbons is the Steward of Strength at MFF, where he teaches classes & semi-privates, manages the program design team for semi-private training, and maintains the latest and greatest continuing education standards for the training team. When not teaching, he loves cuddling up on the couch with his wife Katie, sliding through the woods on his mountain bike, and considering why Thestrals are the best.
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