This week we’re looking at how you can improve your aerobic fitness through our Nordic walking classes. Those of you who are using fitness trackers with heart rate monitors will particularly like this blog as we include a table at the bottom showing your heart rate exercise zones based on age.
What is aerobic fitness
Aerobic fitness is the body’s ability to take in, transport and utilise oxygen to supply energy throughout the body. It is one of the most important components of overall physical fitness. Aerobic fitness naturally decreases with age but we can have a significant impact on this. Many of our walkers say that thanks to Nordic walking, they are fitter now than they were a decade ago.
So how can we improve our aerobic fitness? Well, it’s a combination of the following three factors:
- Exercise frequency
- Exercise duration
- Exercise intensity
The more frequently you can come Nordic walking, or do any other aerobic activity (pilates and yoga aren’t aerobic exercises I’m afraid) the more your fitness will improve. Obviously you need to be working at a reasonable level of intensity. Ambling round a shopping centre for half a day won’t cut the mustard as it is unlikely to raise your heart rate. Our Nordic walking classes however, are all designed to get that ticker working harder and get you fitter.
The length of time you exercise for also has an impact of your fitness. Mixing things up is the key as it keeps the body guessing and having to adapt. Why not combine longer walks such as our 2 hour “Discover Stoke Park and the Wild Wood Carvings” Nordic walk this Sunday, or our 2 hour Newton St Loe Nordic walk with short sharp bursts of high intensity training (often referred to as HIIT). Examples of this would be the interval training we often include in our fitness walks (where you alternate between fast walking and recovery), pace walks (where you walk at your maximum pace over a certain distance) and powering up those hills in Ashton Court and Blaise.
Intensity refers to how hard your heart is working. There are three broad bands:
Low intensity –This is the ideal range for warming up and cooling down before and after our Nordic walking classes as it helps to improve blood flow and circulation to your working muscles.
Moderate Intensity – Great for developing endurance and burning calories. Due to energy demands, training in this zone will cause your body to rely on both carbs and fats for energy. Overall, this is a good zone for building general fitness.
High Intensity – This is the crossover between working aerobically and anaerobically (without oxygen). You will only be able to keep at this level for a short period of time. It takes you out of your comfort zone and improves your VO2 Max which improves your body’s ability to utilise oxygen. Hills, intervals and pace walks are likely to get you to this level.
You can calculate the intensity of your workout in one of two ways. Scientifically, using heart rate monitors, or by way of estimation. We particularly like something called the ‘talk test’ and think it works really well for us Nordic walkers, especially as talking is a big part of what we do! It works like this:
- If you can talk non-stop without having to pause for breath you are unlikely to working hard enough to improve your aerobic fitness.
- If you can talk reasonably comfortably (5-10 words before catching your breath) you are likely to be working out at a moderately intense heart rate level. You could keep going at this rate for a while and it is great for increasing your heart capacity and overall aerobic fitness.
- If you’re needing to take a breath every 3-5 words then that’s high intensity stuff and your heart is working pretty darn hard. This is HITT territory. Don’t do it for too long.
- If you can’t actually talk at all then (unless it’s because the person next to you is chattering so much that you can’t get a word in edgeways) you’re overdoing it – so slow down before you fall down!
Below is a chart which you might find helpful. RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion and is another way of estimating how hard your heart is working.
|Level of Intensity||
|Does not induce sweating unless it’s a hot, humid day. There is no noticeable change in breathing patterns.|
|Will break a sweat after performing the activity for about 10 minutes. Breathing becomes deeper and more frequent. You can carry on a conversation but not sing.|
|Will break a sweat after 3-5 minutes. Breathing is deep and rapid. You can only talk in short phrases.|
If you have a heart rate monitor then you can calculate the intensity of your workout using that. It’s all based on your maximum heart rate. There are lots of sophisticated ways of working this out (look them up online if you’re interested) but a simple method is simply to deduct your age from 220. So the max heart rate of a 50 year old would be 220-50 = 170 beats per minute.
Low intensity is 50-70% of heart rate max, moderate intensity 70-80% heart rate max and high intensity 80-90% heart rate max. Above this and you get into trouble – unless you’re an elite athlete. The table below gives you some parameters for your heart rate exercise zones based on age. ‘Beginner’ equates to low intensity, ‘Intermediate’ to moderate intensity and ‘Advanced’ to high intensity.
- Some medication, particularly that to lower blood pressure, actually suppresses heart rate. In these circumstances you cannot use heart rate as an accurate measure for how hard you are working. Rely on the talk test or RPE instead.
Bristol & Bath Nordic walking team
You can find our favourite Nordic walking poles here and if you’re looking for our advice on other walking kit with the weather changing here’s our recommendations on the best:
walking socks (socks are an important but forgotten factor)