A: Here is a helpful article from Runners World that explains the science and training benefits of paying attention to heart rate zones: https://www.runnersworld.com/uk/training/beginners/a760176/heart-rate-training-the-basics/
But I would like to talk about this issue from a different angle.
Incorporating heart rate zones into your training gives you a tangible, externally applied target. Your workouts need a purpose, otherwise it's often way too hard to make yourself do them. Working out is hard. It hurts. It takes time away from more comfortable activities. You smell when you're done. Certainly sometimes we feel good while working out and sometimes that reason is enough.
But a tough workout, be it heart rate focused, intervals, hill repeats, heavy lift sessions, or distance days, teach our brains a very important lesson; You Can Do Hard Things. For many people, their brain is constantly telling them the opposite of this and so every where they look, they see evidence of failure. Participating in sport provides a unique opportunity to see evidence of and learn to believe a different message.
We can work toward goals in all different areas of our lives, but in sport, goals are different. Used thoughtfully and intentionally, goals in sport are completely personal, relative, changeable, and progressive.
They are personal because (for average adults, anyway) you set them for yourself. No one is telling you how fast you have to run, how far you need to bike, how much you need to dead lift, or how many meters you need to swim. Sometimes we let outside forces set these targets for us, but at the end of the day, no one else really cares if we did the work or not. Your personal goals are set by you, as stepping stones toward some ultimate achievement you want for yourself. That could be a PR at the annual turkey trot, getting back to your high school weight, or being able to call yourself and Ironman.
Your goals are relative, because they only mean something when looked at in comparison to where you've come from. A 3:27 marathon meant nothing to me before I became a runner. My 3:27 marathon seemed unattainable for the first eight years I was running. My 3:27 marathon was super exciting when my previous best was a 3:34. My 3:27 marathon was a disappointing when I was shooting for 3:24. But in the grand scheme of things, my 3:27 marathon doesn't really matter. What matters is that I had something to work toward, some way to measure progress, and something to keep me motivated to stay active and healthy. (We will talk more about goals and how it's important to have more than one going at a time in order to keep yourself sane.)
Goals are changeable, or flexible, for some of the same reasons I already mentioned. Your goals in sport need to be able to be changed as you grow. They need to become harder as you become more fit. They need to account for injuries, time constraints, and sometimes the weather! Learning to be okay with flexible goals lets you practice flexible thinking in other areas of your life too. Sure, I'd love to get a 50 mile bike ride in on Saturday, but there's a wind advisory and the temperatures are going to be in the 40's, so instead, I'll do a shorter trainer ride and maybe a short run outside instead. It's not perfect, but it'll work. It's a similar skill to learning to be okay if you had a weekend trip planned with your sister, but at the last minute she wasn't able to stay overnight because she needed to attend her daughter's basketball game. Because you're a flexible thinker, you're able to be okay with spending the day with her, rather than scrapping the whole plan and letting your resentment fester. A day trip with your sister isn't exactly what you planned, but it will work.
Goals are progressive. They grow with you. Similarly to goals being relative and flexible, goals need to be set to reflect where you are right here, right now. But that means you need to KNOW where you are right here, right now. And that requires you to pay attention. Blindly doing the same thing over and over, trying to get somewhere that isn't really the right destination for you, is going to leave you frustrated and dejected and feeling like a failure. And I hope you know by now that you are NOT a failure; you are a person who is evolving. Setting the right goals for where you are right here, right now, can be hard. Our expectations for ourselves can get skewed by social media and promises by the health and wellness industry for "quick fixes" for whatever ails you. Sometimes we see where we want to be, so that's the goal. End of story. But it's more complicated than that. Your destination might be spot on, but you need stepping stones along the way to mark the path to success. Your goals need to progress as you progress. In open water swimming, you need frequent sighting to stay on course. Working toward your goal is the same way. Put your head down and swim for five minutes without sighting and you'll find yourself a quarter mile off course (and that is both embarrassing and a gigantic waste of energy; trust me).
You can do hard things. This is what sport teaches us. A healthier body, looking good in jeans, a low resting heart rate, sleeping better, lower blood pressure, a stronger heart, yes, these are fantastic effects from regular exercise too. But all those wins come alongside the deep belief in yourself that comes from working toward and achieving various types of goals in your sport.
If you need help getting to the point where believing that YOU can do hard things, get in touch with me. Let's talk and see how I can help.