FITWINS is committed to promoting and improving health, through regular activity. We are for all levels of ability and people can do 25 miles to 200 plus miles in one month. The gains that you might get from engaging regular activity, such as running, include and are not limited to: improved aerobic capacity, achieving a healthy weight, improved muscular endurance and strength, improvements in exercise efficiency, improved mood, self-esteem, and many more benefits (we could go on).
A question that often puzzles people is ‘How can I measure fitness gains?’ For many people the first thing they might think of is stepping on the bathroom scales and measuring their weight, assuming that weight loss means improved fitness. Millions of people think this and strive to achieve fitness improvements by diet, with limited physical activity. However, does this improve general fitness effectively? Some people would argue that there are very limited, if any, fitness gains from simply losing weight. We need to exercise and the general guidance for enhancing physical health is that we should do regular activity for at least one hour every day.
If you’ll excuse the scientific terminology, many exercise physiologists measure aerobic fitness by VO2 max, which is the ability of your heart to deliver oxygen to working muscles, and the effective use of oxygen by muscle tissues. It’s the maximum amount of oxygen you can use in a minute (ml/(kg·min). I’m going to explain it in simple terms: if you have an improved VO2 max, then you have made significant improvements in your aerobic fitness. Given that these gains will have been achieved by regular exercise, using working muscles, you will have more muscular endurance and will see massive improvements in your fitness. Your heart and muscles will work more efficiently, you’ll feel better and will run and move faster and often with less effort.
So how do we measure improvements in aerobic fitness? One way of doing this is by going to a laboratory but we’re not in any rush to do that, as there are some easier ways. Some watches have VO2 max calculators built in that use heart rate to measure the effort required to run at a certain pace and will use other variables.
Another, very simple way, is by covering a route that you use as part of your routine and seeing if it feels easier at the same pace as a few months ago, looking back at how much you have improved. Some people might do time trials or Parkrun, and it might just be an idea, instead of going for a PB or fastest time, to try and run a time that you ran a couple of months ago and compare your effort level, and maybe heart rate if you have a monitor.
Finally, if you do have a heart rate monitor, I suggest covering a standard route and comparing your heart rate at a similar pace. A lower heart rate at a similar pace/intensity will show that your aerobic fitness has much improved. Some months ago I tore my hamstring and could not do any running for 6 weeks and cycling also hurt. I did some swimming but due to my terrible swimming technique I wasn’t getting the same fitness gains that I got from a run. My fitness declined rapidly, I gained weight, my mood suffered and I was eager to get back running. Eventually I started running and noted how high my heart rate was at relative paces compared to before. I needed to slow my runs down and gain fitness gradually rather than try to run harder at the same pace. In time, my aerobic fitness improved over 4 weeks and this is shown in the images (note the lower heart rate compared to before). Using heart rate and your perception of effort can help you to monitor improvements in fitness.
If you are now wondering how you might improve your aerobic capacity, the first thing is to be more active: run and walk more. We aim to promote increased activity with FITWINS. Perhaps you recently completed a monthly challenge (25/50/75/100/125/150/175 miles in a month) and now you’re thinking of doing the next +25 miles increment the following month. Just make sure you plan your month and don’t risk injury by overdoing your activity at the end of the month, playing catch up. You can also increase the pace of A FEW runs to add some intensity, such as 5 x 2mins faster efforts during your runs, or using some fartlek or interval training to improve fitness.
Time for a run
© Carl Ryde and FITWINS Ltd.
Measuring heart rate can be used to measure improvements in fitness