Unlocking Performance Through Heart Rate Zones

Jogger listening to music on mobile phone and checking his smartwatch in the park

Dragon boat paddling is a dynamic and demanding sport that requires a combination of strength, endurance, and cardiovascular fitness.
To optimize your training and prepare for the intensity of a dragon boat race, it’s essential to understand and train in different heart rate zones.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the physiological effects, expected sensations, and specific dragon boat exercises for each heart rate zone, tailored for non-professional club paddlers with limited time.

Step 1 is to work out your approximate maximum heart rate for your age. Use the calculator below to do this. Once you know your maximum heart rate, you can then use the table to see your personal exercise zones.

Understanding Heart Rate Zones

  1. Resting Zone:
    • Heart Rate Range: 50-60% of your maximum heart rate.
    • Physiological Effects: This zone aids recovery, enhances overall cardiovascular health, and promotes active rest.
    • How You Should Feel: Relaxed and comfortable, with minimal exertion.
    • Dragon Boat Exercise: Light paddling or easy rowing for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Moderate Zone (Fat Burning Zone):
    • Heart Rate Range: 60-70% of your maximum heart rate.
    • Physiological Effects: This zone improves aerobic fitness, enhances fat metabolism, and builds endurance.
    • How You Should Feel: Breathing deeper but still able to maintain a conversation. Warm and slightly challenged.
    • Dragon Boat Exercise: Steady-state paddling at a moderate pace for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Aerobic Zone:
    • Heart Rate Range: 70-80% of your maximum heart rate.
    • Physiological Effects: Increases aerobic capacity, enhances cardiovascular fitness, and improves endurance.
    • How You Should Feel: Breathing heavily but sustainable. The effort feels challenging but manageable.
    • Dragon Boat Exercise: Intervals of 2-3 minutes at a higher intensity, followed by 1-2 minutes of active recovery. Repeat for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Anaerobic Zone:
    • Heart Rate Range: 80-90% of your maximum heart rate.
    • Physiological Effects: Develops anaerobic capacity, improves speed, and increases lactate threshold.
    • How You Should Feel: Intense effort, rapid breathing. Sustaining this effort for a prolonged period is challenging.
    • Dragon Boat Exercise: Short bursts of high-intensity paddling (30 seconds to 1 minute) followed by longer rest periods. Repeat for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Maximum Effort Zone:
    • Heart Rate Range: 90-100% of your maximum heart rate.
    • Physiological Effects: Builds maximum power, speed, and agility.
    • How You Should Feel: Extremely challenging. Sustainable for very short durations.
    • Dragon Boat Exercise: Sprints of 15-20 seconds at maximum effort, followed by extended rest periods. Repeat for 10-15 minutes.

Heart Rate Zones and Technology

Many smart watches have the ability to track your heart rate and record your time in each heart rate zone. Some can also be programmed to alert you when you enter and/or leave a particular heart rate zone. This can be handy for when you are trying to stay within a certain zone. For example, you might set your smart watch to notify you when you enter the fat burning zone.

Using technology like this means you can target which zones you are wanting to work in for a particular session. Very powerful.

The Garmin range of sports watches sync to an online site called Garmin Connect. Here you can pull up all sorts of information on your sessions including the time spent in heart rate zones.

Information from Garmin Connect on one of my training sessions

Designing a 6-Week Dragon Boat Training Program

Now that we have the zones and an idea of the exercises that accompany each zone, let’s put together a 6 week training program that prepares you for a race. Print it out, try it out and send me your experience in the comments section below.

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