Monthly Archives: April 2015

Train in the Right Heart Rate Zone to Maximise Fitness

Picking up from where we left off, we’re going to talk about the MOST vital organ in the human body – the HEART!

IMG_3827Post-run heart rate.

 Heart Rate (HR)

Our hearts are constantly beating (to pump oxygenated blood around the body) to keep us alive. Heart rate is usually expressed in BPM (beats per minute). The rate at which the heart beats varies for every individual. This is why the resting heart rate (RHR) of an individual is a good indicator of cardiorespiratory fitness. The resting heart rate is the number of times the heart beats per minute while it is at rest. The more physically fit you are, the stronger your heart is, which results in a lower resting heart rate. A strong heart is able to pump more blood around the body with each beat (therefore, your heart rate decreases).

The whole point of exercising is to raise your heart rate (to stress it enough to elicit change and adaptation). You can see why knowing your heart rate and how it responds to exercise is one of the keys to fitness.

Measuring your Resting Heart Rate (RHR)

The best time to accurately measure your resting heart rate is the moment you get out of bed. Make sure you wake up peacefully and not by the buzz of the alarm or the thought that you are late for work. This may lead to inaccurate readings because your heart rate probably shot up 100 beats to cope with the stress (Ok, kidding!). But yes, it will affect your resting heart rate.

You can use a heart rate monitor/watch (what I do) or do it the old-school way – manual palpation.

Manual Palpation:

-Place your index and middle fingers on the radial artery (as shown in picture)


-Set your timer for 60 seconds and start counting!

-Take your average readings over 3 days and voila, you have your resting heart rate!

The normal range: 60-100 beats per minute [1]

Don’t be alarmed if your resting heart rate falls below the normal range (my resting heart rate is between 48-51 BPM). I am sure many of my crazy running friends are well below that range too! Well trained athletes have resting heart rates that can go as low as 40 beats per minute!

Take note:

*The resting heart rate is influenced by many variables – stress, drugs and medication, caffeine, body composition, fatigue, fitness level etc. Make sure that you are not on any drugs for at least 12 hours prior to taking your resting heart rate.

*Your resting heart rate (RHR) provides an insight into overtraining syndrome. If you have an elevated RHR of over 5bpm (over a few days), it is time to schedule in REST.

Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)

The most accurate way to determine your maximum heart rate is to undergo a physical test at a physiology lab. But not everyone has access to these facilities so here are a few alternatives:

-Fox, Naughton & Haskell Formula: 220 – age = Maximum Heart Rate

-Tanaka, Monahan & Seals Formula: 208 – (0.7 x age) = Maximum Heart Rate

-Gellish et al. Formula: 206.9 – (0.67 x age) = Maximum Heart Rate

Adapted from the ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 4th edition, ACE (2010)

Please note that these formulas are a rough guide. Your maximum heart rate may differ by 7-12 beats on either side of the value.

 Heart Rate Training

Hitting the Target

So how do you know whether or not you’re doing too much or not enough? You certainly do not want to over- or under exercise.

The next thing you want to know is: the right heart rate zones that you should be training in.IMG_2984

Heart Rate Zones

Most heart rate zones are calculated using the percentage of your own maximum heart rate. There are actually many limitations that come with this method because it doesn’t take into account the resting heart rate. Remember how the fitter you are, the lower your resting heart rate is? Again, I will leave that for another post. This should suffice for now.

Let’s take a look at the different zones:

Zone 1: Very Light

About 50-60% of your Maximum Heart Rate

Training in this zone improves blood circulation. Your heart rate is probably here if you’re taking a stroll in the park, walking your dog or shopping.


Zone 2: Light

About 60-70% of your Maximum Heart Rate

Training in this zone also improves blood circulation. This zone is ideal for warm ups, cool downs and recovery periods after a hard workout. If you’ve ever heard of LISS (Low Intensity Steady State training), this is the zone to be doing just that.



Recovery run/walk

If you’ve just started your fitness journey, you can spend about 30 minutes in this zone. It helps to build a good stable aerobic base with HEALTH as the primary goal.

Activities in this zone include: recovery runs, jogging, brisk walking, power walks etc. This zone is also known as the “fat burning zone” because you’re mainly using FAT as fuel. This zone is pretty much aerobic and fat metabolism requires oxygen. However, if you are talking about fat loss, this is not the ideal zone to be training in (it gets complicated). I can elaborate on that in another post so we’ll leave it at that for now.

Zone 3: Moderate

About 70-80% of your Maximum Heart Rate

Zone 3 is where you perform your easy runs. You can comfortably hold a conversation when you’re running/working out in this zone. This is where you’re able to work on general fitness and build up on endurance.


You will burn both carbohydrates and fats in this zone. Lactic acid slowly rises in this zone but your body is able to clear it efficiently.

Zone 4: Hard

About 80-90% of your Maximum Heart Rate

This zone is where your anaerobic limit is at. It is where you perform your tempo/threshold runs.

These runs are done at your lactate threshold, the highest speed at which your blood lactate levels remain steady. It places just enough stress for the body to raise the lactate threshold. Tempo runs prepare the body and the mind to adapt to hard running over longer distances. It also works to build on endurance and helps the body delay fatigue caused by lactic acid.IMG_3761

Working out in this zone should feel comfortably hard.

Zone 5: Maximum Effort!

About 90-100% of your Maximum Heart Rate

What most people term as “ALL OUT”. If you are performing interval runs, this is THE zone – MAXIMUM! It is a pretty tough zone to be in and it is usually attained by trained athletes. This zone can only be sustained for short periods of time such as doing 400m sprints.IMG_2773

Interval runs improve your VO2 max – the maximum volume of oxygen that your blood can deliver to your muscles when running at high speed. This type of training aims to increase tolerance against lactic acid build up and allows lactic acid to be cleared more efficiently. This results in improved speed and performance.FullSizeRender

If you have just started out, don’t worry about not being able to hit this zone. Be patient.

To Sum it All Up

Being aware of your training intensity (by knowing your exercise heart rate DURING the workout) helps you determine when to slow down, maintain or kick it up a notch!

Use these tools to determine your resting heart rate (RHR), maximum heart rate (MHR) and the appropriate zones that you need to be training in to maximise your fitness goals!

Get a Heart Rate Monitor

I am currently using the MIO Alpha 2 ( It is an idiot proof watch that does all the work for me (well, except the running). It accurately detects my resting heart rate and exercise heart rate. I just have to make sure that I hit the right heart rate zone!IMG_3734

I’ll do a review on it in my next post!

I hope you found this useful!

Till then,

Keep Running!

Training at the RIGHT Intensity

We all know that adaptations occur when we subject our bodies to training and exercise. What adaptations (if any) occur depends, in part, on the intensity of the workout.


I never knew how important it was to be training at the right intensity. When I first started running, my goal was to just run. I had no idea about the time, duration, intensity, distance, pace etc. I just did the same thing over and over again. To me, exercise was just exercise.


A lot of my running was (and still is) done based on how I feel. To make sure that my runs were “quality” runs, I always ran to the point that it felt hard (but not too hard). Essentially, I was eliciting some adaptations to my heart and lungs, but they were not specific enough. Even though I did “intervals”, I don’t think I was working at the right intensity that was meant for that training. I tend to remain in the “comfortable zone”.

There is nothing wrong with running/working out based on how you feel, except for the fact that “feeling” is very subjective. On a bad day, your perception of an easy workout may seem very hard.

Why It Matters

Everyone is different when it comes to personal fitness goals and training approach. This is where specificity comes in whereby you train using different modes to bring about specific adaptations. The SAID principle is sometimes used to refer to this specificity: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands [1].

For example, distance runners will spend hours of their time training at specific intensities (sub-maximal effort) to elicit specific adaptations (ie. to become an efficient fat burner, enhance endurance etc). A sprinter, on the other hand, will spend more time doing short intervals (maximal effort) to build speed and power.

IMG_3513Kicking it up from tempo to negative splits!

Training at the right intensity is key to achieving your goals.

I have people telling me that they’ve trained XX KMs per week but have yet to achieve their goal time in a marathon/race. Why is that so? What was the intensity of those training miles? If most of it were done at what is termed as “easy”, then you would have developed enough aerobic fitness to allow you to comfortably cross the finish line. However, that sort of training will not give you much strength or speed.

Same goes to weight loss. People claim that they exercise 6 times a week but they don’t see any changes. It can be due to many factors (nutrition, recovery, rest etc) but it is usually the intensity of the workout. Your bodies adapt, which means that you have to increase/change the intensity or type of workout every 3-4 weeks to shock your body into change and adaptation. What was once difficult became easy and your body stopped responding to the workout.

Your Heart Knows Better

Having the WOD or the run menu of the day is pointless if you fail to train at the right intensity to elicit the necessary changes.

The intensity of a workout is also relative. A high intensity workout may seem easy for a trained athlete but might spell hell for a beginner. For the workout to work for both a trained athlete and a beginner, base it on something that is unique to the individual – their heart.

You can fool your brain but you cannot fool your heart!

IMG_3262That heart bursting moment when you reach the top!

Judge Intensity using Your Heart Rate

As the intensity of a workout increases, your heart beats faster to meet the demands of the workout. The intensity of the workout (based on your heart rate) will determine which energy system and fuel source your body is using during that time, and ultimately the adaptions that will occur along with it. With this in mind, you can actually devise your own training/weight loss plan.

Now What?

To fully maximise your workouts, it will help to know your heart rate, heart rate zones that you are working in (intensity) and heart rate reserve (HRR). More on that in my next post!

Just Remember

If you don’t train at the right intensity, the necessary changes that are expected to occur from the workout WILL NOT take place.

Snapshots from EARTH DAY RUN 2015!


With our plants!


It was a killer route! SO TOUGH! You know how I usually dart out at the start? Yeah, that day was different. I didn’t start out as fast as I usually do. I picked up the pace when we were going down hill!

And then…… we had to go through the same loop AGAIN! I don’t think that I’ll be going back there anytime soon!


With Snoopy who was errr…sniffing his butt.


Post-race grub!

Till next time,

Run Hard. Run Fast. Run Strong.


Fat Loading: Does it work?

*I apologize in advance for all the drool worthy fatty food pics*

I can’t say this enough, our bodies are AMAZING. Why? Simply because we are capable of adapting to our immediate environment in so many ways!

As you can see from my previous posts, we are highly adaptable creatures. Train hard enough and you are able to run that much faster because your body has made the necessary changes to adapt to it.

In this context, going on a high fat diet (and low carb) would force your body to utilise it more efficiently.FullSizeRender_1

I know what you must be thinking: YAY! Another reason to go on a high fat diet! Of course, it is NOT as simple as it looks. If it was, obesity and other metabolic diseases would not exist because we’d all be super fat burners!

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Previously, we explored how endurance training can help us become efficient fat burners.

Let’s take a look at Fat Loading:

A few studies have found that in general, fat loading does improve performance during endurance based activities [1 , 2]. During an endurance event, intramuscular triglycerides (muscle fats) contribute a significant amount of the total fats used [3]. Consumption of a high fat diet has been shown to enhance the utilisation and storage of these muscle fats. This is the adaptation seen when undergoing endurance training.

However, note that high fat diets only seem to improve time to exhaustion in moderate intensity activities [4].  This is hardly the case in real world racing where there will be times of acceleration, uphill surges, midway and finishing sprints which are moments of high intensity bouts. Such a diet will not work for shorter higher intensity races (5K or 10K race) [5]. Also, a prolonged high fat diet seems to impair endurance performance [1].

The Protocol

Remember that you are not depending on just ONE TYPE OF FUEL at any one time during a race, it is a combination of the different types of fuel. Research has found that it was better to have the best of both worlds – a hybrid diet. A typical fat loading protocol would include a few weeks (1-1.5 weeks) of high fat diet to stimulate the fat oxidation capacity followed by a period (2-3 days) of high carbohydrate diet preceding a race to top off glycogen stores [6].

If you start off with low glycogen levels, performance will indeed be impaired!IMG_6893

Carbs and fat!

The Downside

There’s always a downside. The thing about fat loading is that while it enhances fat metabolism at moderate intensity activities, the use of glucose as a source of fuel is impaired. Studies have found that prolonged fat loading has been associated with a decrease in hexokinase activity (enzyme involved in the first step to using glucose as fuel) and pyruvate dehydrogenase activity (another enzyme involved in using pyruvate as fuel) in trained individuals [7]. This can affect the individual when the demands for muscle carbohydrates are high.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Personal Thoughts

I’ve gone through a few research papers and they all seem to have very different results/conclusions due to the heterogeneity of the trials.

Every individual is different. Some people can thrive on a high fat diet whereas the same diet might leave another person sick in the stomach. It is quite hard to screen for people who can adapt well to high fat diets to improve performance.

FullSizeRenderJust when I thought I could EAT ALL I WANT!

I personally don’t think I can go on a high fat diet. I have not tried though! But I guess for anything below the marathon distance, going on a high fat diet does not give any significant benefits.

Energy gels are readily provided throughout a race to help you avoid the dreaded bonk and maintain blood glucose levels.


However, if you are planning to explore ultraendurance events, it may be worth your time to give this protocol a go. *At your own risk!* Experiment with 7 days of high fat diet followed by 2 days of carbo loading before an endurance event, who knows, it just might help!

*Don’t try this before your race though, practice first!*

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At the end of the day, TRAINING is inevitable! It guarantees improved performance and turning you into an efficient FAT BURNER!

Proper training coupled with a wholesome well-balanced diet DURING training is much more important when it comes to improving your performance.

I am curious to know what you think! 🙂

Keep Running!



Post-Race Report: Shape Night Run 2015

The Shape Night Run is back! I remember running the Shape/Men’s Health Night run way back in 2010! I was still new to running, jogging maybe, and it was probably the second or third run that I took part in.FullSizeRender(1)

I didn’t have plans to join this particular race (you know how I like to procrastinate till the very last minute!), so when Michelle asked to join her team, I agreed.

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Somewhere towards the end of last year, this team was born – The Experience and Youth. That was the best team name that we (or rather, Jeff) could come up with!

We hadn’t met up as a team before the race itself. Everything was done and settled “online” (except the running). The onus was on us to make sure that we prepared well for the big day. That’s the beauty of a team event! Whether you like it or not, everyone is depending on each other. So, you have to pull your weight and play your part.

Pre-Race Day

I was doing okay in terms of running and fitness throughout the past few months until after the Malaysia Women’s Marathon (MWM) in March. I had missed 2 races between MWM and Shape Night Run. One (TARC Run) was because my alarm decided to fail on me on the morning of the race (AGAIN!!!!!!!!) and the other (Possible Run) was because my stomach wasn’t feeling too good. I was also busy running around (not actual running) and settling some personal stuff. Safe to say that running and training were not among my top priorities. But I did make it a point to put in 2 quality runs each week.

FullSizeRenderRacing is all about getting used to that feeling. As I was out from racing for more than a month, I was VERY nervous for this team event. The worst part is that if you don’t feel good, YOU CANNOT BACK OUT. I have never given up on a race before but this wild card option is always available. Sadly, this wild card does NOT exist in a team event.

The week preceding race day was good. In terms of running, I completed most of the quality runs and workouts that I had planned (probably went a little overboard). I had a full day of REST on Friday.

Race Day

The day was a typical family day spent chilling out and getting errands done. I managed to collect my Puma Ignite shoes at the store, just in time for the race. YES, I know, nothing new on race day right? This was how much confidence I had in them (and they did NOT fail me!).

The sun was scorching hot (as usual) and I was feeling a little miserable. By 4-ish, the sun was still shining. Judging from past weather trends, it usually means heavy downpour in the evening. I checked the weather app on my phone and it indicated 100% rain at 8pm!


Picked Michelle up at 5.50pm and we headed straight for Putrajaya. After having raced around that area a number of times, we got there without any hiccups.


Met up with the team (Mark and Jeff) at the starting area. We hung around the area for a bit, discussing “race tactics” and such.


Bumped into Jing Jing!

When it was close to 7pm, we headed off for our warm up. The sky was looking a bit sad and gloomy but we remained optimistic. We ran all the way down to the lake before stopping for a light stretch.

The sky was getting darker by the minute. Mark decided that we should look for cover. Good call because as soon as we found shelter, the rain came crashing down. We thought that it’d be a light shower with a little lightning and thunder. We were wrong, so wrong. It kept going……and going. So there, the 4 of us and one other race volunteer, stranded under the shelter of the public toilet. We wondered if the race would be cancelled or delayed.

It was around 7.15pm at that time. Oh well, it looked like our warm up came to nothing and we spent the next 45 minutes waiting it out. There was nothing much we could do except gaze out and watch God do His thing. The wait certainly calmed the nerves but it also sucked the adrenaline and excitement out of me.


At about 7.45pm, Mark decided that we should make a run for it back to the starting area. The rain had not subsided and we splashed through wet roads and flooded pavements. I was completely DRENCHED! My shoes, socks and clothes were soaked. And with the wind and rain against us, my contact lenses started swimming around in my eye. We stopped at one of the buildings. Michelle and I got our caps from Kevin (our stuff keeper for the day) to protect our eyes from the rain.


We ran across to the main stage area and continued to wait. Snacked on a packet of Meiji biscuits because I was feeling SO HUNGRY. Finally, the organizers announced that the race would be delayed till 8.30pm but will be called off if lightning and thunder persisted. The LAST thing I wanted was this race to be cancelled. I wasn’t going to miss a race because of bad weather! I was feeling fresh and ready to run.

As 8.30pm approached, the weather was looking good with occasional flashes of lightning. We decided to head towards the starting pen. The mood was there, runners were pumped and the crowd roared when they blasted the music through the speakers. The marshals opened up the barriers and we made our way to the starting line. At 8.45pm, there was the countdown and we were off (finally!)! We had a good start! After the first KM marker, I realised that I didn’t start the timer on my watch. Bummer!

It was still drizzling and the roads were wet. I always thought that I liked running in the rain (and I do!) except for the fact that the roads were so slippery. My shoes had no traction and it felt like I was not moving forward with every stride. Michelle and I paced each other until the 4-5th KM. After that, I gave her the sign to go ahead without me. I had a side stitch and I guess my head was all over the place. I was struggling to keep it together. Everything else was a blur.

IMG_3423Source: Run and Explore

IMG_3424Source: Run and Explore

The guys giving it all they’ve got towards the finish line.

IMG_3426Source: Run and Explore

Michelle totally killed it! So proud of her. 🙂

IMG_3417Source: Run and Explore

The girls… we were a bit more smiley. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t push as hard! We just know when to smile. 😉

At the U-turn, Jeff called out to me to PUSH! Thanks for that. That was the only thing that kept me running – THE TEAM! From there, it was just a long stretch back home. In a team event, you have to push as hard as possible. You’re not there to secure your position; it all comes down to time.


Couldn’t be happier to cross that finish line. It was a tough one.


It was also my first time wearing a cap to run! I have never worn a cap to run, not even during my training. New shoes, new cap, new top…hmmmm! Kids, do NOT try this ‘at home’.


We managed to catch up with some friends, hang around the booths that were set up and take a few photos. Kudos to Angel who ran even though she was SICK! We were still unsure of our position at that time but we had a good feeling about it. Our hearts sunk when we heard that we came in second. Oh well, at least it was better than nothing.


I completely lost track of time but we hung around the winner’s tent.


Photobombed by Mark’s little cutie.

IMG_3390Source: Jeff’s cam

Finally, the marshal walked over to announce that we were the Team CHAMPIONS! We screamed and gave each other high-5s. It was a new high because we had already settled for second place.

YEAH! CHINA BABEH (1st prize includes Tickets to China)!

FullSizeRender(2)Congrats to all the teams! 🙂

And you know what, we won by 12 SECONDS! That is 3 seconds each of slack time. If Mark had taken an extra sip of water or if Jeff had cheered me on a little harder or if Michelle kept looking back or if I had fallen down…… that’s 12 seconds gone. So glad the team managed to pull this off! Phew!


Went back with a big box of goodies.


RM6000 worth of goodies… so they say.


So, there you go! The end of our rather dramatic night! I must say that it was a pretty amazing experience! Thanks Team Experience and Youth for having me. It was a lot of fun!

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Also, many thanks to the race organizers for keeping it together and making this run possible despite the weather! Volunteers were energetic and road marshals were sufficient.

Great event! Till next time!

Keep Running! 🙂


Fat and Running


Hope you guys have been keeping well. I have not been blogging consistently. WHOOPS! I’ve got a lot on my plate right now and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed (in a good way!)! Please bear with me on this one. Life is getting a little bit more exciting and I hope to be able to share the good news with you guys soon!

If you’ve been following my posts lately, you will notice that I’ve been talking about FUEL and RUNNING.

Just a quick recap:

We talked about carbohydrates, how to maximise our stores (glycogen stores) before a run and how to reduce dependence on these stores during a run!

An important point to note is that carbohydrate stores, both in our liver and muscles, ARE LIMITED.

Thankfully, our bodies have another source of energy – FAT!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThis just spells F-A-T

Fat is basically UNLIMITED. You can’t run out of fat. If you do, you’ll die.

From the above statement, you can see why tapping into your fat stores would be an advantage. If you can train your body to increase its reliance on fat stores, you will be a fairly good endurance runner!

Fat is stored in adipose tissue (fat cells) and muscle.


Pinch the side on your tummy and you’d probably be pinching some FAT. Fat cells are found all over the body: abdominal area, buttocks, hips and under the skin. The more we eat, the more fat we store and it becomes our energy reserve.

However, storage fat is not essential for health and too much of it increases the risk of certain diseases.


Fat stored in muscle is known as intramuscular triglycerides. Found throughout skeletal muscles, they are available for immediate use during exercise [1].

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The story is not as straight forward for fat cells (compared to muscle fats). Storage fat needs to be broken down into fatty acids and transported to the muscles to be used for energy.

Free fatty acids (from fat cells) and muscle fat provide energy to fuel your running.

Which fuel you burn (Carbohydrates or Fats) during running depends on the intensity and duration of it (more on that later). However, how much fat you burn depends largely on your genes as well as training and nutrition.

Although genes wear the biggest hat, you can always train your body to burn more fat at higher running intensities.

Fatigue sets in when your body is low on fuel. As mentioned, fat is virtually limitless which makes it a very attractive source of fuel.

So, the question is: How to become a fat burner?

Becoming a FAT BURNER

The answer lies in endurance training. As you know, when you’re running a marathon, you’re running at a submaximal pace. At this intensity, your body uses more fat. Many months of training and running miles logged would mean that you will burn more fats as compared to carbohydrates at the same intensity. When the weight is off muscle glycogen and blood glucose, you delay fatigue. This ultimately translates to better running performance.


As mentioned, for fat to be used as fuel, it must first be broken down into fatty acids, mobilised and transported to the muscles to be burned. Endurance training enhances the capacity of muscles to use fat. It stimulates the production of enzymes that would enhance all the steps required to use fat as fuel [2].

In the presence of oxygen, mitochondria are the factory that produces ATP (body’s energy currency). Endurance training increases the number of mitochondria in a cell which means that you can produce more energy from fat (fats are being ‘burned’ in the mitochondria) [2].

Running puts a certain amount of stress on the body. When you start running, the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) comes into play. The main energy fuel that is used to meet the sudden demand of energy is carbohydrates. Thankfully, humans are highly adaptable and we are able to learn and change to better handle that stress in the future. Training reduces this sympathetic response and puts a greater reliance on fat as fuel [3].


Throwback to when I first started running.

Remember how hard it was when you first started running – your breathing was all over the place, your heart felt like it was going to explode and your limbs had a mind of its own – but you continued anyway? And then a few weeks later you realised that running is the easiest thing in the world. That is because your body adapted to the “stress”.

At the same running speed, a trained individual is a fat burner that relies less on carbohydrates to fuel their running at the same intensity as an untrained individual. IMG_0897

These training adaptations don’t take place overnight. There are no short cuts. You can see how training, hard work and effort are keys to unlocking the lock to becoming a great runner.

But if you happen to have a problem with committing to training, maybe there’s a way out. Ever heard of fat-loading diets? We’ll explore that next!

Till then, keep running! 🙂