The Proper Way To Train In The Black Hole

In my previous post we talked about what black hole training is, and the potential benefits around training in that heart rate range.

While black hole training is usually viewed as a bad thing, there are in fact some positive aspects to training in this heart rate range. Just as a quick recap, black hole training refers to the heart rate range between the top of zone 2 (or your MAF heart rate) and the bottom of zone 5 (your max heart rate minus 5-10 beats). If we train properly in this heart rate range we can develop adaptations in our ability to utilize lactate as well our ability to buffer hydrogen ions.

By developing these adaptations we are both providing our body with an extra fuel source (lactate), and decreasing the burning sensation and subsequent fatigue that comes from the build up of hydrogen ions.

Before we dive into how to train to get these adaptations I think it is important to address the topic of who should incorporate this type of training into their routine.

No one needs to be concerned about this type of training unless they have already done a fair amount of low intensity cardio training and then moved on to incorporating high intensity cardio as well. You could probably spend 6 months to a year focusing solely on low intensity cardio and adding in high intensity cardio as necessary and continue to see positive adaptations the entire time!

In other words, if you are just getting started building up your cardiovascular fitness, you have a long way to go before you need to consider adding in training in the black hole heart rate zones.

I am also pretty confident in saying that unless you are training for an event that requires you to perform in the black hole heart rate range you don’t need to spend any time training in it. In other words if you are just someone looking to be healthy I don’t see a good reason to incorporate this type of training into your cardio routine. Given the time constraints most people are under, you are probably going to be taking away from other more impactful and important cardio sessions or even worse, strength training sessions in order to do so.

The subgroup of people who can benefit from black hole training are athletes who will be competing in this heart rate zone. Typically this is going to happen in longer endurance type events, something in the time frame of 10 minutes to a few hours. This could vary across a bunch of different modalities, everything from running, to rowing, to crossfit, to combat sports, to potentially even some weight lifting competitions.

Here is a good example of why training in these heart rate zones can be important for athletes. The below breakdown of time spent in each heart rate zone was from a race I did recently. It was 14 miles with about 4000 feet of elevation gain.

I spent most of the race in zones 3 and 4, right in that black hole. In my training in the months leading up to this race I had 1 or 2 training sessions a week where I spent a good amount of time training in my zone 3 and zone 4.

When I have clients who have similar goals of performing in these heart rate zones I want them to be able to train their bodies to better utilize the lactate they will be generating and also buffer hydrogen ions from exercising in this heart rate range.

For most clients, I don’t get super specific about specific heart rate ranges to do the training in. When I give them specific black hole training sessions I tell them their heart rate should be above their MAF heart rate, and that I want them performing at a 7-8 out of 10 effort. I often tell them that the effort should feel uncomfortable, like they want to stop, but know they can keep pushing. For the duration of this session, I make sure it’s long enough that if they push too hard, close to their max heart rate, they would not be able to sustain that the whole time. This forces most people to naturally fall into the black hole heart rate range I want them in.

For most clients I will start with around 15 minutes of effort in this heart rate range. Over the course of several weeks I will extend this session longer and longer. By doing so I challenge them physiologically by producing more and more lactate and hydrogen ions forcing their body to continue to adapt to deal with them over longer periods of time.

The other benefit to these types of training sessions has to do with the mental benefits. For many people, once they experience being uncomfortable they stop. Like I said above, I instruct my clients to ride that edge of being too uncomfortable to continue at that pace during these sessions. I say this on purpose because I want them to get used to “the suck”. Yes there are physiological adaptations that are taking place, but I would argue that the mental resiliency that gets built up by becoming comfortable with that uncomfortable feeling and knowing they can keep going, is more important. The brain is often the reason why we stop exercising, it’s often not physical, so training the brain in my opinion is more important.

Finally I always make sure this type of training lasts for a few months at most. A couple months before the event they are training for is going to take place I will start to incorporate this type of training. Once the event is over I give them a nice long break from this type of training especially if their next event is not for several more months. Spending a ton of time in this heart rate range is adding more stress, so we want to back off, and give the body a break after the event is over.

This is the final post in this series on cardio training. I hope you have enjoyed the series and learned a lot along the way. If you have any questions on anything I covered or think I missed something please don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know. I would be happy to address them in a follow up post. In addition if you want to keep up with all future blog posts and future blog post series be sure to use the form below to sign up for my newsletter. By doing so you will be the first to know each time I put out new content!


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