Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Filtering by Category: "Heart Rate"

Day 352 - My Unusual Heart...

There is something I have been meaning to share with all of you for some time now, but I wasn't too sure how to approach it, so I will be as open about it as I can, and hopefully it can educate all of you.

I have been diagnosed with Atrial Flutter. I am not entirely sure what caused this, or how long I have potentially known about it. I have my own theories and hypotheses based on my own life experiences, but I will keep those to myself as they are just that, hypotheses. I will, however, give you the story of what I know up until now.

A few years ago, every one in a while, I would notice my heart doing funny things when I would be at rest. If I was sitting down, relaxed, watching tv or something, I randomly feel these 'flip-flops' with my heart, like it would skip a beat. Fine. Not a problem. They would usually be very short episodes, and I would forget about it just about as quickly as they would happen.

Around the time I was first noticing these incidences was about the time I was training for my first half marathon, so I was in some of the best shape, cardio-wise, I had ever been in, so I just figured my heart would skip a beat because my resting heart rate was so low.

The incidences began to happen a bit more frequently, but still not alarming to me. It wasn't until about a year ago now, at the start of 2012 that I decided to just casually mention it to my doctor during a physical. She checked me out, listened to my heart, explained that I may have a "pause" that can be perfectly normal, especially in healthy individuals, and sent me for some tests. I had various tests done (ECG, ultrasound, etc.) and went and saw a local heart specialist. After seeing him, I had more tests done, all the while being reassured that my "pause" was fine, safe, and normal. I took a stress test, I wore a holter monitor for two weeks, all the while still exercising and training without any problems at all.

After my test results came back, I sat down the heart specialist again, and as it turned out at the time, I was safe and healthy as could be. I learned along my travels that people's hearts are actually more abnormal than most think. I also learned a heck of a lot about the pacing and electrical work of the heart (it really is quite an amazing piece of machinery!).

All of the tests I had done have shown that my heart is healthy, there are no structural abnormalities or problems, I just seem to have this random beat every so often. In speaking with my dad, turns out, he started having similar experiences around the same age I was when I first started noticing them (27 years old). This leads me to believe that this 'thing' really is just a genetic fluke basically.

For months I went about my daily life, training, exercising, doing the things I love with 'episodes' here and there, but knowing in the back of my mind that I am safe and it is normal, helped me not worry about the problem.

However, for the past few months, my random heart "pauses" seem to have changed a bit, and I now have episodes from time to time where my heart not only "pauses" from time to time, it also skips and races a bit. It is not painful, but noticeable. It almost feels like my heart is a bowl of jelly and someone just shook the bowl. Hard to describe, but definitely a weird sensation.

I decided to go get things checked out again, so back in I went for more tests, and back in to speak with the heart specialist again. My newest round of tests has shown that I have what is known as Atrial Flutter. You can read all about atrial flutter on the linked Wiki page, but I will say that I have been reassured by the heart specialist yet again that this is actually quite a common, and safe condition, especially someone young and fit as I am.

So what does this mean for me now?

Well, naturally, I am heading for more tests in the coming weeks. Whenever you are dealing with the heart, doctors like to make sure they know everything there is to know about your heart, so that it keeps on tickin'. I will have a chest x-ray, stress test, another 72-hour holter monitor, etc. My doc even wants me to wear my holter monitor when I go for a run so that he can see what my heart function is like while exercising.

From there, I am going to take my test results and go see a specific cardiologist known as an Electrophysiologist. Basically, they are cardiologists that specialize in the internal electrical work, especially with abnormal heart rhythms. After I see the electrophysiologist, I will then update you on where and what my next steps will be.

I am scheduled to run Tough Mudder in May with my wife. I am still going ahead with this, as I have been cleared to exercise, but I will be opting-out of the electrical obstacles. When speaking with the heart specialist, he said that getting zapped at this event is not necessarily dangerous to my survival, he said that at this point in time, I should not be messing around with the electrical systems of my heart.

What else can I take from all of this?

The original heart specialist I saw has remarked time and time again how fit I am, and how much that has helped this whole situation. When I have episodes of "fluttering" with my right atria, it is possible for that section of my heart to race at a pretty high rate. Because I am fit, my heart itself has no problems taking on that kind of heart rate.

Secondly, because of my health, I am at a much lower risk of blood clotting. When I have these episodes, there is the potential for pooling blood in my heart, which can increase the risk of clotting, for older or unfit individuals.

In fact, when I have been in for my stress test, I get a good chuckle out of doing the stress test. If you have ever done a stress test before, you walk on a treadmill at increasing pace to deliberately stress your heart to a certain heart rate. Last time I was there, the test took far longer due to the fact that the test is designed for folks who aren't in as good of physical shape. The test I took, I was not allowed to run, only walk faster and faster. I actually reached a point where I could physically not walk fast enough to keep up with the pace of the treadmill...yet my heart rate had not reached the desired 175bpm or whatever I was aiming for, my heart was just too efficient!

I am still ok to exercise! I have to admit, that was one of the first things that always goes through my mind when I am in speaking with the specialist or anyone surrounding my situation. I have grown to love exercise and training so much throughout my life and I honestly can't see myself handling not exercising very well. I have been told, however, to not completely push myself to the limit (aka, Insanity) but regular exercise is fine, at least until I get everything sorted out.

So, I will still continue to train for my Tough Mudder in a few weeks. I will participate (skipping the shocking obstacles). Following Tough Mudder, however, I will most certainly be heading back to my own Body Beast concoction with just moderate cardio exercise thrown in, and will go take all of my required tests, and see the required specialists to make sure I am cleared to continue!

As always, if you have any questions regarding any of this, please let me know or comment below. You may have a question regarding feeling something similar, so it never hurts to ask, and it NEVER hurts to get things checked out, so if you have any problems, go see your doctor.

I will keep everyone updated as the rest of this story unfolds, so stay tuned!

Quote of the day:
"There is little you can learn from doing nothing."
~ Zig Ziglar

Check out my new Website: tylerrobbinsfitness.com

Your Numbers

We live in a society that is completely obsessed with numbers such as; finances, sports, weather, etc. Part of the reason why we, as a society, are so focused on numbers is because of their direct tie to results. Unfortunately, in many cases, people focus too much on certain numbers when it comes to their health and fitness. Below, I have created a list of common numbers related to a healthy lifestyle that I can discuss in further detail so that you can not only learn a thing or two, but also realize that some numbers really aren't all that important to stress over!

Blood Pressure

This is definitely an important number. People with high blood pressure carry higher risks for certain diseases such as heart disease and stroke. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada lists the following guidelines for your systolic and diastolic numbers:

Systolic - 120-129
Diastolic - 80-84

High Normal:
Systolic - 130-139
Diastolic - 85-89

High Blood Pressure:
Systolic - 140 and over
Diastolic - 90 and over

The good thing about high blood pressure is that it is (for the most part) entirely possible to lower your numbers with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Heart Rate

One of the biggest misconceptions out there today is the "fat burning zone". It baffles me to know that even to this day, there are still posters and signs plastered in gyms across the world that indicate heart rate zones that target fat burning.

Here is what is really happening. During your every day life and low-level activity, your body is meeting its energy requirements with (mostly) aerobic energy systems by burning adipose (fat). As your heart rate climbs during an intense exercise session, you begin to transition into burning more sugars (muscle glycogen) but still maintain burning adipose. By aiming to keep your heart rate in a specific 'zone' is just short-changing yourself and your workout will be less efficient than if you were to push yourself. So in short, disregard 'heart rate zone' posters and push yourself to work hard!

The heart rate number you should pay attention to is your resting heart rate. You can take this first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. The fitter you become, the lower your resting heart rate will fall, which is good for you in the long run as it means your heart doesn't have to work as hard over a lifetime.

A "normal" resting heart rate should ideally be between 60-80 beats per minute, although you should discuss with your doctor what is right for you as heart rates will vary between people based on age, genetics, and other health conditions. I have heard that during his peak, Lance Armstrong's resting heart rate was between 32 and 34 beats per minute!!!


Another number that really does not carry a whole lot of meaning. Actually, let me rephrase that. If you are overweight, chances are, you know it. We should all know by now what a respectable weight range is based on your height. Having said that, you should really try and avoid weighing yourself every day as your body will usually fluctuate between a few pounds based on what you ate during the day,  your hydration level, etc.

Also, if you are just starting a new exercise program, and your muscles are even a little bit sore, your weight may actually go up a bit as water retention in your muscles is part of the repair and remodeling process.

Ideally, you should aim to get your weight into a fairly respectable range, keeping in mind that muscle weighs more than fat (relative to size), and then stay in that ballpark. Do not stress over a few pounds difference here and there from day to day or week to week!

Body Mass Index (BMI)

This can be a reliable scale for the average person to slap them in the back of the head and get their butts moving, but it is not reliable for all. This is a simple equation basing your 'ideal' number on an equation using your weight and height.

As soon as the BMI scale attempts to try and class athletes or bodybuilders - that are even slightly muscular - into a category, is where you run into problems. Remember that muscle weighs more than fat, so as you start to get fit and healthy and pack on some muscle mass,  your BMI is going to cry aloud. Anything over 25 is considered overweight!

Don't kid yourself here, however, don't calculate your number and then try and convince yourself that you are fit when you really aren't!

Body Fat Percentage

I will be the first to admit that I have never tested my own body fat percentage. Why? Because I feel there is no need for such a useless number. I have been a skinny guy (lucky) my whole life, so my body fat probably hasn't changed much over the span of my life. So what's the point? So I can brag to other people? Nah!

Not only that, but majority of body fat tests out there are terribly inaccurate. The only way you could make some of the tests reliable is to test yourself on the same day, after eating the same foods, and drinking the same amount of water, and blah, blah, blah.

There is one advantage to testing your body fat percentage however. If you an individual who needs to lose even a fair bit of weight, this can be a great motivational tool for you to see this number drop. Again, keep in mind that you would need to measure yourself with the same instrument, under as similar circumstance as possible every time, and also remind yourself that there is a possibility of a +/- %5 variation on each test!


These numbers can be the most telling. Again, remember that muscle weighs more than fat, so if you are exercising and eating right but your scale hasn't budged, you may still be making progress! I recommend keeping track of your numbers that are relevant to your goals. For example, if you are trying to slim down and lose weight, take measurements of your waistline, hips, legs, and butt before and after many weeks' work to see the change. If, on the other hand, you are looking to put on some muscle, you may want to measure the size of your biceps and chest.

Often times, you may start to notice your clothes are starting to feel looser - or tighter if you are trying to put on some muscle - so you may not even need a tape measure!


 There is a pretty close link with "calories in, calories out", but it is not an exact science. For the most part, we all need a specific number of calories to maintain, lose, or gain weight, but these numbers fluctuate between people due to genetics, age, metabolisms, activity levels, etc.

You can definitely experience some success by ingesting fewer calories, but the key is making every single one of your calories count. For example, you are far better off eating 200 calories of fruits and vegetables rather than 200 calories of candy. Not only will 200 calories of fruits and vegetables fill you up more, but they contain more useful 'stuff' in them such as vitamins and minerals.

To learn more about calories, you can read one of my past blogs here.

Photo - http://www.anthonyarroyodotcom.com/theabletoncookbook/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Weighing-Scales-1.jpg

Designing an Aerobic Endurance Program

Designing an aerobic endurance training program is similar to designing other fitness programs for any individual. We can break down training criteria into different subcategories that can be focused on. For example, an aerobic training program should include the following variables: Exercise Mode, Training Frequency, Training Intensity, Exercise Duration, and Exercise Progression.

As with any training program, however, the program should be structured to the individual's needs. For example, one person may have a history of cycling, so their form or exercise economy does not need as much training. They may have been sedentary for months or years though, so more emphasis should be placed on aerobic conditioning.

On the other hand, an individual may be very active with a wide variety of exercises but does not have a lot of experience running, and they wish to run their first marathon. In this case, not as much attention would need to be placed on their conditioning like the example above, but more time and emphasis placed on their running form and efficiency.

Exercise Mode

Exercise mode refers to the specific activities an individual must train in to become better at their desired sport or event. Obviously, if one is to become a better runner, swimmer or cyclist, they would need to practice their desired event as that would be the ideal specificity training.

Having said that, there are numerous research studies that have been done showing the positive effect cross training can have on any athletic event. Cross training should try and involve as many of the desired body parts as possible though. For example, it would not be as effective for an athlete who is training for a cycling event to spend a lot of time on the bench press.

Training Frequency

Training frequency refers to the number of training sessions an individual would have in a set period of time (usually a week). Many different variables can factor into planning an individual's training frequency such as their current fitness level as the less trained an individual is, the more recovery days they would require.

Sport season also influences the training frequency. A seasoned cyclist for example who is participating in an upcoming event may taper their number of training sessions per week.

As with any training program, recovery days are just as important, if not more important than the working days. On recovery days, it is important for one to refuel their nutrient and hydration levels in order for their bodily systems and tissues to repair and recover. Studies have also shown an increase in performance after a rest or recovery period of a day or a few days, which is not all that surprising.

Training Intensity

For the most part, the longer a training session is, the less-intense it is and vice-versa. Our muscles consist of a combination of type 1 and type 2 muscle fibers. Type 1 fibers are more fatigue-resistant because their primary energy source is derived from aerobic metabolism, although they cannot create as much power as type 2 fibers can.

Type 2 muscle fibers are more intended for power and speed, although they do so by producing energy by means of anaerobic metabolism. As the intensity of any activity increases, the body begins to transition from mostly type 1 fiber recruitment to type 2, although this is never a black and white transition, there is always some time with overlap.

By training both of these muscle fibers and their subsequent energy systems by using aerobic exercise, you are able to increase the fatigue-resistance of the type 2 fibers by training them to be more aerobically efficient. By doing so, you improve your overall aerobic performance.

The trick to aerobic training is to not train too intensely because a training session would be cut too short, but to also not push the envelope too far, so to speak, as you would not be improving the efficiency of your energy systems.

To date, there are a few different techniques that an individual can use in order to monitor their level of effort that I have listed below.

Heart Rate

One of the most widely-used methods of monitoring exertion due to its close relation to oxygen consumption. Most individuals have used methods of calculating a heart rate zone based on their theoretical max heart rate (%MHR). This can be done by subtracting your age from 220 and then multiplying it by a certain percentage or percentages to get a range.

For example, for myself, since I am 26 years old, my %MHR would be:

220 - 26 = 194

85% x 194 = 165

Another heart rate calculation that is also widely-used due to its close proximity to %VO2Max is the Karvonen Method. This is done by first calculating your age-predicted max heart rate (220-age). You then subtract your resting heart rate from this number to get your heart rate reserve (HRR). You then take your HRR and multiply it by your desired exercise intensity and finally add your resting heart rate. Written out, for myself who wants to work at 85% intensity looks like this:

220 - 26 = 194

HRR = 194 - 52 (resting heart rate) = 142

85% intensity = (142 x 0.85) + 52 = 173 beats/minute

Exercise Duration

Exercise duration simply refers to the amount of time an exercise session lasts. As mentioned previously, the more intense an individual works, the shorter the duration will be.

For example, exercise that is conducted at an intensity above maximal lactate steady state (approx. 85% VO2 Max) will have a short duration of 20-30 mins. On the other hand, exercise that stays at a steady 70% of VO2 Max can last for an hour or more.

Exercise Progression

As with any type of physical training, aerobic exercise must also follow a progressive overload training style in order to continually challenge and therefore improve the body's performance.

Typically, exercise frequency, intensity, or duration or a combination of all three should be increased from week to week during a training block. Having said that, none of those three categories should be increased by more than 10% at any given time.

Once an individual has reached a sort of upper limit for a certain variable, you can then use the other 2 variables to continue progression. For example, if an individual only have 60 mins on any given day to train, they start at 30 mins of running, 4 days a week, with a 10% training increase each week, they will eventually reach their maximum of 60 mins sessions in a few weeks. You can then "cap" each session at 60 mins, but continue progression by increasing intensity.

-Tyler Robbins