Understanding how to use your target heart rate zones will help you get the most out of every workout. I know it sounds like a big task, but we break it down for you here.
WHAT IS HEART RATE ZONE TRAINING?
Heart rate zone training is exactly what it sounds like – keeping your heart rate within a specific range while doing an exercise. Training in each of the different heart rate zones will help you accomplish different goals.
WHAT ARE TARGET HEART RATE ZONES?
Your target heart rate zone reflects how fast your heart should be beating while you are performing an exercise. Using this method while training will help you understand exactly how hard you are working so you can make sure you’re getting the most out of each workout.
The best part is – your target heart rate will evolve with you as you make improvements. Your target heart rate will change depending on the activity you’re doing. For example, your target heart rate when running will be very different than your target heart rate doing strength training.
HOW DO I CALCULATE MY HEART RATE ZONES?
To calculate your heart rate zones, you must first figure out what your maximum heart rate is. There are so many different ‘generic formulas’ used to do this – so we’ve gone with a more detailed formula that takes more factors into consideration.
Max Heart Rate = 211 – 0.64 (Age)1
Each zone is defined by an upper and lower HR value that sets the intensity of that zone. The upper and lower limits are calculated as a percentage of your unique Max HR, as defined above.
HEART RATE ZONES CHART
HEART RATE ZONE CHART EXPLAINED
Zone 0: No effort, <50% of Max HR
In Zone 0, you’re not doing much movement. Things such as a slow walk, or normal daily activities should occur in Zone 0.
Zone 1: Very light effort, 50-60% of Max HR
In Zone 1, activities will feel like a breeze. In fact, many relaxation activities such as yoga or meditation will allow you to move your body, without adding any additional stress on yourself. Aim to keep your HR in Zone 1 on Relaxation days – ideally around 50% of your max HR.
Zone 2: Light Effort, 61-70% of Max HR
Zone 2 activities are easy enough that you could do them for a long time and talk to your friend while doing it. Think a long jog or bike ride. You’ll be burning mostly fat for fuel here, so you won’t place too much stress on your body.
Zone 3: Moderate Effort, 71-80% of Max HR
Ok, now it’s time to turn it up a bit. Zone 3 is where things start to feel tougher. You’re not uncomfortable, but it’s definitely no walk in the park and you might start to get breathless. You could only keep this effort up without breaks for about 30-45 minutes if you had to.
Zone 4: Hard Effort, 81-90% Max HR
This is where the magic happens. No really, you’ll likely be breathless, and your muscles will fatigue. But it’s worth it because you’re getting stronger and faster.
Zone 5: Max Effort, 91-100% of Max HR
Don’t worry, you won’t be here for long. You might feel like you’re dying but you aren’t. Pop in and out of Zone 5 during interval training, but make sure to mix in recovery intervals. Training in Zone 5 is intended for people with experience training and working out – this zone isn’t something to focus on if you’re just starting your fitness journey.
BENEFITS OF HEART RATE ZONE TRAINING
Performing activities in each of the outlined zones will not only allow you to build muscle and burn fat faster, but it also helps you become a well-rounded athlete. It also allows you to achieve specific fitness goals by targeting the zone that corresponds to your goals 3.
For example, if your goal is to build endurance to be able to run for longer, you should aim to do majority of your weekly training sessions for longer durations (30+ minutes) in Zone 2 and 3, with short interval bursts in Zone 4.
Using HR zones while training helps you monitor how hard you are working and challenges you to push yourself.
A typical one-hour workout might look like this: 10 minutes in the 50-60% target zone warming up and cooling down, 25 minutes at 60-70%, 17 minutes pushing a little more at 70-80%, 6 minutes going hard at 80-90% and 1-2 minutes of all-out intervals at 90-100%.
Tracking your workout heart rate can help you avoid pushing too hard by knowing when you’re overexerting yourself 4. It will also allow you to recover faster by ensuring you stay in the proper zone on active recovery days.
- Nes BM, Janszky I, Wisløff U, Støylen A, Karlsen T. Age-predicted maximal heart rate in healthy subjects: The HUNT fitness study. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013 Dec;23(6):697-704.
- Tanaka H, Monahan K, Seals D, et al. Age-predicted maximal heart rate revisited. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2001 Jan, 37 (1) 153–156.
- Scheid, J. & O’Donnell, E. (2019). REVISITING HEART RATE TARGET ZONES THROUGH THE LENS OF WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, 23 (3), 21-26.