Running Heart Rate Zones: 7 Tips for Training

Running Heart Rate Zones: 7 Tips for Training

How to determine workout effectiveness? How to check, if the training intensity is okay for a beginner? How can experienced athletes improve their performance? The answer is simple: track your heart rate during the workout. Pulse rate in running is an important indicator of exercise efficacy. Each training type is associated with a specific heart rate zone.

The heart rate can be used to monitor heart health and physical fitness. This physiological indicator of the normal heartbeat rhythm is widely used in sports practice.

It is believed that heart rate and pulse rate mean the same thing, but this is not entirely true.

Pulse rate - is the number of blood pulses in the arteries for a certain period, a measured oscillation of the vessel walls.

Heart rate - is the number of heart beats for the same period.

In a healthy adult person in a calm state, the heart rate is equal to the pulse rate. The pulse is measured by the number of beats per minute. The easiest way to do a manual measurement with a stopwatch is to simply hold your finger at the carotid artery.

The heart rate depends on many factors and can vary significantly for various reasons. There are certain numerical limits, and any significant limit overrunning is considered pathological and can cause cardiovascular system diseases.

Like many indicators in our body, the heart rate is individual. In an untrained athlete, even intense walking will raise the heart rate to 130 beats per minute (BPM), while the heart rate of a trained runner in this case won’t exceed 100 BPM. Therefore, heart rate zone calculations are based not on some fixed number of heart beats, but on the percentage from the maximum heart rate (HRMAX).

how to calculate your hr max?

HRMAX is the largest number of cardiac contractions per minute reached at the limit of the body's capacity during intense training. This is the highest number of beats per minute that your heart can perform under maximum load.

The general formula for HRMAX is 220 minus your age. Updated formula is 214 - (0.8 x age) for men and 209 - (0.9 x age) for women. However, the most informative answer can be obtained in a laboratory.

Knowing your own HRMAX, you can calculate your heart rate zones and build every single running workout to keep your heart rate under control. Many training plans are created considering heart rate zones, not the actual running speed. This mostly applies to beginners. Training heart zones are calculated individually, based on individual characteristics of the body.

A high-quality training plan should include specific workouts focused on: building physical endurance, developing speed and strength qualities, recovery and pre-competition periods.

5 training heart rate zones

Running heart rate zones

There are various heart rate zones between resting and maximum heart rates. They indicate workout intensity and its characteristics. Specialists distinguish five training heart zones. Each subsequent zone differs from the previous one by 10% of the HRMAX.

Training in each of the zones has its advantages. There are no single official names for these zones, but there all have clear characteristics and can be easily found in sports devices due to color distinction. It helps non-professional athletes make their heart rate control easier.

Very low intensity health zone (white)

It makes 50-60% of the HRMAX. The norm is 115-120 BPM. Working out in this zone improves overall physical endurance and fitness level, facilitates recovery and prepares for training in higher heart rate zones. Such a training is most comfortable and easy. This zone is best suited for beginners or people with a low fitness level.

Low intensity or fitness zone (blue)

It’s a heart rate zone within 60-70% of the HRMAX. The norm is 120-135 BPM. Training in this zone contributes to overall endurance increase. Studies show that training in this zone helps mobilize fats and transport fatty acids to muscles. It improves muscle fibers quality and increase capillaries density. Training in the second zone is an integral part of each runner's training program. During such type of training, 85% of fats, 10% of carbohydrates and 5% of proteins get burned. In comparison to the white zone, blue zone helps to speed up the calorie burn too. Blue zone training improves the cardiovascular and respiratory system condition.

Aerobic zone (green)

Aerobic zone is characterized by 70-80% of HRMAX. The normal rate is 135-150 BPM. This is the optimal zone for endurance training. Such type of running improves the aerobic capabilities of our body. It stimulates the development of a small capillaries network in the muscles, which allow more efficient delivery of oxygen. The number and size of blood vessels increases, so does the lungs volume. Aerobic zone improves the functional state of the respiratory system and helps to increase the heart size and strength. It leads to gradual decrease of resting heart rate. Training in this zone boosts the blood circulation efficiency in the heart and skeletal muscles. During a workout in this heart rate zone, lactic acid starts entering the bloodstream.

Anaerobic zone (yellow)

Anaerobic zone means 80-90% of HRMAX. The normal rate is 165-175 BPM. Training in this zone develops maximum efficiency and improves speed endurance. When the heart rate reaches 90% of the HRMAX, the body will experience lack of oxygen carried by the blood, which is necessary for oxidative reactions. It makes cells go into anoxic or anaerobic regime. The body almost don’t burn fats in this zone but utilizes carbohydrates to generate energy.

The by-product of anaerobic metabolism is lactic acid. It causes a rapid feeling of muscle fatigue, so long workouts in anaerobic zone are hardly possible. This is a short-term high-intensity load. During training in this heart rate zone, the indicator of maximum oxygen consumption improves. It means the muscle fibers “acidification” will come later. The athlete’s endurance significantly increases.

Maximum heart rate zone (red)

It is characterized by 90-100% of HRMAX. The norm is 175-185 BPM. Workouts in HRMAX zone help to show best performance. As soon as your heart rate becomes close to 100% HRMAX, you enter the maximum load zone. The organism works at the limit, spending all available reserves and buffer substances, while the respiratory system and cardiovascular system work with the greatest possible efficiency. Lactic acid will accumulate in the blood, and after a few minutes you will not be able to continue the session at this level of intensity. Such training is typical for professional athletes in the pre-competition period. For people who want to lose weight or simply improve their health, exposing themselves to such a stress is not only not useful, but also dangerous.


Do you want to know your maximum heart rate for running training? Use the calculator below to estimate your heart rate zones based on your maximum BPM.

Don’t know your HR MAX? Here you can calculate your maximum heart rate.

What is your maximum heart rate?

Maximum heart rate:

Zone 1 (50-60% of maximum)

Zone 2 (60-70% of maximum)

Zone 3 (70-80% of maximum)

Zone 4 (80-90% of maximum)

Zone 5 (90-100% of maximum)

7 Simple Tips for Heart Zone Training

  1. During the workout beginners should alternate between the first four heart rate zones.
  2. The warm-up is used to prepare the body for more serious physical efforts and should be carried out in the second (blue) heart rate zone.
  3. Restorative training after a high-intensity training should be completely carried out in the green heart rate zone.
  4. Regular heart rate monitoring will help not only to track recovery, but also avoid overtraining.
  5. Trained athletes with long-term experience should spend interval training tracking time, not the heart rate. This way it is easier to control the workout intensity. Nevertheless, heart rate is always considered as well.
  6. If you are new to running, do not train in the anaerobic zone at the initial stage. If you want to lose weight, alternate workouts in fitness and aerobic zones. If this is not enough for you and you want to improve endurance, then you can add anaerobic workouts to your schedule.
  7. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to explain the difference between an aerobic and anaerobic zone is the following: “If you can easily talk during a run, this is your aerobic zone. If you run so fast that you can’t take part in a conversation, then you run in the anaerobic zone.”

If you have a specific training purpose, focus on your heart rate indicators and try not to go overrun a certain heart rate zone. This approach helps distributing the entire training load between different periods based on your tasks and goals.

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