In the simplest terms, heart rate training zones allow you to gauge and monitor how hard you're training.
In this beginner's guide to heart training zones, we will show you how to find your different zones, how to use them, and where you should be spending the majority of your time.
There are many ways to monitor your heart while training, but the simplest is to get a basic heart rate monitor chest strap and wear it during your runs.
The Five Heart Rate Training Zones
There are five heart rate training zones, based on a percentage of your maximum heart rate.
- Zone 1 - 50-60% of max
- Zone 2 - 60-70% of max
- Zone 3 - 70-80% of max
- Zone 4 - 80-90% of max
- Zone 5 - 90-100% of max
How To Find Your Maximum Heart Rate
The simplest formula for finding your max heart rate is to simply subtract your age from 220.
So if you are 30 your max heart rate is 190 (220 - 30 = 190).
This will be fairly accurate for a good selection of the population. This method is called the Fox Formula.
Believe it or not, there are 6 different formulas for finding your maximum heart rate. We won't go into depth on that here (that's for another article next month).
If you are just getting started, the Fox formula is good enough.
How To Use The Training Zones
Variety is the spice of life, and there are many ways to get it.
One way is a simple linear plan. For instance, in weeks one and two you could train 5 days, and spend 4 of them in zone 2, with the fifth day being a sprint training day that puts you at or near zone 5.
Weeks three and four could be 3 days in zone 2, and 2 days in zone 5.
This progression could continue until you need a deload week.
You could also take a conjugate approach.
In this method the training would periodize within the week and variation would come week to week.
So, week one could be two zone 2 days, 2 zone 5 days.
Week two could be one long zone 2 day, one zone 5 day, and one zone 4 day.
There are lots of programs out there to find.
Why You Should Be Spending Loads of Time In Zone 2
Zone 2 is the aerobic zone.
It's important for giving you a solid aerobic base for your endurance training, as well as just general health.
This is the zone in which your body becomes better at oxidizing fat, muscular endurance increases, and you increase the density of capillaries and mitochondria.
This is essential for anyone looking to get into endurance training or endurance sports, as well as just living a long and healthy life.
But this zone 2 training is not sexy. It's boring, slow work, but it pays off big later.
If you've never trained intentionally in zone 2, you will be surprised at how much you need to slow down. It sucks, but do it anyway.
If all you can manage is a 10 minute mile while staying in zone 2, again, do it! Over time that 10 minute pace will decrease to 9, then 8, and so on.
This is your body getting more efficient and your fitness level increasing.
Heart rate zone training is a great way to put some parameters and metrics around your training. It gives you concrete numbers to target and you get to see and measure progress.
Give it a shot, and don't forget to spend a shit load of time in zone 2.