What is Heart Rate Zone?

When you’re training, you want the most bang for your buck when it comes to improving your fitness and burning calories. Understanding your heart rate zone will help you figure out how to get that.

A wrist with a smart watch on it.

What are Heart Rate Zones?

You most likely already have a good understanding of what your heart rate is, and you’ve possibly already used it to measure your workout intensity, but just to recap: your heart rate your number of heart beats per minute (or BPM).

There are two ends of the heart rate scale - your resting heart rate, and your maximum heart rate. Between these two extremes, there are different ‘zones’, with each one having a different intensity and benefits. 

There are five different heart rate zones;

Zone 1

Also known as: the healthy heart rate zone

Percentage of your maximum heart rate: 50-60%

How it feels: Your healthy heart rate zone should feel very light, like getting off the sofa for a cuppa during an ad break. It’s a lower intensity, so you should be able to keep it up for a long time. 

Training benefit: boosts your recovery. 

Zone 2

Also known as: the fitness heart rate zone

Percentage of your maximum heart rate: 60-70%

How it feels: Your fitness heart rate zone should feel light, like your average warm-up or cool down. Again, it’s not super intense. 

Training benefit:  improved endurance and muscular fitness. 

Zone 3

Also known as: the aerobic heart rate zone (your body starts using oxygen to create energy).

Percentage of your maximum heart rate: 70-80%

How it feels: Exercising in the aerobic heart rate zone should feel moderately intense; you’ll be out of breath, but not dead on your feet. You’ll also be starting to feel the burn of lactic acid at this point. 

Training benefit: improved stamina and blood circulation. 

Zone 4

Also known as: the anaerobic zone (your body will be able to break down glucose for energy, without oxygen, easier).

Percentage of your maximum heart rate: 80-90%

How it feels: Exercising in the anaerobic heart rate zone will feel very intense - you won’t be able to speak or hold a conversation (except in some very short gasps!).

Training benefit: improved speed endurance, and better tolerance for higher levels of lactic acid. 

Zone 5

Also known as: the redline zone

Percentage of your maximum heart rate: 90-100%

How it feels: The redline heart rate zone is intense and will feel like the hardest workout you’ve ever done - you should only be able to continue for a minute or so at this pace, when doing interval training. 

Training benefit: this is the zone where you burn the most calories, alongside boosting your respiratory system. 

Why are Heart Rate Zones important? 

Sure, you can easily measure the impact a workout is having by just noting how tired you feel. But that’s a subjective thing for everyone - unlike heart rate zones. No matter what your resting heart rate is, heart rate zones provide an objective way to gauge the cardiovascular impact of a workout. In turn, knowing this means you can tailor your training regimes to take advantage of which zones you want to be in, and the benefits you can get out of being in that particular zone. 

How to Calculate Your Maximum Heart Rate

To know your own personal zones, one metric you need to know is your MHR, or maximum heart rate. To find your zones on your own, the first thing you’ll need to do is calculate your MHR, maximum heart rate. The calculation is simple: 208 - (0.7  x age) 

From there, knowing your heart rate zones is just a matter of multiplying your MHR number by the minimum or maximum percentages of each zone. 

Using Heart Rate Zones in Training

Despite what you might be thinking, higher doesn’t mean better when it comes to heart rate zone training. A good training regime will include work in all of the zones at different points, being more rounded as a result. 

If you’re wondering how heart rate zone training translates into an actual workout plan, racewalker Dave McGovern has a suggested weekly workout schedule: 

  • Monday: Rest day with light activity (zone 1)
  • Tuesday: Interval workout in zones 3 to 4. 10 minutes warmup at an easy pace, with intervals of 30 seconds sprinting followed by two minutes of recovery. Repeat 8 to 12 times, followed by a  10 minutes cooldown.
  • Wednesday: Recovery day with a workout in zone 2 for 30 to 45 minutes
  • Thursday: Interval workout in zones 3 and 4 with longer intervals of 8 minutes at a vigorous intensity and 2 minutes of recovery. Repeat three to four times
  • Friday: Recovery day with a workout in zone 2 for 30 to 45 minutes
  • Saturday: Steady-state workout in the aerobic zone 3 for 20 to 30 minutes after a warmup of 10 minutes
  • Sunday: Distance workout in zone 3

Conclusion

Though heart rate zone training might sound intimidating, working with your own heart rate zones will lead to a fitness plan that’s more varied, more personalized, and ultimately more rewarding. 

If you want to put your heart rate zones to a real test, why not sign up for one of the running events listed on our site?