Find out what heart rate zones are and how to calculate yours.
Heart rate zones, or HR zones, are an important metric to indicate the intensity of a workout. In this guide we will go over the details of HR zones and how to calculate yours.
What are heart rate zones?
Your heart rate indicates how intensive a sports activity is and how hard your body has to work to keep it up. Hence, wearing a heart rate monitor is increasingly common. Most wearables, like running watches, nowadays have a heart rate monitor built in, with which you can keep track of exactly what your heart rate is during exercise and often also in which HR zone you are. Some wearables will give you directions when you’re not in the right heart rate zone, so you can slow down (or go the extra mile).
So, heart rate zones are basically a general indication of the effort you are putting in a workout.
What do the zones mean?
There are 5 heart rate zones. They are defined between 50 and 100% of your maximum heart rate.
Zone 1: 50-60% of your max HR
Exercising in HR zone 1 should feel easy and you should be able to keep it up for a long time.
It should help to improve your overall health and metabolism and it helps with recovery after a more intense workout.
It is recommended as a basic training for beginners and it can stimulate weight loss.
Exercises that are performed in heart rate zone 1 are for example walking or leisurely cycling.
Zone 2: 60-70% of your max HR
Working out in HR zone 2 should feel comfortable and you should be able to keep it up for a long time.
It improves your endurance and it helps with recovery after a more intense workout.
It is recommended for a longer training or for repeated shorter exercises. Exercising in zone 2 can also stimulate weight loss.
Exercises that are performed in heart rate zone 2 are for example long distance running, rowing or cycling.
Zone 3: 70-80% of your max HR
Working out in HR zone 3 should feel comfortable and you should be able to keep it up for a while. Most exercises in HR zone 3 will take 10 minutes to an hour.
While you are working out in zone 3, you will feel some slight muscle fatigue after a while. You should have no problem with breathing or talking.
It improves your aerobic fitness and it is recommended for everybody who is doing some moderately longer exercises.
Exercises that are performed in heart rate zone 3 are for example running, rowing or cycling.
Zone 4: 80-90% of your max HR
Exercising in HR zone 4 should feel more demanding, but you should be able to keep it up for a few minutes. Most exercises in HR zone 4 will take 2 to 10 minutes.
While you are working out in zone 4, you will feel some muscle fatigue after a while. Talking and breathing is more difficult, but you should never feel out of breath.
It improves your maximum performance capacity and it is recommended for short exercises or intervals.
Interval training is for example performed in heart rate zone 4.
Zone 5: 90-100% of your max HR
Working out in HR zone 5 will feel very demanding and exhausting. Breathing feels very difficult and talking might be impossible.
Working out in HR zone 5 should only take a few minutes and should only be performed by a fit person.
It improves your maximum sprint speed and it is only recommended for very short exercises or intervals.
Most long distance training plans will not include a workout in heart rate zone 5, but it can be performed at the very end of an interval training just to see how far you can push it.
Calculate your heart rate zones
To calculate your heart rate zones, you will need to know your maximum heart rate. This is different for every person but generally you can take 220 minus your age.
- Maximum heart rate: 220 – age
- Zone 1: 50-60% of your max HR
- Zone 2: 60-70% of your max HR
- Zone 3: 70-80% of your max HR
- Zone 4: 80-90% of your max HR
- Zone 5: 90-100% of your max HR
For example if you are 22, your maximum heart rate will be around 198. If you are 53, your max HR will be around 167 beats per minute.
Again, this is a general calculation and it might differ from person to person. If you are in good shape, your maximum heart rate may be higher. It can also be lower if you are overweight. Some heart rate monitors and wearables will calculate a more precise maximum heart rate for you after you are doing some workouts.
When you know your maximum heart rate, you can calculate the 5 zones according to the percentages.
How to use these zones during workouts?
You can use these heart rate zones during your runs as well. If you have a smart or running watch with a heart rate monitor, it will most likely have a heart rate zone indicator as well. Use it during your runs to track how much effort you are putting in each workout.
Here are some heart rate zone recommendations for each type of workout:
- Warm up and cool down: Z1
- Short easy run: Z2 – Z3
- Long easy run or a slow run: Z2
- Interval: switch between Z1 or Z2 and Z3 or Z4
- Fartlek: switch between Z2 and Z4
- Sprint: Z5