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Heart Rate Zones

Different heart rate zones are useful for different aspects of training. Zones are calculated using your maximum heart rate.

Zone 1 - Low Intensity zone: 50% - 60% of max

Fun, comfortable pace with cardiovascular benefits and some fat burning. Good for beginners or people who haven't exercised in a while.

Zone 2 - Weight Control zone: 60% - 70% of max

65% of calories burned are fat. More intensity in this zone strengthens your heart and works with Zone 1 in building a good solid cardiovascular base. At least one day per week you should work out in this zone to recover from a relatively hard workout in the aerobic zone (next) or higher.

Zone 3 - Aerobic zone: 70% - 80% of max

Progressively more intense, yet not exhausting. Look for improved breathing and blood circulation. Great zone for fat burning, muscle strengthening, confidence-building, and general fitness. 45% of calories burned in this zone are from fat. More fat is actually burned in this zone because the total number of calories is greater, so this is the best zone for weight loss.

Zone 4 - Anaerobic zone: 80% - 90% of max

Improves endurance and general fitness level. Pushes your anaerobic threshold (fat-burning zone) higher, allowing for a more efficient use of fat as an energy source at higher intensities. Do workouts in this zone in short spurts on only 2 - 3 days per week.

Zone 5 - Maximal zone: 90% - 100% of max

Also known as "redline training". Improves competitive athletic performance. In this zone, you're are at a high risk for injury, so it's safe to stay away from redline training unless you're a competitive athlete.

Zone Zone name % of Max HR Benefit
1 Low intensity 50%-60% Good for beginners, builds cardio foundation
2 Weight control 60%-70% Easy, burns lots of fat, good for recovery
3 Aerobic 70%-80% Improves cardio strength, burns highest total fat
4 Anaerobic 80%-90% Improves endurance, work harder for longer
5 Maximal 90%-100% Improves athletic performance

You can use this chart for quick reference until you are familiar with all the different zones. If you don't know your max, you can download free calculators at the bottom of this page which will help you determine your max and your zones.

Heart rate and exercise

There is a direct correlation between your effort and your heart rate. As you run (bike, swim, etc) harder, your heart rate will increase in an almost direct proportion to your exertion intensity. As you slow down, your heart rate will drop.

Knowing which heart rate zone you're in will make your workouts more efficient. In addition, you may find that you're working too hard for the goal you want to achieve. I see many people in the gym and on the street killing themselves when all they want to do is lose weight. Those people should be in Zone 2 or Zone 3, but they're obviously much higher during their workouts. This puts them at a much greater risk of injury which can deter them from exercising again.

You may see people taking their pulse at their neck or wrist to measure their heart rate, but this is usually a highly inaccurate way to measure heart rate. Using a heart rate monitor is the most accurate way to tell which zone you're in at any time during a workout. In addition, there are heart rate monitors which can record your workout and then can be downloaded into your computer for comparison with other workouts of a similar nature. For about the same price as a pair of good running shoes, you can buy a good heart rate monitor. On top of that, your monitor should last for years, unlike your shoes. It's the most worthwhile investment you can make for your fitness routine.

Heart rate and health

When I first started using my heart rate monitor, I wore it all day to see which activities raised and which lowered my heart rate. Deep breathing exercises, stretching, lying down all lowered my heart rate significantly. If you keep well-hydrated, you will also notice that your heart rate stays lower. So you can use your heart rate monitor for relaxation as well as for exercise.

One of the best indicators of health is tracking your resting heart rate. This is taken just as you wake up (after you go to the bathroom) and are still lying in bed. As your fitness level increases, your resting heart rate will go down. Many people measure their resting heart rate every day to see how they're doing. If you're overtraining or coming down with a cold, your resting heart rate will jump up a few beats per minute and you know to take it easy that day.

Another measure of health is your recovery heart rate. This is best measured after the same type of workout under the same conditions. For example, if you run four miles for your workout and are at the same intensity level at the end of each workout, say 70% of your max, look at your monitor just as you stop running. Then look at it one or two minutes later. The first heart rate minus the second is your recovery heart rate. As your fitness level increases, you will see that your recovery rate will also increase because your body is getting used to that workout. Make sure to keep the measurements as consistent to each other as possible. Always measure one minute after stopping if that's the measurement you use. If you usually slow down a little before you stop and then one day you have a big burst of speed at the end of your run, you'll see that your recovery is not as fast, so compare equivalent exercises.

A heart rate monitor can also keep you motivated because they're fun "toys" to use with your workouts, because they can help track your workout efficiency (especially with download capabilities), and because they often tell you not to work so hard and keep you from getting overtrained and/or injured. You can use your monitor to make your workouts creative.

Some creative programs include:
Fartleks, in which you sprint for a short distance and then slow down to a lower zone before sprinting again.
Criss-cross training is similar, but you set your monitor to beep at a set level at the top of one zone, say Zone 3 and at the bottom of another, say Zone 2. You run hard until you reach the "ceiling" and your monitor beeps. Then slow down until you reach your "floor" and then run hard again, repeating as often as desired.
Another exercise is to try to keep your heart rate at one number as long as you can. This helps you increase your ability to control your heart rate.

Heart rate and life

Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. It is the engine that drives you through the day. People spend lots of money and take lots of time to make sure that the engines in their cars are running smoothly -- why not do the same for your heart? It's no secret that heart disease is the leading cause of death and much of that can be prevented with good nutrition and well-monitored exercise. Just as you have "dummy lights" which turn on if your car is too low on oil or is overheating, a heart rate monitor can be set to beep if you're working too hard, or not hard enough. As your fitness level increases, you'll see your heart become stronger over a few weeks time. Your monitor will show you how well you're doing in each of your zones.

As you exercise more consistently, keep track of your blood pressure as well. Some drug stores have a machine you can use for free. It's another great indicator of your heart's strength. Keeping track of your cholesterol levels and decreasing saturated fat intake will also help your heart health.

Heart rate monitoring

Think of how many pieces of exercise equipment you have used in your life, from good running shoes to the most expensive treadmill. A good heart rate monitor counts among the most important pieces of exercise equipment you can ever own.

Heart rate monitors can help you:

* Get a precise measurement of your exercise intensity.
* Get immediate feedback on how you're doing.
* Train at your individual ideal pace.
* Monitor and measure your progress.
* Motivate you to progress even further.
* Maximize exercise efficiency and save time.
* Add objectivity to your workouts.
* Evaluate your performance and adjust your training accordingly.
* Know when to back off due to overtraining or onset of illness.

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