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Fitness and Health

Fitness and health go hand in hand, and this section of our health library is devoted to exploring the relationship between these two very important aspects of life.

Heart Zone Training: Benefits, How to Calculate & More

No matter the fitness level, heart zone training proves to be an effective method to elevate health. Learn all about heart rate training zones to boost your fitness efforts!

Heart Zone Training: Benefits, How to Calculate & More


Just like pace, cadence, and resistance can measure the intensity of a workout, so too can heart rate training zones. What's more, heart zone training may be more effective at gauging effort and intensity of workouts because it is individualized. 

In this article, learn more about the benefits of monitoring target heart rate zones and how they can elevate exercise and improve results. 

What Is Heart Zone Training?

Heart zone training refers to hitting and closely monitoring heart rates during a workout for the purpose of fine-tuning the intensity of exercise.

First, heart rate is a measure of how many times a heart beats per minute (BPM) at rest. Normal, healthy levels fall between 60 and 100 times per minute. Heart rates increase during physical activity and other times of stress and tend to fall as someone improves health or loses weight, during some sicknesses, and in relaxed states.

Heart rate zones are ranges of heart rates that correspond to specific intensity levels that can dictate training. The most common zones are:

• Resting heart rate (60 - 100 bpm)
• Moderate heart rate (50-70% of max heart rate)
• Target heart rate (70-85% of max heart rate)
• Maximum heart rate (maximum number of BPM)

Another Zone Measure

More specific zone training involves the following table sourced by REI:

Zone 1 (easy/recovery) 55-65% HR max Minimal stress and exertion; zone might be used for an easy training day, warming up, or cooling down.
Zone 2 (aerobic/base) 65-75% HR max Used for long training sessions; can be sustained for many miles or long amount of time; can still chit chat a bit while working out
Zone 3 (tempo) 80-85% HR max Pushing the pace to build speed and strength; conversation is very difficult
Zone 4 (lactate threshold) 85-88% HR max Body is processing max amount of lactic acid; lactic acid builds up too quickly to be processed and fatigues muscles above this zone; helps the body develop efficiency
Zone 5 (anaerobic) 90% HR max and above Trains the neuromuscular system; body learns how to recruit additional muscle fibers and fire muscle more effectively; sprinting as fast as possible

Other measures of intensity could include pace, cadence, resistance, or rate of perceived exertion (RPE). But because heart rate zones and maximum heart rate are based on age and can include gender in more advanced prediction equations, it is more individualized than other measures and therefore, generally more effective.

Example of Heart Zone Training

In practice, heart zone training would look like determining max heart rate and corresponding heart rate zones, usually dictated by multiplying max heart rate by certain percentages like 65 -75% or 75 - 85%, etc (see below on how to calculate). 

Next, some sort of heart rate monitoring device is needed to evaluate performance or in other words, hitting the heart rate zones in BPM.

Then, exercise execution (i.e. running, cycling, strength training) can be modified to hit or remain within a certain heart rate zone.

The main purpose of heart rate zone monitoring is to create effective training plans. For example, someone looking to burn fat would need to aim to train at about 70-80% of their max heart rate during a workout or for intervals of exercise. Conversely, lower target heart rate zones like 50-65% can be effective for easy or rest day activities to ensure proper workout recovery.

How to Calculate Your Target Heart Rate Zone

Calculating target heart rate zones begins with determining max heart rate with the equation:

• Subtracting your age from 220 (220 - age)

Thus, a 40-year old's max heart rate would be:

• 220 - 40 = 180 BPM

This means the max times their heart can beat in one minute is 180 times. From there, target heart rate zones are calculated by multiplying the max heart rate by percentage zones. 

To determine their moderate heart rate zone, multiply 180 by 0.50 and 0.70 to calculate the range.

• 180 X 0.50 = 90 bpm
• 180 X 0.70 = 126 bpm

This person's moderate heart rate zone is 90 - 126 bpm. Thus, during their workout, they'd want to monitor their heart rate using a device such as a heart rate monitor or Smart Watch to evaluate whether it remains within that zone.

To determine their target heart rate zone, they would multiply 180 by 0.70 and 0.85, respectively.

Tools to Measure Heart Rate Zones

There are a variety of tools that measure heart rate during exercise, activities of daily living and at rest- some much fancier than others. However, even the most basic tool can provide valuable information. Here are the most common ways to track heart rate:

Pulse: The cheapest of all the ways includes using a finger to measure pulse. Placing a finger over the pulse point on the neck, count the number of “thumps” for 60 seconds and that number is the heart rate. This is the least precise measure as human error is common.

Wrist monitors: Very common since the inception of FitBit and the Smart Watch, wristbands can record pulse all day long. They utilize certain technology that accurately tracks how often the heart is beating throughout the entire day. Often, these can also measure daily steps, distance of workouts, calories burned, and floors climbed.

Chest straps: The most reliable of all the tools is the chest strap, worn around the chest near the heart. Usually, these devices wirelessly send information to a compatible device and can therefore provide a more holistic summary of the entire workout. Furthermore, some are waterproof and can be worn during swimming unlike many watches.

Benefits & Risks of Heart Zone Training

The main purpose of heart-rate-based zone training is to work the aerobic system sufficiently without completely taxing skeletal and muscular systems. 

Although this type of training offers numerous benefits/pros, there are of course a few risks/cons as well. Take a look!

Benefits/Pros

• Training at specific intensity zones
• Simple exercise programming
• Fairly easy to monitor with a device
• Practice translates well on race or competition days
• Easier to enter the fat-burning zone with close monitoring
• Target zones can be easily adjusted for external factors like hot and humid weather
• More accurate than calories burned predictions

Risks/Cons

• Manual monitoring is prone to error
• Manual monitoring requires stopping exercise
• Certain sicknesses and/or medications lower one's max heart rate
• External factors like lack of sleep, stress, caffeine, dehydration, and hot and humid weather can affect max heart rate
• Heart rate max prediction equations are not as accurate as field or lab testing
• Heart rate monitoring can take away from being mindful during a workout
• Some people may become obsessive about hitting heart rate zones

The Final Word

Heart rate zone training is an effective programming and training method that utilizes heart rate zones as measurements of intensity. Depending on specificity, there are 4 to 5 zones based on percentages of one's max heart rate.

This type of training requires monitoring with manual monitoring being the most simple and heart rate monitors worn around the chest being most advanced and precise.

Many elite athletes utilize heart rate zones to program their workouts because of its effectiveness, deeming it an excellent way to attain fitness goals, burn fat, and most of all, train the heart accurately. 

References:

Bozicevic Z. Heart-Rate Training: Pros and Cons. Canadian Running Magazine. Published June 14, 2017. www.runningmagazine.ca/sections/training/heart-rate-training-pros-and-cons/

Marcin A. What's a Fat-Burning Heart Rate, and How's It Calculated? Published March 7, 2019. www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate

Mateo A. Could Heart Rate Training Be Your Secret to Getting Faster? Runner's World. Published January 15, 2021. www.runnersworld.com/beginner/a20812270/should-i-do-heart-rate-training/

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on March 26, 2021. Updated on March 31, 2021.

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