Heart Rate Zones

How do I determine my resting heart rate?

The best way to measure your resting heart rate is to use a watch or a heart rate monitor before you get out of bed in the morning (and before your first cup of coffee, since caffeine stimulates the heart rate). Some athletes even sleep with their heart rate monitor strap on!

As you get fitter, your resting heart rate should gradually reduce (unlike your maximum heart rate, which falls slowly with age but is not much affected by fitness).

If you notice a blip up in your resting heart rate one morning, this is a sign of overtraining or impending illness.

What is my heart rate reserve or working heart rate? What is the Karvonen formula?

Your heart rate reserve is the gap between your resting heart rate and your maximum heart rate. For example, my maximum heart rate is 190bpm (four beats a minute higher than the rule of thumb based on my age predicts); and my resting heart rate is 48bpm. This means my heart rate reserve is:

HRR = 190 – 48 = 142 bpm.

To get the heart rate corresponding to the aerobic threshold, which is at 85% of my heart rate reserve, I have to add 85% of my heart rate reserve rate to my resting heart rate. So the heart rate corresponding to my aerobic threshold is estimated to be: AT = 48 + (0.85 x 142) = 169.

This way of calculating a heart rate zone is known as the Karvonen formula.

What are the heart rate zones?

Click here for a tool to estimate your own heart rate zones.

Zone What it does % of Heart Rate Reserve (Karvonen)
Long, slow runs, easy or recovery runs Training in this zone improves the ability of your heart
to pump blood and improve the muscles’ ability to utilize oxygen.  The body becomes more efficient at feeding the working muscles, and learns to metabolise fat as a source of fuel.
Aerobic zone or “target heart rate zone” Most effective for overall cardiovascular fitness. Increases
your cardio-respitory capacity: that is, the your ability to transport oxygenated blood to the muscle cells and carbon dioxide away from the cells.  Also effective for increasing overall muscle strength.
Anaerobic zone The point at which the body cannot remove lactic acid
as quickly as it is produced is called the lactate threshold or anaerobic threshold. It generally occurs at about 80-88% of the Heart Rate Reserve.
Training in this zone helps to increase the lactate threshold, which improves performance. Training in this zone is hard: your muscles are tired, your breathing is heavy.
VO2 max

“Red line zone”

You should only train in this zone if you re very fit, and only for very short periods of time. Lactic acid develops quickly as you are operating in oxygen debt to the muscles   The value of training in this zone is you can increase your fast twitch muscle fibers which increase speed. 90-100%

Does it matter where in the heart rate zone I train?

Yes. Training at particular heart rates in the zone will be more beneficial for you in terms of the impact on your body. Have a look at the heart rate training paces.

See also

12 Responses to Heart Rate Zones

  • […] your resting heart rate, your maximum heart rate does not vary much with your level of fitness and is more dependent on age […]

  • Eugene:

    I have calculated my maxHR using the formula; 220 – age = 192. i find on some runs that i have the capacity to go over 192 to about 198. would this then make my maxHR 198??

    • A. Rami:

      Eugene, the (220- age) formula is incorrect. Runners World [ http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/how-use-heart-rate-monitor?page=single ] developed a different formula to calculate the max HR for those who are unable to do a physical test: Max HR = 205 – (0.5 * your age).
      In your case, this would be 191. However, since you have observed 198, that (or higher) would be your max HR
      The best way to find your maximum HR is to do a test on a running track.
      Make sure you are rested and hydrated. Start with a slow warm up run of 1 mile. Then run 400 meters at a hard pace. Jog for 400 meters to recover. Repeat the hard 400 m run and jog. Then run 400 m a third time at full out pace. Check your heart rate at the end of the all-out run. This will be your max HR.

  • Richard:

    I’ve started running for the first time after a long time, but am a strong cyclist. I checked my heart rate log after the run and a couple of times during the run (cycle computer in pocket) and found I ran 24 minutes at about 183 average, with max observed 190. I see higher values running than on the bike and find it hard to run at low heart rate without feeling I need to walk instead. I guess my running is not so efficient at the moment. I kept quite constant pace but my heart rate crept up over the run.

    So it seems from your pages that wasn’t a good idea. I expect sore legs from it, so perhaps so. I should be aiming to train at 70 to 80% on my shorter runs/rides with recovery rides/runs or days out on the bike at 60 to 70%? (Couldn’t run for a day! Walk maybe!)

    How best to get my running so I can run at a lower rate without feeling the only way to do it is to start walking instead?

    There are so many zone systems, some based on Heart Rate Reserve, some on maximum only. I’ll go compare these with the ones Garmin came up with. I like with these that there are fewer zones and that they are quite clear.

  • joe:

    i just started my training with my HR. im finding that its difficult to stay in the desired HR zone and im not sure that im actually benefiting from running at such a slow pace (13:00/mile). is this just something in my head? i regularly run a 16:00 two mile (military Fitness test). am i actually going to improve my 2 mile time running this slow?

    • D:

      Yes, you will, it just takes time. Your heart will build capillaries at a slow rate. As this happens your heart will be able to do more with less effort. Mark allen the triathlete talks quite a lot about it on a few of his web pages. This is why professional endurance athletes like Lance Armstrong are able to exert high amounts of energy/speed at low heart rates for long periods of time. It’s tough to do it in the military because of the formation runs and god forbid you fall out of a company run. On the weekends go for a long slow walk/ run for a few hours keeping you heart in zone 2. Get a stationary bike and log some time on it for a 8-10 hours a week to save your knees (but again keep it in zone 2) . Also, keep track of your aerobic mile each month to monitor your progress. Essentially go run a mile at a consistent heart rate in zone 2. I use 135bpm and you will notice the progress. When you plateau, start working intervals (speed work) into your runs. It doesn’t take a lot of time to work your anaerobic system into shape, so give it 6 weeks than log more aerobic work. Hope this helps.

    • Jason:

      Hey Joe – I know it’s been a long time since you posted this, but thought I’d chime in. The short answer is yes, you will most definitely improve running at what feels to be an incredibly slow pace. It seems crazy that you need to run slow to go faster, but it’s true.

      Personally, I’ve found it really hard for my ego to run so slowly :) But over the past 3 years I’ve improved from a 7:52/mile 10K pace to a 7:20/mile *marathon* pace – and I’ve seen running and triathlete friends do similar things.

      Building an aerobic base is the single biggest thing you can do to improve at endurance sports, and you do that at relatively slow paces.

    • Alan:

      From your times, I can see that most if not all of your running has been at a high pace and you therefore lack the basic aerobic fitness. I’ve been there! I have found that when starting to run after long-term injuries where I have lost a lot of fitness, running at 70-80% HRR is such a slow pace that it means I lose running form and it is an effort to run so slowly. I would suggest that you work towards this by running as slowly as you can whilst still running properly (I struggle to run at slower than 10 min miling without landing heavily and losing form). It’s probably better at the moment to aim to run at a pace where you could carry on a conversation rather than at what a pulse meter dictates and as you get fitter don’t increase your speed rather breathe less heavily and work towards running at 70-80% of your heart rate reserve. By running at 70-80% in training after a break from running longer distances (5+ miles), I am currently making significant improvements to my 5K Park Run times so it does work!

  • When I started (after several years of running) training with a HR monitor, I was finally able to increase the efficiency of my workouts, i.e. I can achieve more in less time. And I am prety sure this is a great benefit for many of us these days.

  • alana:

    Every body is different. These numbers are good guidelines, but they might not fit every individual. Listen to your body and it will tell you if you are capable of more or should dial down. Ignoring a natural inclination to run faster will inhibit your progress, if not reverse it. Use these numbers as rough estimates, then gauge your workouts off of your body’s reactions.
    Don’t doubt your instincts nor sell yourself short!

  • Marilyn G:

    My triathlon coach calculated by aerobic training heart rate at 125 based on my Max HR of 179 and I think my age (52 at the time). I trained for 90 days focussed on aerobic training, with most runs at 125. I had to jog/walk most of the time to keep my heart rate at 125. Prior to this training I could run a half marathon in a 70.3 distance triathlon anywhere between 1:55 to 2:10 based on the conditions. I just did my first triathlon race after at least 90 days of the aerobic training and my half marathon time in the triathlon was 2:43, my slowest time ever at this distance. Is this what was suppose to happen? It appears to me I have gone backwards. Any advice or comments will be greatly appreciated.

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