Heart Rate Training Zones

Have you ever been out running on a hot day and after pushing yourself to get to the top of a hill you feel your heart beating uncontrollably? Do you ever stop and wonder what is actually happening to your heart?

Your body is an extraordinary machine that is able to function at many different levels, and understanding what level or “zone” your body is working in can be very beneficial in your efforts to increase speed, endurance and ultimately performance.

Finding your optimal heart rate training zone is easy to do and contrary to popular belief doesn’t require the latest in running technology.  Start by subtracting your age from 220 (220 – age).  This number will give you an estimate of your maximum heart rate (MHR). Depending on what type of run you are doing, whether it is a long slow run or training at your anaerobic threshold, you will be training at different percentages of your maximum heart rate. A heart rate monitor is an excellent way to quickly find your heart rate at any given point during your training. If you do not have a monitor, no sweat! Another way of finding your heart rate is to count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by 6. For a more accurate reading count your pulse for 30 seconds and multiply by 2.  If you are a coach, this is an excellent way to quickly check how well your athletes are recovering between intervals.

What are your training zones?

photo credit: premiercoachingonline.com

Recovery Zone (65-75% of  MHR)- THE LONG RUN–This pace should feel comfortable and you should have no difficultly holding a conversation. In this zone your body is increasing endurance as well as strengthening your muscles and joints.  Fat is your primary fuel source is this zone.

Aerobic Zone (75-85% of MHR)- TRAINING RUN–Your body is most efficient in this zone.  Training in this zone increases your cardio-respiratory fitness as well as overall muscular strength and endurance.

Anaerobic Zone (85-95% of MHR)TEMPO RUN-– In this zone your body finds its lactate threshold. It is no longer able to remove lactic acid as quickly as it is being produced. By training in this zone your body is able to increase its threshold allowing you to work harder for longer periods without fatigue.

VO2 max (95-100% of MHR).  In this zone, you are training your fast twitch muscle fibres and developing speed. These should be fast short bursts as your body is rapidly producing lactic acid that it can not remove. 


A heart rate monitor can be a great addition to your workout routine because it allows you to see just what zone you are training in. This external feedback can help you stay true to each workout’s objectives. For example, you can see if you are close to your lactate threshold during a tempo run or if you are actually in your recovery zone and not pushing into the aerobic zone.

There are many different types of heart rate monitors out there; from chest straps that display your heart rate on a watch to ones designed into sports bras.  Some even offer a feature that allows you to upload your activity to your computer and track your progress. The price range for these devices range anywhere from $70 – $300.  Be sure to do your research to find the monitor that best suits your needs.

Being aware of your target heart rate and specific training zones can help you avoid overtraining and may increase your performance and physical fitness!

About the Author: Sarah McIntosh is a Personal Trainer at Elite Personal Training Studio in London, ON and a proud Kinesiology graduate of the University of Western Ontario.  She has taken her love of running to a new level and is now training to compete in triathlons. She also enjoys rock climbing, camping and baking, not all at the same time.  


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