Here's a fact you may have known already - You can put different levels of effort to exercise. And here's something you instictively know, those different levels of effort have different effects on your fitness. Working out and tracking your heart rate zones is the best and with heart rate monitors appearing on more and more fitness trackers, the easiest way to make sure you're in the right level of effort into a session to achieve the result you're looking for.
That means working hard enough to make high intensity interval training ( HIIT) effective, or it could help new runners follow the easy, steady, tempo, and stride directions in a training plan.
Heart rate monitoring is one of the most useful features available on fitness trackers because it can provide an accurate picture of your overall fitness and how challenging your training sessions actually are!
The means planning your training around your heart rate can be an excellent way to ensure you're working as hard as you intend to each day, or even taking it a bit easier when you've planned some active recovery. To do that, however, you need to work out what your heart rate zones are and what each of them means.
How to Calculate Your Heart Rate Zones
There are different methods you can use to work out your training zones, but all of them require your max heart rate so let’s start with that. The simplest method of obtaining your max heart rate is to subtract your age from 220, and you may find your fitness tracker uses this method, but this isn’t especially accurate.
A better way to work out your max heart rate is to wear a heart rate monitor and push yourself to the limit. On a treadmill, start with a steady five to 10-minute warm-up, then run for three minutes at your maximum pace. Then take a three-minute rest and run another three minutes at your max. Use the heart rate peak in the second sprint as your max. Your fitness tracker may allow you to manually set your max heart rate if it’s significantly different to the 220 minus age formula.
Once you have your max you can work out your heart rate zones as a simple percentage of this – 60-70%, 70-80%, 80-90% and 90-100%.
What each heat rate zone means
there are four training zones to use based on your heart rate, which break down as below.
60-70%: The fat-burning zone. Easy training at a conversational pace. Good for building endurance through long workouts. The commonly matches the “easy” designation in running training plans.
70-80%: The aerobic zone. The most effective zone for improving cardiovascular fitness – building your stamina. This is the zone you’ll spend most time in during steady runs and resistance workouts.
80-90%: The anaerobic zone. You’ll be working at a fast pace and breathing hard. This zone improves your anaerobic capacity, increasing your lactate threshold (otherwise known as how long you can sustain this level of effort for). Aim for 80% and above during threshold training, tempo runs and the intervals of HIIT workouts.
90-100%: The VO2 max zone. Push yourself to the limit, working at sprinting (also known as stride) pace for short periods. If you’re relatively new to exercise, make sure to spend a couple of months training in the lower zones to build a good fitness base before considering pushing above 90%.
Some trackers will also have a fifth zone – 50-60% – which is for warm-ups, active recovery sessions or very easy beginner workouts.
Remember your heart rate is affected by a range of factors, including dehydration, altitude and even how much you’ve been working out in the days preceding your session. Listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard if the numbers don’t seem to match up to your effort on a given day.