If you’ve purchased a smart watch or looked into training plans lately, you might notice that many of them include heart rate details. Learning to utilize running heart rate zones can help add focus to your training.
What is running heart rate training?
Simply put, heart rate training uses your different heart rate zones to structure each run, as opposed to pace or speed.
Most runners dive into training with a focus on speed. We aim for a specific PR, run our intervals at X pace, and know our race pace down to the second.
However, putting such an emphasis on pace can be very limiting when it comes to training.
Utilizing heart rate training for running can help new and experienced runners alike focus on their body’s signals, avoid junk miles, set a purpose for each run, and avoid the burnout and overtraining that often comes with a new goal.
Running heart rate training involves classifying your runs based on the five different heart rate zones. Easy runs take place in zones 1 and 2, moderate efforts in zone 3, and harder, more intense workouts fall somewhere around zone 4.
Running Heart Rate Zones
Zone 1: 50-60% Maximum HR – very light
Zone 2: 60-70% Maximum HR – light
Zone 3: 70-80% Maximum HR – moderate
Zone 4: 80-90% Maximum HR – hard
Zone 5: 90-100% Maximum HR – maximum
How to calculate heart rate training zones
Being aware of the different running heart rate zones can be helpful for identifying the amount of effort your body is exerting on the run. But in order to calculate which heart rate zone you are in, you’ll need to know your maximum heart rate.
Maximum heart rate can be estimated using a very simple formula. To get an estimate of your maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220.
220 – age = maximum heart rate
For example, if you are 20 years old, your maximum heart rate can be calculated: 220 – 20 = 200. If you are 50 years old, you can calculate yours in the same way: 220 – 50 = 170.
However, while estimating your maximum heart rate might be relatively straightforward, but it doesn’t do runners any good if they don’t know how to use it.
What heart rate zone should you run in?
Once you know your maximum heart rate, you can get to work using it to figure out your individual running heart rate zones.
Depending on your training goals, every runner will spend a different amount of time in each heart rate zone.
In general, easy efforts usually fall somewhere in zones 1 or 2. Runners training for long distance events such as a half or full marathon will probably spend their long training runs in this zone.
When you’re really wanting to push the pace or fit in a tough workout, aim to keep your heart rate somewhere in zone 3 or 4.
Spending a lot of time training in heart rate zone 5 can quickly become unhealthy. In zone 5, your heart is pumping and body is working at maximum capacity – meaning that lactic acid can quickly build up in your blood.
If you find that your heart rate is abnormally high on easy runs, it might be your body’s way of telling you that you are overtraining. Ease things up to try and determine if you might be running too much mileage, too frequently, not recovering properly, too stressed, or coming down with an illness.
Related: How Many Miles Should You Run?
Running Heart Rate Zone Chart
The chart below shows your target heart rate based on age and an estimated maximum heart rate. The American Heart Association recommends that beginners target about 50 – 75% of their maximum heart rate during exercise such as running.
As you become more advanced, your can target the upper end of this range, or even closer to 85% of your maximum heart rate for harder efforts. For easy, regular training runs, the target heart rate zone here reflects zones 1 – 3.
|Age||Maximum Heart Rate||Target Heart Rate|
|20||200||100 – 150|
|25||195||97 – 146|
|30||190||95 – 143|
|35||185||93 – 139|
|40||180||90 – 135|
|45||175||87 – 131|
|50||170||85 – 128|
|55||165||83 – 124|
|60||160||80 – 120|
|65||155||77 – 116|
|70||150||75 – 113|
How to use heart rate zones in running
Knowing your own heart rate zones can really help increase the effectiveness of your training. In general, variety is key to progress. Regardless of your end training goal, try to avoid spending all of your runs in the same heart rate zone.
Decrease the intensity during easy runs and long runs to ensure you are spending most of your time in zones 1 – 3. When you have a workout or speed session planned, ramp up your efforts by targeting heart rate zones 3 – 4.
If you notice that you spend a few minutes in zone 5, that is okay – as long as it is brief. If you find yourself entering zone 5 frequently, decrease your intensity until your body adjusts and your endurance increases.
Using running heart rate training will vary for everyone. Many different factors can influence your average heart rate when running. Age, weather, fitness level and current stress level can all have an impact on your heart rate.
Use these running heart rate zones to help narrow your focus, target specific goals, and get the most out of every run.
Before you know it, your body will adapt and you’ll find yourself using less effort to achieve the same results as before.