How Runners Use Heart Rate Zones and Why it is Important

3 min read Chris Zibutis

Chris Zibutis
Written by
Chris Zibutis
Head Running Coach - that one person on earth who loves interval runs 🥵

Your heart rate zones are one of the most useful indicators that tell you exactly how hard you are striving for excellent results. Combine your heart rate zone along with your pace, distance, and time, and you will know precisely how well you’re doing after each run. 

In this article, we dive into what heart rate zones are and how you can calculate yours.

What Are Heart Rate Zones?

Heart rate training involves using your heart rate to push your limits and improve your performance. 

Before we look at the heart rate zones, you should know how to determine your maximum heart rate. It is determined by subtracting your age from the number 220. Take your time to count it, and let’s see how to use it to your benefit.

There are 5 heart rate zones, including:

1. The Recovery Zone

This zone is 60% of your maximum heart rate. It’s relatively low in intensity, but it’s a great way to use up energy from your fat cells, especially if your goal is fat loss.

2. The Energy Efficient Zone

This is 70% of your maximum heart rate. It’s a great zone to be in for warming up or cooling down. It also helps build endurance. 

3. The Aerobic Zone

At 80–90% of your maximum heart rate, you’re working out like crazy in this zone! This zone is great for your cardiovascular system and oxygen efficiency. 

4. The Maximum Capacity (Anaerobic Zone)

This is 90–100% of your maximum heart rate. You can only stay in this zone for a short duration because it’s extremely intense. However, it’s an excellent zone to develop those fast-twitch muscle fibers and amp up your speed.

How to Calculate Your Heart Rate Zone Without a Watch

Calculating your heart rate zone is relatively easy:

  1. Start by measuring your heart rate by counting your pulse beats for 30 seconds. 
  2. Multiply this number by 2 to learn what your beats per minute number is. 
  3. Then, determine your max heart rate (220 – age). 

You can then divide your heart rate number by your max heart rate. Multiply this number by 100 to give you a percentage. From there, all you need to do is match the percentage to the heart rate zone. It will tell you how hard you’re working or have been working. 

Remember, your heart rate needs to be checked right after or in the middle of a run for it to end up with an accurate number. Once your body starts cooling down, your heart rate will drop, which won’t show you exactly how intense your run was.

Use Your Heart Rate Zone to Improve Your Performance

When you know what heart rate zone you fall in, you can determine how much harder you can push yourself without risking injury or overtraining. 

For instance, if your heart rate zone is in the Energy Efficient zone, you know you can increase your pace or distance by a small amount. Once you’ve increased your distance or pace, you can then determine which zone you fall in and whether or not you’re pushing yourself to your max.

You can also mix up your running sessions to target each of the 4 heart rate zones. It will help you improve your performance on all possible levels, making your cardiovascular system work that much more efficiently.

Key Takeaways

Heart rate zones allow you to determine how hard and intense you’re working during your run or workout. There are 5 zones you should be aware of, each that serve a specific purpose. From there, you can use these zones to help boost your performance and improve your running time or distance.

  • The 5 heart rate zones are the Recovery Zone, the Energy Efficient Zone, the Aerobic Zone, and the Maximum Capacity (Anaerobic) Zone.
  • To use the zones, you need to know your maximum heart rate, which can be determined by subtracting your age from 220.
  • Your heart rate zone can help you figure out how hard you are working versus how much harder you can push.
  • Your heart rate zone can also help you plan your training.

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