Heart rate zones, or running HR zones, are a way to monitor how hard you’re training. Running heart rate is split into 5 heart rate zones based on the intensity of training with regard to your maximum heart rate.
An effective running plan will include different types of workouts with varying frequency, duration and intensity spaced out so that you have time to recover. This means that some workouts should be short and intense, some long and light, some can even be long and tough. It’s the variety that makes your running training effective.
Your heart rate is one of the best indicators of how hard your body is working during a workout.
- Frequency is easy to understand: it’s how many times you exercise per period of time, for example per week.
- Duration is simple too: it’s how long you exercise at a time, usually counted in minutes.
- Intensity is a bit more complicated – and that’s where the heart rate zones come in. Your heart rate is one of the best indicators of how hard your body is working during a workout.
Unlike a purely subjective evaluation of intensity, your heart rate is a number you can measure, just like frequency and duration.
What are heart rate zones?
We all have a personal resting heart rate, “a minimum heart rate” , and a maximum heart rate. And between these values are different heart rate zones that correspond to training intensity and training benefit.
There are different ways to specify your heart rate zones. One simple way is to define them as percentages of your maximum heart rate, and that’s what we’ll focus on in this introduction.
Heart rate zones can be defined as percentages of your maximum heart rate.
Five heart rate zones
There are five different zones, 1–5, and your training plan can include workouts in all these five zones.
Below is a breakdown of what each heart rate zone means and what the benefits of training in that heart rate zone are.
Heart rate zone 1: 50–60% of HRmax
This is the very low intensity zone. Training at this intensity will boost your recovery and get you ready to train in the higher heart rate zones.
To train at this intensity, pick sports during which you can easily control your heart rate, such as walking or cycling.
Heart rate zone 2: 60–70% of HRmax
Exercising in heart rate zone 2 feels light and you should be able to go on for a long time at this intensity.
This is the zone that improves your general endurance: your body will get better at oxidizing – burning – fat and your muscular fitness will increase along with your capillary density.
Training in heart rate zone 2 is an essential part of every runner’s program. Keep at it and you’ll reap the benefits later.
Heart rate zone 3: 70–80% of HRmax
Running in heart rate zone 3 is especially effective for improving the efficiency of blood circulation in the heart and skeletal muscles. This is the zone in which that pesky lactic acid starts building up in your bloodstream.
Training in this HR zone will make moderate efforts easier and improve your efficiency.
Heart rate zone 4: 80–90% of HRmax
Heart rate zone 4 is where the going gets tough. You’ll be breathing hard and running aerobically.
If you train at this intensity, you’ll improve your speed endurance. Your body will get better at using carbohydrates for energy and you’ll be able to withstand higher levels of lactic acid in your blood for longer.
Heart rate zone 5: 90–100% of HRmax
Heart rate zone 5 is your maximal effort. Your heart and your blood and respiratory system will be working at their maximal capacity. Lactic acid will build up in your blood and after a few minutes you won’t be able to continue at this intensity.
If you’re just starting out or have only been training for some time, you probably won’t have to train at this intensity. If you’re a professional athlete, look into incorporating interval training into your training plan for peak performance.
Calculate your personal heart rate zones
Do you know your maximum heart rate? Use the calculator below to estimate your heart rate zones based on your maximum heart rate.
Don’t know your HRmax? Read more about calculating your maximum heart rate.
How to use heart rate zones to improve your running
Variety is key if you want to become a better runner so mix different workouts and vary the duration of your training sessions.
Don’t get stuck running at the same intensity and the same distance every time. Create a routine where you run in all five heart rate zones.
If you’re looking for a running plan, check out the Polar Running Program. It’s meant for anyone training for a 5K, a 10K, half-marathon or marathon. With this personalized training plan you don’t have to think about when or how to train, you can focus on what’s important – running.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.