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Running with heart rate zones

Heart Rate Zones | The Basics

Heart rate zones, or HR zones, are a way to monitor how hard you’re training. There are 5 heart rate zones based on the intensity of training with regard to your maximum heart rate.

An effective running plan or workout 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 workout regimen 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.

Heart rate zones are closely linked to your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds.

Five heart rate zones

There are five different heart rate zones, 1–5, and your training plan can (and should) include workouts in all 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
Hear rate zone 1, very light

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 a form of exercise that allows you to easily control your heart rate, such as walking or cycling.

Heart rate zone 2: 60–70% of HRmax
Heart rate zone 2, light

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 exercise program. Keep at it and you’ll reap the benefits later.

Heart rate zone 3: 70–80% of HRmax
Heart rate zone 3, moderate

Working out 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, hard

Heart rate zone 4 is where the going gets tough. You’ll be breathing hard and working 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, maximum

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.



Show my heart rate zones

Maximum heart rate

Zone 5 (90-100% of maximum) ?

Zone 4 (80-90% of maximum)  ?

Zone 3 (70-80% of maximum)  ?

Zone 2 (60-70% of maximum)  ?

Zone 1 (50-60% of maximum)  ?

How to use heart rate zones in your workouts

Variety is key if you want to improve your fitness or become a better runner so mix up your workouts and vary the duration of your training sessions.

Don’t get stuck working out at the same intensity or running the same distance every time. Create a routine where you train in all five heart rate zones.

With this personalized training plan you don’t have to think about when or how to train, you can just focus on doing.

If you’re a runner not sure how to create a training routine with enough variation, check out the Polar Running Program that offers a ready-made training plan for anyone training for a 5K, a 10K, half-marathon or marathon.

If achieving a running goal isn’t your priority right now, but you still want to see results from working out without having to spend too much time planning and thinking about what to do, take a look at the daily workout suggestions that the FitSpark™ daily training guide offers.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

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.

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