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Heart Rate Zones and Training

I recently did a post for Monday Mythbuster discussing how running is not the only option for "cardio". I hear all the time, "I need more cardio- let's go run." I want to dive a little deeper into this and give you some other options beyond running or maybe adding in a different type of running into your programming.


I am about to nerd out on y'all so hang tight.


Let's first talk about max heart rate because what zone you are training in is going to be based upon this. The generally accepted formula for max HR (heart rate) is 220-your age. However age, gender, fitness levels and other factors can sway this number. Since most heart rate zones are based off of percentages anyway then we won't worry about a few deviations.


Next, heart rate zones:

There are 5 zones of intensity based on HR %.


Here is a great infographic from Whoop on the different zones of heart rate:


You can also use an RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale if you don't want to calculate your heart rate % or wear a monitor.


Most everyone wears some smart device on their wrist that is tracking their stats (if you are like me, I wear 2!) You can use this data to calculate your zone, if your device isn't doing it for you!


Max Heart Rate- Resting Heart Rate= Heart Rate Reserve

(Heart Rate Reserve * zone %) + Resting Heart Rate = Ideal HR for work


My max heart rate is 186

My resting heart rate is 50 (average)

186-50 = 136 (my heart rate reserve)


So if I want to work in zone 4 (80-90%), 136*.8 and 136*.9 (+ adding back in resting HR)

136*.8= 109 +50 = 150

136*.9=122 +50 = 172

I should ideally keep my heart rate between 150-172 beats per minute.

(Told you I would geek out here!)


Now that you know how to calculate your heart rate zones and know about the different zones....


What's the optimal zone?


All of them! Don't look at zone 2 and say, "that's where I want to be all the time because it is the fat burning zone." The bottom line to getting off those few extra pounds is more calories burned than consumed. It starts in the kitchen. But is also supplemented in the gym. The "fat burning zone" does not mean it is burning fat off of you. It is talking about fuel sources from the day (ie. the food you've eaten: carbs vs fat). You can actually burn more calories in the higher zones because your body is working harder.


Ideal programming should involve all of the zones mixed in. This is produced by interval training. Active recovery days can be where you stay in zone 1-2 primarily.


If you are a runner and you only run, guess what? You will only be good a running, specifically long distances. You may not see your times improve. However if you mix in interval training working on speed and sprints, time trials, etc. you will be working in higher heart rate zones. You will get fitter and faster.


If you spend time only lifting weights and building strength, you may be in a higher heart rate zone but that's only briefly. Get into a workout that causes you to exert yourself for more than 30 seconds at a time, and you will likely perform poorly.


A good mix is what we all need to become fitter and improve our cardiovascular capacity. Sprints, burpees, sled pushes are all great for quick bouts of movement. 5k or greater can keep you in that light to moderate zone. So get that programming varied. Do some long, slower workouts. Do some fast burners, rest and do some more. Work that heart rate in zones 3-5 for 150 minutes or more a week and watch that fitness explode!


If you wanting that "cardio" and just can't get away from running- I recommend sprints! Get in the higher zones, fully recover and repeat.


Side note: walking, mowing the lawn, cleaning house all get that heart rate up too! Get up and move!

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