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Get In The Zone: The Pros Of Heart-Rate Training For Runners

  • By Jeremey DuVall, M.S., CPT
  • Published Feb. 6, 2014
  • Updated Feb. 6, 2014 at 12:53 PM UTC
Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Feel the Beat

Heart-rate training is hardly a new concept to endurance athletes. The usefulness of heart-rate data, however, has been questionable.

In the past, runners have ended their runs and stared at maximum and average heart rate values following a training session, not knowing exactly what to do with this information. Fortunately, the paradigm of heart-rate training has shifted in recent years, making it easier to understand what effort levels you should be running at for a given workout. Rather than focusing on one to two specific heart-rate values, “zone” training clumps values into five broader ranges, described below.

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Although metabolic testing isn’t required to follow heart-rate based training, it is the most accurate way to determine your training zones as well as where you need the most work. If you can’t spring for testing, you can estimate your values by finding out your max heart rate and using the following percentages determine your own training zones.

Zone 1

– 50-60% of max heart rate. This zone corresponds to an athlete’s aerobic base and is typically reserved for a warmup and cooldown.

Zone 2

– 60-70% of max heart rate. This is an aerobic zone where an athlete can run comfortably and utilize fat as a primary fuel source.

Zone 3

– 70-80% of max heart rate. This is the last aerobic zone before crossing the anaerobic threshold. Training in this zone is challenging but sustainable for most athletes.

Zone 4

– 80-90% of max heart rate. This is an anaerobic zone which by definition implies the absence of O2 resulting in a negligible amount of fat metabolism. Therefore, our bodies are primarily using carbohydrates as a fuel source. Athletes in Zone 4 may mutter only a few words at a time.

Zone 5

– 90-100% of max heart rate. This is the top of the heart rate chain and leaves you gasping for air after only 10 to 20 seconds of work.

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