Running Zones

What’s Included?

  • Ways to assess running effort for training
  • Determining your max HR
  • What are the 5 heart rate zones & when to use them?
  • Why do they matter & how to use them?
  • Accuracy & factors to consider

Ways to Measure & Plan Training

There are several ways to measure your running effort & plan your training. Depending upon your experience level & your current goals in running, different methods might work best for you personally, but having an understanding of the most used options can be helpful as you continue on your journey & set new goals! Let’s start with an overview of the two most popular methods used by runners:

RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion):

This technique measures effort using someone’s personal feelings about how challenging/easy the workout was. Typically the RPE scale ranges from 0-10 with 0 being rest (think sitting on the couch binging Netflix) and 10 being absolute maximum effort (think 30 second sprint where you couldn’t keep going even if you wanted to). Typically, 1-3 is considered your “easy” running zone (easy runs, walks, light cross-training, recovery runs), 4-5 would be a “moderate” effort (long runs, progression runs), 6-8 would be considered a “hard” effort (tempo runs, longer intervals, races, speed work), and 8+ would be considered your absolute all-out effort (short all-out sprints).

Heart Rate Training:

Uses your heart rate (beats per minute) to determine how hard of an effort your run should be. It uses your Max Heart Rate as a baseline to build out the other zones, which we will go into more depth with below!


Determining Max Heart Rate

You can calculate your max heart rate using a number of strategies and formulas that have been proposed over the years. Many running watches & heart rate monitors (chest, arm, etc.) can be used to measure and determine your heart rate (and HR zones), but there are also a few popular formulas that can be used to quickly calculate max heart rate. It’s important to remember, however, that these formulas do have room for error & should be used as a guide vs. a rulebook. Here are two popular formulas used to determine Max HR:

220 – AGE = MAX HEART RATE (LEAST ACCURATE)

207 – (.7 x AGE) = MAX HEART RATE (MORE ACCURATE)

211 – (.64 x AGE) = MAX HEART RATE (CURRENT MOST ACCURATE)

Once you know your max heart rate, you can figure out your personal heart rate training zones!


HR Zones & When to Use

ZONE 1: VERY LIGHT (50-60% of MAX HEART RATE)

(50-60% of MAX HEART RATE)

  • Used for…
    • Walking
    • Resting
    • Warm-ups & cool-downs
    • Recovery

ZONE 2: EASY (60-70% of MAX HEART RATE)

  • Used for…
    • Base building runs
    • Long runs
    • Easy runs
    • Building Endurance

ZONE 3: MODERATE (70-80% of MAX HEART RATE)

  • Used for…
    • Marathon efforts
    • Steady runs
    • Improving your fitness & aerobic capacity

ZONE 4: HARD (80-90% of MAX HEART RATE)

  • Used for…
    • Longer intervals
    • Threshold training
    • Tempo training
    • Races

ZONE 5: MAX (90%-100% of MAX HEART RATE)

  • Used for…
    • Shorter sprints
    • Max speed efforts
    • Short intervals

Accuracy & Factors to Consider

While heart rate training can definitely be a helpful tool in your training toolbox, it’s important to remember that there is room for error and inaccuracy with HR training & there are also many variables and factors that impact ones heart rate.

Accuracy

Watches & formulas are a great way to get a quick reading of your heart rates, but they have room for error. Many studies show that wrist-worn monitors (smart watches) aren’t typically as accurate as chest-monitors. In addition, some formulas are shown to be more accurate than others. In addition, heart rate can tend to naturally increase over the course of a run due to the increase in our body temperatures (despite remaining at the same effort/speed). This is called Cardiac Drift & it can make it appear as though we are running “too hard” when in reality this isn’t due to an increase in effort or speed.

There are also many factors that can impact ones heart rate outside of our effort. These should be considered when running & measuring or determining the effort at which you can/should train:

  • Heat
  • Humidity
  • Elevation
  • Stress
  • Lack of Sleep
  • Cardiac drift (mentioned above)
  • Medications
  • Caffeine & alcohol
  • Accumulated load

Using heart rate zones for training can be a helpful and convenient tool, but it’s also important to remember that it’s only ONE of the ways to measure your progress, monitor your effort, and plan your training. If you need help figuring out how to use this with your personal training, feel free to reach out to one of our Run with Aim coaches & we are happy to help!

Amy Haas
Run with Aim, LLC
UESCA Certified Running Coach
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
NASM Certified Nutrition Coach

Share:

Related