How to Use Heart Rate Zones for Training & Exercise
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How to Use Heart Rate Zones for Training & Exercise

Jul 25, 2023


Learn how to use your max heart rate to determine your heart rate zones and optimize the effectiveness of your workouts.

Simply put, heart rate training consists of using your heart rate to gauge your exercise intensity, and aiming for different heart rate zones depending on what your fitness goals are.

The first step to heart rate training is to calculate what your max heart rate is. A basic formula that is commonly used is to just subtract your age from 220. So by this method, if you’re 30 years old, your max heart rate is 190 beats per minute. However, this equation does not take into account things specific to you, like gender, genetics, etc. Over the years a number of more detailed formulas have been created, such as the Tanaka (208 - 0.7 x age) or the Gulati (206 - 0.88 x age, for women only), but they make broad generalizations as well and fall victim to many of the same variables. Additionally, other factors like temperature, altitude, hydration, and even time of day can affect your heart rate. Every human body is different with varying maximum heart rates, so a better solution is to use wrist-worn heart rate monitor like WHOOP that will determine your personal max heart rate.

Once you know your max heart rate, you can establish your own heart rate training zones. Below is a graphic listing the various heart rate zones and what you can accomplish by training in each. For example, if you’re exercising and your heart rate is at 50-60% of your max HR, your workout is ideal for warm ups and cool downs, or active recovery.

Weight loss is a common goal for many of us, and people often wonder which zone is best for burning fat. While training at 60-70% of your max HR technically burns more fat than more intense exercise (when your body shifts to burning more carbohydrates instead), losing weight is actually about burning calories. You can sustain activity longer at a lower heart rate, but you’ll burn more calories when you increase your exertion. There’s no reason to avoid training at a higher heart rate range if you’re trying to lose weight. Learn More: The Truth About the Fat Burning Heart Rate Zone

Aerobic exercise is when your body is able to take in enough oxygen to sustain how physically active you are without dipping into another energy source. Working out at 70-80% of your max HR (moderate intensity) will improve your aerobic fitness level. This will allow you to build endurance and create lean muscle for things like distance running or cycling. It’s also good for your overall cardiac health. Anaerobic exercise causes your muscles to need more energy than is provided by the oxygen you are breathing in, so they begin to break down sugars and produce lactic acid. A target heart rate of 80-90% of your max (vigorous intensity) will increase your lactate threshold. This heart rate zone is often useful to improve performance in weightlifting and other non-endurance sports that require power output. Learn More: What is the Aerobic Heart Rate Zone and How Do You Target it?

As a general rule, most athletes will want to train in varying zones of max heart rate at different times, both within specific workouts and from one to the next. A typical one-hour session might include 10 minutes in the 50-60% target zone warming up and cooling down, 30 minutes at a sustainable pace at 60-70%, 12 minutes pushing a little more at 70-80%, 6 minutes going hard at 80-90% and 2 minutes all-out at 90-100%. Monitoring your workout heart rate can help you avoid training too hard by knowing exactly when you’re overexerting yourself. It will also allow you to bounce back faster by ensuring you stay in the proper zone on recovery days. Additionally, heart rate training enables you to moderate external factors like heat and humidity, or better adjust on days when you may not be fully recovered. In these cases, your standard workout may be increasing your heart rate more than usual. Learn More: Running Heart Rate Zones

WHOOP measures your heart rate 24/7 and quantifies the strain your body takes on each day. Every morning, our recovery metric (calculated using heart rate variability, resting heart rate, respiratory rate and sleep) tells you how prepared your body is to take on strain. And when you track your activities with the WHOOP Strain Coach, you can see in real time which heart rate zone you’re in, so you’ll know exactly when to dial it back, or kick it up a notch. You can also retroactively view the time you spent in each heart rate zone by tapping into your Activity. WHOOP will show you a detailed breakdown of time in each zone so you can further optimize your training.