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How to Find Your Heart Rate Zones Using Your Maximum Heart Rate

How to Find Your Heart Rate Zones Using Your Maximum Heart Rate

It comes as no surprise that our heart is a rather essential organ. The average human’s heart will beat approximately 115,000 times every single day as the contracting cardiac muscle supplies our body with oxygenated blood in a seamless fashion. And perhaps most remarkably of all, this process takes place endlessly throughout our lifetime.

Just as important as the heart itself, however, is the wealth of information it supplies us. For instance, a lower resting heart rate signifies increased levels of cardiac fitness, while the number of times the heart beats per minute, or BPM, indicates how efficiently the heart functions.

But perhaps one element of heart health worth understanding — that few do — is your different heart rate zones. Whether you’re training to optimize your cardio, hoping to lose weight, or simply looking to stay in shape, your maximum heart rate can be utilized to calculate heart rate zones, and thus provide a more exact method of determining exercise intensity as opposed to relying on perceived exertion alone.

To gain a complete picture of your exercise intensity, it pays to know how different target heart rate zones can be used in your workouts to help you reach your goals, and to understand the broader benefits this information can provide.

What Are Heart Rate Zones?

Heart rate zones provide individuals with a chance to determine how intense a bout of exercise truly is. While high intensity interval training may, in fact, be described as “tiring,” the rate at which your heart beats can provide a quantitative picture of your qualitative perception.

Elite athletes will often use sophisticated equipment to reach such a conclusion, but heart rate zones present a much simpler means of gaining the same critical information.

While many different methods exist that aim to determine heart rate zones, one of the most common ways to do so is by deconstructing percentages of your maximum heart rate. This is the method that we’ll explain going forward.

How Can You Find Your Heart Rate Zones?

A man sets his fitness watch to track heart rate zones

Determining your heart rate zones begins with knowing your max heart rate. To find this figure, use the formula below:

207 – (0.7 × Age) = Maximum Heart Rate

For instance, if you were 45 years old, you’d simply substitute your age into the equation and receive a final maximum heart rate of 175. This means your heart can theoretically beat up to 175 times per minute during maximal physical effort, though your actual maximum heart rate may vary based upon your current physical fitness capacity.

After you’ve found your maximum heart rate, it’s time to find your different zones. To do this would normally require a bit of math, but heart rate zone calculators have made the job far easier than ever before. Simply insert your age into the calculator to determine your ideal heart rate in each of the training zones.

What Are the Different Heart Rate Zones?

While sources may vary regarding the exact number of heart rate zones, most agree that there are five. These five different zones are organized as percentages of your maximum heart rate (MHR), and therefore increase steadily over time. As they do, so too does your exercise intensity.

Zone 1: Very Light Intensity, 50-60% of MHR

Zone 1 is known for very light intensity exercise that requires 50-60% of your MHR. Characterized by a walk to the fridge for food or a quick stroll to the mailbox, Zone 1 intensity is designed for overall health and recovery and should therefore be easily sustained for long periods of time. Training at this warm-up intensity can boost recovery and prepare you for training in higher heart rate zones down the road.

Zone 2: Light Intensity, 60-70% of MHR

As the optimal zone to burn fat and increase the likelihood of weight loss, Zone 2 can be characterized by a slow jog that allows for ample conversation. Training in this zone improves your general endurance as your body grows more capable of oxidizing fat while muscular fitness increases to boot. Think of Zone 2 as the effort you might exert when running a marathon, where slow and steady wins the race.

Zone 3: Moderate Intensity, 70-80% of MHR

This is the zone in which things start to pick up as you break a sweat and build endurance. Effective for improving the efficiency of blood circulation in the heart and skeletal muscles, the amount of time you spend exercising in Zone 3 may vary but will often hover around 30 minutes of sustained effort.

Equally important is the sensation of soreness that begins to build in this zone as lactic acid accumulates in the bloodstream due to a breach of the lactate threshold, or “the intensity of exercise at which lactate begins to accumulate in the blood at a faster rate than it can be removed,” as defined by Dr. Alexander Hutchinson.

Zone 4: Hard Intensity, 80-90% of MHR

Prepare for the going to get tough. With Zone 4 intensity, comes heavy breathing and increased sweating as you push your body into anaerobic metabolism, the point at which your body is short on oxygen and requires additional fuel storage for energy. A training plan that employs physical activity in this zone will last for perhaps 10 minutes at a time but should also occur in intervals, leaving room for breaks to catch your breath before feeling the burn once again.

Zone 5: Maximum Intensity, 90-100% of MHR

This is the intensity in which you’re giving it your all while attempting to drain the tank. Zone 5 is that moment when you’re sprinting to the finish line after running nearly 26.2 miles, or when the spin class instructor tells you to “PUSH IT!”

Lactic acid quickly accumulates in the blood as you reach your VO2 max, making it impossible to sustain such intensity for more than 1-2 minutes before your body quits. While elite athletes may possess the cardiovascular fitness required to undergo such efforts for extended periods of time, most of us will last perhaps 30 seconds in this zone before tapping out.

Why Do Heart Rate Zones Even Matter?

A hand holds a fitness trackerThe process of heart rate monitoring may seem like a daunting task. After all, how are you supposed to check your heart rate while in the midst of a brutal workout without the help of an exercise physiologist by your side? Fortunately, with modern advancements in technology, acquiring a fitness tracker with a heart rate monitor has become easier and cheaper than ever before.

But why do heart rate zones even matter?

Well for starters, knowing your body is an extensive but worthwhile task. Understanding how hard you’re body is working will provide you with the insights necessary to improve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. If we simply chose to cease training whenever we grew tired, our fitness levels would cease to improve along the way.

Aside from a personal understanding of your body, heart rate zones can do much more. The heart rate zones in which you train are directly correlated to the effects this training will have on your body. You can therefore utilize heart rate zones to achieve fitness goals that range from burning fat to building muscle to increasing endurance. Heart rate training directly correlates with heart health, thus emphasizing the importance of knowing and training within your target zones.

If you’re ready to start tracking your heart rate and finding the various zones in which you should train, Biostrap has you covered. It’s time to join the movement.

Cameron Vigliotta

Cameron Vigliotta

Cameron is a freelance copywriter and journalist based in Portland, Oregon. With a background in sports medicine, his passions comprise the intersections of fitness, culture, and the great outdoors.

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