Create Your Own Heart Rate Zones and Train More Efficiently…
Back in the 1990’s world champion triathletes like Paula Newby-Fraser and Mark Allen were dominating the sport, using heart rate for all their key sessions.
Six-time World Champion Allen even said: “During my 15 years of racing in the sport of triathlons I searched for those few golden tools that would allow me to maximize my training time and come up with the race results I envisioned. At the top of that list was heart rate training.”
Heart rate training enables you to focus in on different training intensities. For Allen this meant training for several months at a time below 155 beats per minute, to develop his ability to use fat as a fuel.
To begin training like this, you need to establish a set of personal heart rate training zones. Read below for the why’s and how’s of heart rate training zones, or use our simple heart rate training zone calculator on our website.
Step 1. Work out your maximum heart rate
Find a good hill that takes you about two minutes to run up. The test begins around five minutes before the hill. Gradually accelerate towards the hill achieving around 85% effort at the base of the hill. As you hit the hill, maintain your speed by increasing your effort. Your heart rate will rise and you will quickly tire. Without falling over, keep an eye on your monitor and make a mental note of your highest heart rate as you work towards the top of the hill.
For a more accurate test (but slightly more complex), you could try this one instead.
If you don’t fancy any kind of field test, you have two options.
Option 1: Just use the highest heart rate you’ve seen during a race in the last six months. Assume it’s close to being your max heart rate.
Option 2: Calculate 220 minus your age, to get an estimate of your max heart rate. You can also do this via our heart rate zone calculator.
Step 2. Work out your zones
Once you’ve worked out your maximum heart rate, you can divide your heart rates into personalised training zones using our zone calculator. Or simply use your own calculator, and the percentages below.
Zone 1: Easy – 68% to 73% of max HR. Useful for encouraging blood flow, to aid recovery after a tough workout.
Zone 2: Steady – 73% to 80% of max HR. Training in this zone will boost endurance and the efficiency with which you use fat and carbohydrates as fuel.
Zone 3: Moderately Hard – 80% to 87% of max HR. Training in the upper end of this zone is thought to enable you to delay fatigue caused by lactic acid. Repetitions should be 10-20 minutes long, with relatively short recoveries of 1 to 3 minutes.
Zone 4: Hard – 87% to 93% of max HR. Boosts lactate threshold, but training in this zone will soon lead to fatigue. Use this zone for 3 to 10 minute repetitions with 1-2 minute recoveries.
Zone 5: Very Hard – 93-100% of max HR. Training in this zone is only possible for short periods, and helps you develop top-end speed. Train using repetitions of 1 to 3 minutes, with a similar amount of time as recovery.
Once you have your own set of zones, you can start to differentiate between your training intensities. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to do 80% of your training in Zones 1 to 2 (mainly Zone 2). And the remaining 20% of your training in Zones 3 to 5.
Your heart rate zones may differ between sports, such as cycling and running. For example, cycling heart rate zones are commonly 5-8 beats lower than running heart rate zones. If you do both sports, you may need to create two different sets of zones, based on your max heart rate in each one.