Running and heart zones: how to calculate them for training

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To understand if we are training in the right way and if we can achieve the goals we have set ourselves, one of the fundamental elements that every runner must take into consideration is the heart rate while running. Relying solely on personal sensations, without having precise data, does not allow you to exploit your potential, nor to be able to create a targeted training plan.

To be able to set up a correct training program, it is essential to know your actual maximum heart rate, that is, what the heart can reach. It is measured as a pulse in 1 minute. But we must also calculate resting heart rate. These two parameters allow you to identify the cardio zones in which to enter.

Here is what the heart zones and how to use them to train more effectively:

5 heart zones for running training

The heart zones are five and to each of them correspond a certain percentage of the maximum heart rate and specific training benefits.

  • Zone 1: 50-60% of maximum heart rate

Zone 1 corresponds to the lowest intensity level (walking with rhythmic breathing) with slightly aerobic work suitable for beginners, or athletes who need a period of relief (thus to reduce stress). It is shown to improve overall health, with the heart pumping more blood and the muscles being able to use more oxygen.

  • Zone 2: 60-70% of maximum heart rate

Zone 2 also has a non intense rhythm (jogging), but with deeper breathing. This type of training improves the functionality of the heart, serves to increase the ability of cells to release fat to the muscles and is easy to eliminate.

  • Zone 3: 70-80% of maximum heart rate

Zone 3 offers a advanced aerobic work, like running at a moderate pace. It is an excellent cardiovascular work: it increases lung capacity, strengthens the heart for long sessions.

  • Zone 4: 80-90% of maximum heart rate

Zone 4, a run at a fairly fast pace, provides anaerobic threshold training: improves performance by increasing running speed. The difficulty is high so the training time is limited.

  • Zone 5: 90-100% of maximum heart rate

Zone 5 is the highest and cannot be maintained for long. It consists of a anaerobic resistance trainingwhich increases power and is recommended for advanced athletes, often interspersed with short gear changes.

The first three zones therefore provide for a aerobic work, where primarily fat is consumed for energy, with a running heart rate also suitable for weight loss. Whereas with the anaerobic diet of the other two zones, the sugars are used to produce the energy necessary to compensate for the higher effort compared to the aerobic one.

How to calculate your maximum and resting heart rate

There are two tests to measure your maximum heart rate, also valid for running: that of laboratory, which allows you to measure heart rate during exercise; and that stress test on the track or on the roadthat is, run for 12 minutes until you reach the maximum of your capacity, gradually increasing the pace.

Otherwise, there is a third option – which represents a standard calculation therefore not 100% precise – it is the Karvonen’s methodin which we proceed as follows:

for men: HRmax = 220 – age;
for women: HRmax = 226 – age

As for the measurement of resting heart rate, can be detected in the chest, wrist or neck, by placing the fingers in certain places or by using a stethoscope. So just count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by four. To measure your heart rate while running, you can equip yourself with a watch or a bracelet with heart rate monitor.

Why use a heart rate monitor for running

Thanks to watches or bracelets with heart rate monitoryou can keep an eye on heart rate while running and check your cardio zones. In addition, depending on the models available, it is also possible to insert alarms in case of exceeding or lowering the reference threshold.


But how lower your heart rate while running? To achieve this goal, it is necessary to train at high intensity, approaching the maximum heart rate (without exceeding it!) with intervals allowing adequate recovery. In this way, in fact, the heart gradually learns to cope with an increasing workload. But it is equally important to engage in long and slow workouts, to allow the heart to support activities without peaks. And then, of course, you must have constancypaying attention to breathing, or even combining other sports with running.

For any self-respecting runner it is in any case fundamental monitor your heart rate while running and study specific training programs, avoiding improvisation.

Good physical exercises!

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