Using Running Heart Rate Zones for Optimized Performance

Utilizing the various running heart rate zones can be an effective means of achieving and maintaining optimal performance. There are various forms of running training, such as aerobic, anaerobic, strength, and recovery. You need to know how to use each of them, training in certain ones at different points of your training. Likewise, if you have a specific goal in mind, you have to know which zone will serve as the most effective for reaching that goal.

Before I discuss the different zones we have to calculate your maximum heart rate and resting heart rate, since zone workouts are based on percentages of maximum heart rate minus resting heart rate.
The easiest and fastest way to calculate maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. Here’s an example below:
If I am 30 years old, my maximum heart rate is 220-30=190.
What does this mean? Theoretically, the maximum heart rate that I can reach is 190 beats per minute.
The easiest and fastest way to calculate your resting heart rate is to lay down and relax as much as possible, and take your pulse after twenty minutes while in that lye-down position. My resting heart rate is 50 beats per minute, for example.
Now, let’s figure out the difference between maximum heart rate and resting heart rate using our example above.
Max Heart Rate of 190 – Resting Heart of 55 = 135
Now that we’ve figured this number out, we’re ready to explore the different zones.

60% – 70% – Fitness, Fat Burning, Recovery
You can see dramatic improvements in your overall health by working within this minimum range 30 minutes per day, three days per week. This running heart rate zone helps develop basic cardiovascular health and conditioning. This is also known as the fat burning zone because at this zone the body can efficiently use your oxygen intake for burning fat. So, not only will you lose weight, but you’ll also get leaner. You should work in this zone for 5-10 minutes after your runs, between speed intervals, and on easy/off days to help restore glycogen levels in your muscles. Using our current example:
135 x .60 = 81. We must add this to the resting heart rate of 55, which equals 136 as the lower limit for this zone.
135 x .70 = 95. We must add this to the resting heart rate of 55, which equals 150 as the upper limit for this zone.
I must keep my heartbeat within 136 to 150 beats per minute.
70% – 80% – Aerobic

This zone makes up the bulk of most endurance training programs (i.e. marathon training, half marathon, ultra marathons, and other races). This zone goes beyond basic fitness and aims to increase endurance. When working within this zone, you enhance the body’s ability to transport oxygenated blood to muscles, and get rid of carbon dioxide. Stored fat is still the major source of energy that your body uses, but it also uses some glycogen (stored carbohydrates). Using our current example:
135 x .70 = 95. We must add this to the resting heart rate of 55, which equals 150 as the lower limit for this zone.
135 x .80 = 108. We must add this to the resting heart rate of 55, which equals 163 as the upper limit for this zone.
I must keep my heartbeat within 150 to 163 beats per minute.

80% – 90% – Anaerobic

This is the running heart rate zone to work in when you want to increase both endurance and speed, such as when trying to lower your race times. In the anaerobic zone, stored fat is no longer the primary energy source. Instead, glycogen (stored carbs) is the primary energy source. One of the problems of using glycogen is the by-product of lactic acid. When your muscles get fatigued and start burning, that’s lactic acid at work. However, working in this range periodically can extend your lactic acid threshold so you can withstand long periods of fast paced running. Using our current example:
135 x .80 = 108. We must add this to the resting heart rate of 55, which equals 163 as the lower limit for this zone.
135 x .90 = 122. We must add this to the resting heart rate of 55, which equals 177 as the upper limit for this zone.
I must keep my heartbeat within 163 to 177 beats per minute.

90% – 100% – Red Line / VO2 Max

Working in the red line zone develops speed, agility, and strength. Not many people can stay in this zone too long because it often requires a runner to go to a full-blown sprint. This level of performance can only be maintained for short periods of time because the muscles rapidly become oxygen deprived. Doing occasional short intervals in this zone, however, can greatly increase your overall performance by building fast twitch muscles that make you a faster and stronger runner. Using our current example:

135 x .90 = 122. We must add this to the resting heart rate of 55, which equals 177 as the lower limit for this zone.
135 x .100 = 135. We must add this to the resting heart rate of 55, which equals 190 as the upper limit for this zone.
I must keep my heartbeat within 177 to 190 beats per minute.

Now that you know how the different running heart rate zones affect your physiology and training, all you need is a way to measure your heart rate. You can take it manually by placing your index and middle fingers underneath your jaw right below your ear. Count the number of heartbeats per sixty seconds. Alternatively, count the number of heartbeats per ten seconds, then multiply by six. This method is appropriate if you don’t mind the frequent interruption in your running form and crunching numbers at the same time. If you want to avoid this routine, purchase a heart rate monitoring system. These systems include a chest strap that transmits heartbeat information wirelessly to a wristwatch. Some will even let you program zones so that an alarm will sound off if you go above or below the limits. Check out www.polar.com, www.suunto.com, www.garmin.com, or timex.com for high quality heart rate monitors.

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