Heart Rate Training Zones

Heart rate zones are an accurate way to measure training intensity. There are many other methods of measuring your training effort, with the most common being pace training. The big problem with pace training is that it isn’t easily adaptable to changing training conditions. For example, running in extreme heat causes your body to work much harder than it would have to work to run the same pace in cooler weather. This means that if you head out for a run in the heat attempting the same pace you would run at in cool weather you are likely to over-train. The reason heart rate training is so effective is because it is accurate in all training conditions, in extreme heat, at elevation, etc. A good training plan should include runs at varying intensities. Knowing your target heart rate zones will help you avoid over-training on your low-intensity days and avoid under-training on your high-intensity days. There are 5 heat rate zones (1-5.) These zones can be calculated once you’ve first calculated your maximum heart rate or MHR.

Determine Your Maximum Heart Rate

There are several methods of determining your max heart rate, the most accurate being a treadmill stress test in a lab. Since most of us don’t have access to this type of testing, we’ll share with you the best ways to determine your MHR yourself. The two options for finding your MHR yourself are to simulate your own stress test with a heart rate monitor or to use a simple equation.

vo2 max test

Simulating Your Own Stress Test

The goal of simulating your own stress test is to gradually reach your actual max heart rate while wearing a heart rate monitor. Since this test requires you to push your body to the max, it should only be attempted by experienced athletes. A common way of performing the stress test is to run an easy warm-up mile, followed by a mile at tempo pace, followed by 400 meters of increasing pace ending with the last 100 meters at max effort. The highest heart rate you reach during the last 400m is your max heart rate. Keep in mind, that this test will only be accurate if you push yourself to your absolute max.

Using a Max Heart Rate Formula

Several formulas have been developed over the years to help you estimate your MHR without conducting a stress test. The most common formula out there is the Fox Formula (220 – age = MHR.) Although this formula has been trusted for many years, there are now more accurate formulas available including the Galati Formula designed specifically for women, and the Tanaka Formula designed specifically for people over the age of 40.

Fox formula (most common formula for men and women): 220 – age = MHR

Gulati formula (women only): 206 – (0.88 × age) = MHR

The HUNT formula (men and women who are active): 211 – (0.64 x age) = MHR

Tanaka formula (men and women over age 40): 208 – (0.7 × age) = MHR

Estimate Your Target Heart Rate Zones

Your 5 heart rate training zones are calculated using a percentage of your max heart rate.

Zone 1: Very Easy – 50–60% of MHR

Zone 2: Easy – 60–70% of MHR

Zone 3: Moderate – 70–80% of MHR

Zone 4: Hard – 80–90% of MHR

Zone 5: Maximum – 90–100% MHR

heart rate training

Max Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zone Calculator

Training Zone Feel Heart Rate(beats per minute)
1 Very Easy
2 Easy
3 Moderate
4 Hard
5 Maximum

When to Use Each Heart Rate Zone


Zone 1 is for warm-up and recovery. It is the lowest intensity zone and is typically used for warm-ups, cool-downs, and recovering from a previous day of high-intensity training. 


Zone 2 is for building endurance. Training in this zone should feel comfortable and you should be able to maintain full conversations. Zone 2 training should be sustainable for several hours and it is the training zone typically used for easy runs, long runs, and base training.


Zone 3 is for building strength and efficiency. This is where you begin to feel slight discomfort from lactic acid build-up and conversation becomes limited to incomplete sentences. Zone 3 should be sustainable for an hour and is the training zone typically used for marathon effort training and tempo runs.


Zone 4 is for building speed and power. This is where breathing becomes heavy and conversation is no longer sustainable. In zone 4 lactic acid builds up in the muscles faster than your body can process it, making it only sustainable for short periods of time. This training zone is typically used for long intervals, fartleks, and threshold training.


Zone 5 is your absolute max effort and is only sustainable for a few minutes. Zone 5 is typically reached during short intervals, sprinting, and at the end of a race.

Applying Heart Rate Zones to Your Training Plan

A good training plan should include training in each of the 5 heart rate zones. Most of the training plans available will not specifically tell you which zone to complete your run in, however, they will usually tell you which type of run to do. Once we know the type of run we are doing, we can determine which zone is appropriate by using the information learned above. For example, we now know that warmups should be completed in zone 1, easy runs in zone 2, tempo runs in zone 3, long intervals in zone 4, and short intervals in zone 5.

Picture of Chas Metz

Chas Metz

Marathoner and Co-Founder of Run Lab CBD

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