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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.

Chas Metz

Chas Metz

Marathoner and Co-Founder of Run Lab CBD

Injured But Not Defeated

Injured Runner

Maintaining Motivation When You Can't Run

Being stuck on the sidelines is tough. Over the past seven months, I’ve been on a challenging journey of recovering from a recurring bone stress injury in my tibia. Enduring this injury, along with the many others that came before it, has provided me with invaluable lessons in resilience and mental toughness. The constant struggle to maintain motivation, as the hard-earned fitness fades away, has at times been an emotional and psychological rollercoaster.

For any dedicated runner, the act of putting heart, soul, and miles into achieving personal milestones becomes an intrinsic part of our identity. It’s a dedication that extends beyond physical exertion. It’s a mindset where every step is a testament to our commitment to self-improvement. The harsh reality of taking time off due to injury forces us to confront the disheartening truth that progress often requires a few steps backward before the exhilarating leap forward can resume.

In the face of such setbacks, the journey to recovery becomes not only a physical challenge but a profound test of mental endurance. The prospect of seeing hard-earned fitness slip away can cast a dark shadow on our enthusiasm, making it crucial to explore avenues that keep the flame of motivation burning.

For runners, mental strength is as critical as physical endurance, especially during injury. This blog delves into the emotional challenges of being sidelined by injury, the link between mindset and recovery, and offers guidance through injury-induced setbacks. Join me as we navigate the intricate path of maintaining motivation when the familiar rhythm of miles is silenced.

Understanding the Injury

In the relentless pursuit of our running goals, it’s easy to fall into the trap of pushing through discomfort, ignoring warning signs, and embracing the “no pain, no gain” mantra that echoes across social media feeds. This relentless perseverance and disregard for recovery looks good on social media, but the fundamental truth is: understanding the nature and severity of an injury is paramount to long-term health and performance.

Many fitness influencers make it seem admirable to push through the pain, train hard, and take no days off, but it’s important to stay in tune with your body and be able to differentiate between minor aches and the onset of a serious injury. We must learn what our bodies can and cannot handle. While some incredibly gifted runners can handle 130 miles per week, others can experience injuries with as little as 10.

For both seasoned veterans and novice runners alike, seeking professional medical advice is not a sign of weakness but an act of prudence. As you gain experience, you become proficient at self-diagnosing and catching injuries early. However, as a beginner, it is essential to consult with experts – whether that be your doctor, a physical therapist, a coach, or a highly experienced running buddy.

Emphasizing the significance of patience and acceptance during the recovery process is essential. In a Wilderness First Aid class, I learned a valuable lesson: rushing to aid may exacerbate the situation rather than alleviate it. Just as EMTs prioritize caution and meticulousness over haste, runners must adopt a similar mindset toward their injuries.

“The only thing worse than being injured is getting reinjured and starting all over because of a simple lack of patience.” This mantra, ingrained in my mind through personal experience, underscores the importance of resilience tempered with restraint. The allure of reclaiming lost fitness may tempt us to rush the recovery process, but the true test of strength lies in the ability to exercise patience and restraint, knowing that premature return can spiral us into a cycle of reinjury.

Understanding the intricacies of injury, seeking expert guidance, and exercising self-restraint are crucial in the path to recovery.


Cross-Training and Rehabilitation

Cross-training is a critical component for maintaining fitness levels and mitigating detraining effects during the recovery phase. The key lies not only in exploring various cross-training activities but also in finding ones that you enjoy. Enjoyment and consistency are paramount; the most effective form of cross-training is the one that individuals can adhere to regularly.

The range of cross-training options available is extensive. While some activities like the elliptical, ARC trainer, and pool running mimic the running motion closely, the primary goal of cross-training is simply to engage in activities that promote cardiovascular health and overall fitness. Whether it’s swimming, cycling, incline walking, rowing, yoga, or strength training, the emphasis is on finding activities that you enjoy and that will preserve some of your fitness while you recover.

In addition to cross-training, rehabilitation exercises play a pivotal role in facilitating recovery and warding off future injuries. Strength training, in particular, stands out as a cornerstone in injury prevention, helping to address muscular imbalances and enhance overall resilience. Even after achieving a full recovery, integrating strength training into your running plan is key to preventing future injuries.

By embracing a comprehensive approach to cross-training and rehabilitation, runners can not only maintain a base level of fitness during periods of injury but also lay the groundwork for a stronger more durable body for their return to running.

Setting Goals and Mental Well-Being

During recovery from an injury, adjusting our goals becomes essential. Instead of solely focusing on distant achievements, we should prioritize short-term goals that center on healing and progress. These smaller targets act as tangible signs of improvement, injecting energy and purpose into our recovery journey. Flexibility in goal-setting is key, helping us adapt to unexpected hurdles with determination rather than becoming discouraged. By embracing a mindset of gradual progress and remaining open to adjustments, we empower ourselves to navigate setbacks and emerge stronger.

Recognizing the impact of halted running goals on mental health is crucial. Many of us find happiness and fulfillment in chasing ambitious running goals, such as completing a marathon or qualifying for Boston. However, when injury strikes, it can lead to feelings of disappointment and low motivation. Drawing from personal experience, I’ve discovered the importance of diversifying goals beyond running. Whether it’s focusing on relationships, career aspirations, or other hobbies, having alternative goals keeps us motivated and engaged in life. By broadening our focus, we cultivate resilience and preserve mental well-being throughout the recovery process.

Furthermore, seeking support from friends, family, and fellow runners is invaluable during this time. Remaining connected to the running community, even during our time off, can help keep us focused on and excited about our long-term goals. Staying involved could include attending races as a spectator or volunteer, socializing with a local running club, or joining an online running community. Cheering on others, sharing experiences, seeking advice, and finding inspiration from others who have been through similar setbacks can provide a sense of camaraderie and encouragement. Together, we can draw strength from our community as we navigate the challenges of recovery and strive toward our running aspirations.

Embracing the Journey

As runners, we often find ourselves defined by the miles we cover and the goals we chase. Yet, it is inevitable that we will have to take a step back from time to time to let our bodies recover. In this time of injury and setback, there is an opportunity to come back both mentally and physically stronger. Stay patient and persistent, and remember, we may be injured but we are not defeated.

Share this article with a running buddy who could use the advice. It might be just what they need to navigate their setbacks and keep their motivation alive!

Chas Metz

Chas Metz

Marathoner and Co-Founder of Run Lab CBD

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