What You Need to Know About Heart Rate Training

Jun 07, 2024

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Technology lets us do some incredible things. And when it comes to staying fit and healthy, technology has been a game changer! Heart rate training uses data and technology to help you set, track, and reach your fitness goals faster, whether that's running a half marathon or simply improving your cardiovascular health.

Heart rate training became popular in the endurance sports world during the '90s to help athletes make their training more precise. Since then, it has made its way into our daily routines now that the data is more accessible to smartwatch wearers and affordable fitness trackers.

If you aren't familiar with heart rate training, you're in the right place! Keep reading to learn what heart rate training is, the benefits, and tips to start heart rate training to reach your fitness goals!

What is Heart Rate Training?

Heart rate training is when you monitor your heart rate during exercise. The goal is to keep the number of times your heart beats, or beats per minute (BPM), within a set range or heart rate "zone."

Exercising elevates your heart rate, which means that your heart is working harder in order to keep circulating blood to your muscles. You can use the heart rate to assess how much your workout is challenging your cardiovascular system and to understand how efficiently your heart is working.

Some benefits of heart rate training are:

  • Improved Cardiovascular Fitness: Regular heart rate training helps strengthen your heart!
  • Improved Endurance: Training in different heart rate zones over time will increase your stamina and endurance levels during challenging workouts.
  • Personalized Training: Because your workout is based on monitoring and maintaining a specific heart rate, it will help you customize workouts to your body's ability.

Understanding Heart Rate Zones:

Heart rate training is about keeping yourself in specific heart rate zones during a workout. Heart rate zones are specific intensity ranges based on the percentage of your maximum heart rate (HR Max) being used.

Most heart rate-tracking technology estimates your HR max using your age, gender, and average activity levels, but you can also estimate your maximum heart rate on your own!

How to Calculate Your Maximum Heart Rate

The most common way to estimate your maximum heart rate is based on your age. To do it, subtract your age from 220. For example, the maximum heart rate for a 35-year-old would be 185 beats per minute (220 - 35 years = 185 BPM.)

It's important to note that factors like gender, fitness level, and genetics can all affect the accuracy of your heart rate measurements. Professional testing and monitoring with a cardiologist or other medical professional will provide the safest and most accurate calculations. You can also talk with an O2 Fitness Clubs Personal Trainer to help answer questions and provide guidance on how to start heart rate training.

Target Heart Rate Zones Explained

Once you know your HR max, you can determine your target heart rate zones! There are 5 heart rate zones to know when heart rate training:

Zone 1

Zone 1 is 50%—59% of your max heart rate. For example, Zone 1 for a 45-year-old would be 87 - 103 BPM. This is the zone you want to keep your heart rate in during your warm-up, cool-down, or recovery portion of your workout. It should feel easy and comfortable like you could maintain it for hours at a time.

Zone 2

Zone 2 is 60%—69% of your HR max. Keeping your heart rate in Zone 2 works your aerobic fitness and improves endurance, making it ideal for base training or long runs. Working at a low intensity over time will result in running faster at the same effort level. It's a small step up from Zone 1, so it should still feel comfortable and sustainable.

Zone 3

Zone 3 is 70%—79% of your HR max. It is for aerobic conditioning, moderate-intensity intervals, or steady-state cardio. This zone is where training starts to become uncomfortable—not too easy, but not too hard (think about being able to hold a conversation while exercising). Even though it's uncomfortable, it should be an effort level you can maintain! Zone 3 is where we improve our speed and strength to make harder workouts feel less tiring.

Zone 4

Zone 4 is 80%89% of your HR max. This is where training gets tough. Zone 4 has you breathing heavily; no conversations will be made here! This is where your body switches from its aerobic to anaerobic energy system. It causes lactic acid to build up in your muscles faster than your body can process it, which is what makes you start "feeling the burn." Training in Zone 4 helps improve your power and speed, plus you start developing a tolerance for moving at a harder effort!

Zone 5

Zone 5 is 90%—100% of your max heart rate. Zone 5 is where you'll be for sprints and HIIT workouts. Zone 5 puts you at your absolute maximum effort! This means you won't be able to work at this intensity for more than a few minutes. In this zone, you work to improve your max speed, time, and power.


The time you spend in each zone will change depending on your goal, the workout, and your fitness level. Monitoring your heart rate during your workouts will help you become familiar with your body's limits and avoid training too hard or overexerting yourself.

Tips to Start Heart Rate Training

Now you know how to calculate your max heart rate and understand the different heart rate zones. Here are a few last-minute tips to help you start heart rate training!

  • Use a Heart Rate Monitor. Find a reliable heart rate monitor to track your heart rate during your workouts. There are tons of different types of monitors you can use, from chest strap monitors to fitness trackers on your smartwatch. Checking your heart rate in real-time will help you stay in the target zones and adjust the intensity of your workout as needed.
  • Start Simple. If you have a hard time remembering all 5 heart rate zones and what they mean, try following a 2-zone breakdown. For moderate-intensity workouts, keep your target heart rate between 50% and 70%. For vigorous-intensity workouts, focus on staying between 70% and 85% of your max heart rate. This will help simplify things for anyone new to heart rate training.
  • Set a Specific Goal. Set a clear and measurable goal for your training. It could be anything from shaving 2 minutes off of your 5k time to finishing a workout in Zone 3 instead of Zone 4. Having a specific goal will help keep you motivated and track your progress.
  • Listen to Your Body. It's important to pay attention to your body's signals to avoid pushing yourself too hard and risking injury. Heart rate training will give you real-time feedback on your effort level and help you make an informed decision about the intensity of your workout.

New to heartrate training? Connect with a personal trainer who can answer your exercise and fitness questions! Click here to schedule two complimentary sessions with a certified personal trainer.

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