You’ve probably heard people in the fitness industry talk about the different exercise zones. Some gyms, such as the franchise “Orange Theory,” have even incorporated these zones into workout classes. But what are these zones, how can you calculate them, and what can you do if you don’t have fancy heart rate (HR) tracking technology?
Heart rate zones give you an idea of how hard your heart is working to pump blood. The higher the zone, the more your heart is working. But both high and low zones have longevity benefits, so it’s worth knowing where you are at any given time.
Investing in a watch or chest strap that tracks heart rate to calculate your heart rate accurately is a great option. Most will tell you which zone you’re in at any given time based on your age and estimated maximum heart rate. See below to learn how to calculate HR zones for yourself.
If you don’t have a heart rate tracker, no worries! You can estimate where you are based on how you feel during your workout. Tuning into your body’s signals during a workout can be as informative as any heart rate monitor. Let’s explore the sensations of each zone, backed by the latest research, and conclude with a sample workout.
1. The Heart Rate Zones and How They Feel:
- Zone 1 (50-60% of Max Heart Rate): This is your warm-up and cool-down zone. You’ll feel relaxed, your breathing will be easy, and you can easily sing your favorite song without running out of breath.
- Zone 2 (60-70% of Max Heart Rate): This is where fat-burning happens. You’ll be in a comfortable rhythm, and while your heart rate is elevated, you can still carry on a full conversation without gasping for air.
- Zone 3 (70-80% of Max Heart Rate): You’re in the aerobic or endurance zone. Your breathing rate will increase, but you can still speak in short sentences. It’s challenging yet sustainable.
- Zone 4 (80-90% of Max Heart Rate): Welcome to the anaerobic zone. Your breathing will be heavy, and speaking will be in brief phrases. You’ll feel the burn, but it’s where significant improvements happen.
- Zone 5 (90-100% of Max Heart Rate): This is your all-out effort zone. Breathing is rapid, and it’s challenging to speak more than a word or two. It’s intense and should be maintained only for short bursts.
2. Calculating Your Max Heart Rate: A simple formula to determine your max heart rate is: (220 – Your Age). For example, at 45 years old, your estimated max heart rate is 175 bpm. If you want to calculate your HR when you get into Zone 5, you’d multiply 175 by 90% (0.9) and get your Zone 5 HR threshold (HR 157).
Or, for a free HR Zones calculator, check out this one at Calculator Soup.
3. Sample Workout Based on Feel:
- Warm-up: 10 minutes in Zone 1 (Easy, relaxed)
- Main Set:
- 10 minutes in Zone 2 (Comfortable, conversational pace)
- 5 minutes in Zone 3 (Increased breathing, short sentences)
- 2 minutes in Zone 4 or 5 (Heavy breathing, not able to talk)
- Cool Down: 5 minutes back in Zone 1 (Ah, how nice!)
There are endless ways to mix and match time spent in the different HR zones, based on your current level of fitness, medical concerns, and goals. Always consult with a fitness professional or your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen.