How to find your personal heart rate zones

We’ve explained to you in our previous article why using heart rate zones in training is important. Now we’ll explain how to find your personal heart rate zones. There are standardised ways to work out heart rate zones, but working out your personal ones is the best way to ensure you’re reaching your peak effort levels.

You can use a heart rate monitor to measure any of the below heart rates, but we’ll describe how to do it without one too.

Resting Heart Rate

First things first, you need to know your resting heart rate. This is a great indicator of your general cardiovascular health. To measure it, take your pulse either as soon as you wake up or after you’ve sat relaxing for some time. Take your pulse for 10 seconds a few times, and come up with the average number of beats in those 10 seconds. Using this number of beats, multiply by 6 to get your resting heart rate. You can check this rate and how good it is for your age on this website.

Maximum Heart Rate

The easiest way to work out your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. For example, if you’re 30, your maximum heart rate would be 190 beats per minute. It’s not a massively accurate way to do it, but it gives you a good ballpark number. The other way is to wait until you’re vigorously exercising, push yourself to the limit and then take your heart rate, with a monitor or using your pulse. If you really want to be accurate, you can go to a sports physician or doctor to get a very accurate measure of your maximum heart rate.

Heart Rate Zones

Once you know your maximum heart rate, you can then work out what your personal heart rate zones are. We’ll list them below:

Zone 1

This Zone should feel very easy, this is the lowest heart rate zone we’ll ask you to train in. You should be reaching around 65 – 70% of your maximum heart rate.

Zone 2

This Zone should also feel pretty easy – easy enough to still hold a conversation. You should be training at 70 – 80% of your maximum heart rate.

Zone 3

This Zone should definitely make you tired, you shouldn’t be able to hold a real conversation while running at this level of effort. You should be training at 80 – 90% of your maximum heart rate.

Zone 4

This is the top Zone we’ll be asking you to train in – you should aim for 90 – 95% of your maximum heart rate. Training in this zone should feel pretty hard – practically, you’d be able to hold this pace for around an hour.

Zone 5

This Zone is the highest you can possibly train in – you wouldn’t be able to work at this level of effort for very long at all. This is also the Zone most people will tire themselves out in, trying to go the hardest they can. Zone 5 is around 95 – 100% of your maximum heart rate.

What if I can’t/don’t want to track my heart rate?

Although they won’t be as accurate as actually tracking your heart rate, there are other methods to check what effort level you’re working at. Focusing on your breathing and the ‘talk test’ are both ways you can check your effort level without using your heart rate.

Breathing

Focusing on your breathing pattern is a very easy way to gauge your effort level. Obviously, your breathing will increase as your effort increases, but there’s also an automatic physiological response you can look out for! When your body responds to the increased oxygen levels needed during intense exercise, you’ll automatically switch from breathing through your nose to breathing through your mouth! This happens when you’re at around 60% of your maximum heart rate, so if you’re still breathing through your nose, you’re still running in your recovery zone!

The Talk Test

This test is a fairly informal way of gauging your effort level, and is linked to your breathing pattern. Talking and breathing go hand in hand – the harder you’re working, the more you’re exhaling, and the harder it is to talk. There are 4 ‘levels’ of the talk test, that let you know how hard you’re working.

  • If you can still have a conversation, you’re exercising moderately.
  • If you can only really get a few word out, then you’re vigorously exercising.
  • If you can’t speak at all, slow down! You’re exercising too hard.
  • Finally, if you can still sing while you’re exercising, you’re not working hard enough!

So there you have it – you should now be able to work out your own personal heart rate zones. Ask your coach if you’re still unsure of how exactly it all works, or comment here!