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Heart Rate Training Zones

Brian Mackenzie explains the benefits of training in prescribed heart rate training zones and how to determine your heart rate training zone values.

Training zones are based on a percentage window (60% to 70%) of your maximum heart rate. Within each training zone, subtle physiological effects take place to enhance your fitness.

The Energy Efficient or Recovery Zone - 60% to 70%

Training within this zone develops basic endurance and aerobic capacity. All easy recovery running should be completed at a maximum of 70 %. Another advantage to running in this zone is that while you are happily fat burning you may lose weight and you will be allowing your muscles to re-energise with glycogen, which has been expended during those faster-paced work-outs. Check out the Fat burning zone page.

The Aerobic Zone - 70% to 80%

Training in this zone will develop your cardiovascular system. The body's ability to transport oxygen to, and carbon dioxide away from, the working muscles can be developed and improved. As you become fitter and stronger from training in this zone it will be possible to run some of your long weekend runs at up to 75%, so getting the benefits of some fat burning and improved aerobic capacity.

The Anaerobic Zone - 80% to 90%

Training in this zone will develop your lactic acid system. In this zone, your anaerobic threshold is found - sometimes referred to as the point of deflection (POD). During these heart rates, the amount of fat being utilised as the primary source of energy is greatly reduced and glycogen stored in the muscle is predominantly used. One of the by-products of burning this glycogen, is the runner's worst enemy, lactic acid. There is a point at which the body can no longer remove the lactic acid from the working muscles quickly enough. This happens at an individual heart rate for us all and is accompanied by a rapid rise in heart rate and a slowing of your running pace. This is your anaerobic threshold or POD. Through the correct training, it is possible to delay the POD by being able to increase your ability to deal with the lactic acid for a longer period or by pushing the POD higher.

The Red Line Zone 90% to 100%

Training in this zone will only be possible for short periods. It effectively trains your fast-twitch muscle fibres and helps to develop speed. This zone is reserved for interval running, and only the very fit can train effectively within this zone.

Resting Heart Rate

To determine your resting heart rate (HRrest) is very easy. Find somewhere nice and quiet, lie down, and relax. Position a watch or clock where you can see the second hand. After 20 minutes, remain where you are, do not sit up, and determine your pulse rate (beats/min). This is your HRrest.

If you have a heart rate monitor, then put it on before you lie down. After 20 minutes check the recordings and identify the lowest value achieved. This will be your HRrest.

As you get fitter, your heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood around the body. As a result, you will find your resting heart rate gets lower, so you will need to check your HRrest regularly (e.g. Monthly).

Calculation of a zone value

The calculation of a zone value, X%, is performed in the following way:

  • Subtract your HRrest from your HRmax giving us your reserve heart rate (HRreserve)
  • Calculate the required X% on the HRreserve giving us "Z"
  • Add "Z" and your HRrest together to give us the final value

Example: The athlete's HRmax is 180 and her HRrest is 60 - determine the 70% value

  • HRmax - HRrest = 180 - 60 = 120
  • 70% of 120 = 84
  • 84 + HRrest = 84 + 60 = 144 bpm

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Heart Rate Training Zones. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 5 / September), p. 8-9

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Heart Rate Training Zones [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years of experience as an endurance athlete.