Using your heart rate to optimize training

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Using your heart rate to optimize training

Have you ever wondered the significance of knowing your heart rate while working out? Trainers and fellow gym goers are not just attempting to seem all important and knowledgeable – heart rate zones actually have a very practical use for everyone who exercises.

Your heart rate can help measure the intensity of your workout and show the amount of effort exertion you need to achieve certain goals, such as weight loss, speed or improved endurance.

The most used method of utilizing your heart rate as a measure of your exercise is the five ‘zone’ method. This can be applied to workouts such as running, swimming and other cardio activities as well as strength training. Each ‘zone’ sits 10 to 20 beats apart.

The first zone, referred to from here on out as Zone 1, requires very light effort. You would only be using 50 – 60% of your maximum heart rate and you would stay in this zone for about 20 – 40 minutes. This improves overall fitness slowly and is a good form of recovery training. Examples of such training includes brisk walking or warm ups.

Zone 2 steps it up a notch utilizing 60 – 70% of the maximum heart rate and requiring light effort. The duration of this exercise is around 40 – 80 minutes and includes activities such as long distance running, group fitness class or strength training. You should be breathing deeply at this zone but still be able to hold a conversation. Practising exercise in the zone helps to improve endurance.

Zone 3 can last for anywhere between 10 and 40 minutes and uses 70 – 80% of the maximum heart rate. This training is done at a moderate rate and improves aerobic fitness. Strength training, fast runs and group fitness classes may all fall under this category.

Getting even more intense, Zone 4 requires a high effort exertion and uses 80 – 90% of the maximum heart rate. It can last from as little as 2 minutes to around 10, and takes place at a fast pace with muscle burn due to the production of lactic acid and heavy breathing. Time trail runs are a good example of exercise in this zone. The zone has the benefit of helping aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

Finally, Zone 5 cannot be sustained for a long time, but rather lasts between 0 and 5 minutes. One uses 90 – 100% of your maximum heart rate at this zone and breathing will be strained and laborious. Example include activities like hill sprints and HIIT. This zone helps develop the best performance possible in terms of speed and power.

So, how do you apply this to how you work out?

Different zones work best for different fitness aims. Here’s how to align your workouts with your goals:

Losing Weight: Zone 1 and 2 are the best for weight loss. They may be low intensity compared to the rest, but they are optimal for burning fat and are less harsh on the heart and muscles. Zone 1 works are ideal for someone who hails from a more sedentary background and Zone 2 helps in becoming fitter and eventually moving on to higher intensity training.

It must be noted that Zone 5 can also be used for weight loss purposes, in particular HIIT. However, it is recommended that you begin with Zones 1 and 2 until you are relatively fit, as jumping right into such high intensity exercise may put you at risk for injury.If you are looking for a HIIT workout, try the 7Min Summer HIIT workout.

Recovery: Once again, Zones 1 and 2 are best due to their low impact on the muscles.

Improving Fitness: Zones 2,3 and 4 can help improve all around fitness. Zone 2 helps build up a base endurance level and Zones 3 and 4 are more focused on maintaining aerobic fitness.

Reaching peak athletic potential: Zones 4 and 5 can help you fulfil your maximum potential in terms of speed and power. These are usually practised by advanced athletes, who have built up their fitness as so to not be injured by high intensity training.

How to Calculate Your Heart Rate Zones

The formula for working out your heart rate zone is simple. However, remember that it only provides a general idea of your ‘zones’.

Maximum Heart Rate = 220 – your current age
Multiply by the percentage specified to work out the range for each zone in particular.

220 – Your Age = Maximum Heart Rate
To determine the range for each zone, multiply by the percentages listed in the chart above.
For example, someone aged 30 who has a maximum heart rate of 190 beats per minute (bpm), would have zones as follows:
Zone 1 → 95 – 114 bpm
Zone 2 → 114 – 133 bpm
Zone 3 → 133 – 152 bpm
Zone 4 → 152 – 171 bpm
Zone 5 → 171 – 190 bpm

Use this knowledge to truly optimise your workouts according to your goals. If you enjoyed this, you may enjoy the 7Min alternate workout.

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Steven Jones
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Awesome information!

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