Using heart rate zones to get the most out of your workout

Whether you’re an experienced athlete or a beginner, it’s important to understand how hard you’re exercising so you can better prevent injuries, avoid overtraining and enhance performance.

That’s why strength and conditioning coaches at Sanford Sports often use heart rate zones to create personalized workout plans. Heart rate zones are used to progress the intensity of a workout so you can reach peak performance. To train within heart rate zones, you first need to figure out the highest number of beats per minute (bpm) your heart can pump, also known as your maximum heart rate.

Jason Dorman, lead exercise physiologist at Sanford Sports, says there are several ways to calculate your maximum heart rate. From least to most accurate, they are:

  • Subtracting your age from 220: For example, if you are 20 years old, your maximum heart rate is estimated at 200 bpm. This number may vary depending on your fitness and stress levels, medications or other factors.
  • Monitoring how you feel: Pay attention to the physical sensations you feel while exercising, including increased heart and breathing rates, sweating and muscle fatigue to understand your limits.
  • Doing performance testing: Sanford Sports offers a variety of performance testing options that will give you the most accurate number for your maximum heart rate.

Dorman also recommends smart watches from Apple or Garmin and heart rate monitors from Polar for beginners.

Once you know your maximum heart rate, multiply it by the percentage of the heart rate zone. For example, if your maximum heart rate is 200 bpm and you’re training in zone two, you should only push your heart between 120 and 140 bpm.

The following are the five heart rate zones and how you can use them to enhance your workouts:

  • Zone 1: Very light
    • 50-60% of maximum heart rate
    • For low-intensity, easy workouts
    • 15-30 minutes
    • To warm up, cool down and recover
  • Zone 2: Light
    • 60-70% of maximum heart rate
    • For long, comfortable workouts
    • 30-60 minutes (Can be longer as fitness increases)
    • To increase endurance and decrease fat
  • Zone 3: Moderate
    • 70-80% of maximum heart rate
    • For long, strenuous workouts
    • 20-30 minutes
    • To increase endurance and workout efficiency
  • Zone 4: Hard
    • 80-90% of maximum heart rate
    • For short, very intense workout
    • 3-5 minutes with 3-5 minutes rest
    • To increase your body’s ability to handle the production of lactic acid
  • Zone 5: Maximum
    • 90-100% of maximum heart rate
    • For short, maximum speed intervals
    • 30-90 seconds with 2-5 minutes rest
    • To push your limits and reach peak performance

heart rate chart

As you progress through training, your heart rate zones will need to be re-evaluated to optimize your performance.

For an accurate calculation of your maximum heart rate, contact the training experts at Sanford Sports to schedule a performance testing session. We can also help you put together a training plan that uses all five heart rate zones so you can get the most out of your workout while preventing injuries and overtraining.


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