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Heart Rate Training Zones

First, you need to know your maximum heart rate (HRmax). You can estimate it using the following formulas:

Women: 226 - AGE = HRmax
Men: 220 - AGE = HRmax

Be aware that the above formulas only give estimates - your actual maximum heart rate may be higher or lower. There are tests to determine this, but the formulas give a good starting point.

Now you should find your resting heart rate (HRrest). This can be done by taking the average of your pulse for a few mornings after you wake up but while still in bed. From these two numbers you can determine your training heart rate ranges using the Karvonen method. The formula below is used to find your heart rate at a specific exertion level (from a range of 0 to 100%).

(HRmax - HRrest) x (%effort) + (HRrest) = HR%effort
HRmax = 220 - 26 = 194 (assuming a 26-year-old male)
HRrest = 45 (averaged over 7 consecutive mornings)
HR_80% = (194 - 45) x 0.80 + 45 = 163
Using the table below, you will know what your heart rate should be for certain types of workouts. In the beginning of your training, you'll mostly be training in the lower ranges. As the races get closer, you'll begin to explore the higher ranges of your heart rate.

Level %effort Type of Training
I 60% - 70% Overdistance, Endurance
II 71% - 74% Endurance, Speedwork
III 75% - 80% Endurance
IV 81% - 90% Intervals
V 91% - 100% Race


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 individual anaerobic threshold is found - sometimes referred to the point of deflection (POD). During these heart rates the amount of fat being utilised as the main 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 runners 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 of time or by pushing the POD higher.

The Red Line Zone 90% to 100%

Training in this zone will only be possible for short periods of time. 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 are able to train effectively within this zone.

Resting Heart Rate

To determine your resting heart rate (RHR) is very easy. Find somewhere nice and quite, lie down and relax. Position a watch or clock where you can clearly see it whilst lying down. After 20 minutes remain where you are, do not sit up, and determine your pulse rate (beats/min). Use this value as your RHR.

If you have a heart rate monitor then put it on before you lie down. After the 20 minutes check the recordings and identify the lowest value achieved. Use this value as your RHR.

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 RHR on a regular basis (e.g. Monthly).

Calculation of a zone value

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

Example : The athlete's MHR is 180 and their RHR is 60 - determine the 70% value

Training Zone Heart Rate Calculator

Please remember that any algorithm used to determine your maximum heart rate (MHR) is only a best guess (based on research with a select group of athletes) and not a guarantee of your true MHR value. To accurately determine your MHR you should consider conducting a Stress Test

The calculator determines your maximum heart rate (MHR) based on the algorithm: 217 - ( age * 0.85 ). If you know your true MHR then adjust your age [ age = (217 - MHR) ÷ 0.85 ] to see your correct MHR displayed in the calculator's "Maximum Heart Rate" window.

Enter your age, resting heart rate, the lower and upper training zone values (%) and then select the 'Calculate' button.

Age years Max Heart Rate bpm
Resting Heart Rate bpm Working Heart Rate bpm
Lower Training Zone % which is a Heart Rate of bpm
Upper Training Zone % which is a Heart Rate of bpm

Heart Rate Zones - Source: USCF Expert Level Coaching Manual

You can estimate your MHR by subtracting your age from 220 if you are male and 225 if you are female. This is not an exact number, but it will be fairly accurate for the majority of people.

Zone 1  Up to 65 % of MHR - Recovery

Riding in this zone promotes active recovery.  By pedaling with light resistance and moderate rpm you are actually helping your legs to rid itself of muscle soreness and fatigue.  You are increasing the glycogen stores in your muscles which you will use up in higher intensity workouts.

Zone 2  66 - 72 % of MHR - Basic Endurance

By riding for long periods of time at a low intensity you are helping your heart and circulatory system to adapt so that you can exercise at a higher level of duration.  Your body also has the possibility of adapting to hypoxemia.

Zone 3  73 - 80 % of MHR - Aerobic Capacity

This work out is of medium intensity and should involve rides of 2 to 3 hours in duration.  These types of rides are better with a group of people so that you can pace and maintain this level throughout the ride.  You are promoting your circulatory system and heart to work over a prolonged period of time.

Zone 4  84 - 90 % of MHR - Lactate Threshold Training

Working in this zone allows you to ride at a higher percentage of your MHR while remaining in an aerobic state.  Once your legs fill with lactic acid, your glycogen stores become depleted and your performance declines.  By training in this zone you teach your body to accept higher levels of intensity without increasing blood lactate levels dramatically, thereby allowing you to work at a higher MHR.  In other words if you train effectively in this zone you will be able to ride faster and longer without hurting.

Zone 5  91 - 100 % of MHR - Anaerobic Intervals, VO2 training

Training in this zone will stress your VO2 max. - which is the volume of oxygen consumed per minute.  Most training in this zone is to improve your upper end speed.  Only after establishing basic fitness and endurance should anyone even think of training in this zone.  It is an effective training method but improper use can lead to over training and injury.

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