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Heart Rate Zone Training for Running

The basic training zones based on a percentage of your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) for running are:

  • Zone 1: 50-60% MHR
  • Zone 2: 60-70% MHR
  • Zone 3: 70-80% MHR
  • Zone 4: 80-90% MHR
  • Zone 5: 90-100% MHR

We will discuss %THR and %FTP based training zones in other blogposts 

How do you use training zones in a running Training Plan or Program?

Which training zones are used for what type of running training?

Table of Contents

Heart Rate Zones Training for Running

Zone 1 Running Training

Zone 1 is used for the warm-ups, loosen downs as well as for active recovery between hard intervals.

Zone 1 is used during:

  • the Warm-Up (WU:)
  • the Loosen Down (LD:)
  • for active recovery between hard intervals, and
  • for planned walking within long runs

Warm-Up

In all our training plans the warm-up start with at least 8 minutes in Zone 1 which we set at 55-60% of MHR. During base building phases and when we are preparing our athletes for multi-day events, the Zone 1 warm-up running can even be as long as 30 minutes.

Loosen Down

Although there isn’t very much literature proving the effectiveness of loosening down, we insist on each session ending with gradual slowing. For the Loosen Down (LD:) we use a zone of 50-60% MHR

Recovery within sets

Depending on the training period an athlete is in, the recovery section of interval training sets can be done in Zone 1

Planned Walking

When we increase the duration of the long runs for our Novice athletes, we like to break up the running with planned walks of 3 to 5 minutes in Zone 1. This allows new athletes to accomplish longer without more physical stress. This is also a useful training tactic for Ultra Trail and Road running.

Zone 2 Running Training

Zone 2 is used general aerobic endurance conditioning

Zone 1 is used during:

  • the Warm-Up (WU:)
  • for Recovery Runs
  • for active recovery between hard intervals, and
  • for long slow distance (LSD) runs.

Warm-Up

For a training session where the focus might be Zone 3, 4 or 5 work, it is prudent to extend the duration and progressively increase your pace during the warm-up.

Recovery within sets

For training sessions where work intervals in either Zone 4 or 5 are being performed, the recovery is usually performed in Zone 2.

Recovery runs

Active recovery training or Recovery Runs are performed after races or very hard sessions.
The goal of the sessions is to “get the blood flowing” or to “ease the stiffness in the legs”.
The duration of the session is no longer than 45 minutes and the intensity is Zone 2.

Long Slow Distance (LSD)

Long Slow Distance (LSD) runs are one of the key sessions for every endurance runner. Unfortunately, far too many runners do these sessions at a pace that is too hard. 
For most of the LSD runs, we prescribe a zone of 60-75% of MHR. We recommend that athletes stay between 60 and 70% on the flat and downhill sections and allow the heart rate to drift up to 75% on the uphills.

Zone 3 Running Training

Zone 3 is used for muscular endurance training.

  • Warm-Up
  • Muscular Endurance (ME)
  • Fartlek Sessions
  • Tempo Sessions

Warm-Up

For a training session where the focus might be Zone 4 or 5 work, it is prudent to extend the duration and progressively increase your pace during the warm-up.

Muscular Endurance (ME)

These are also known as the “Sweet Spot” sessions. This training zone has been demonised of late because it appears many athletes who are over-trained physically and metabolically spend a lot of time training in its zone. 

The problem is not the training zone but the lack of planning and discipline of the athletes.
The 3 biggest mistakes athletes can make are discussed in this blogpost.

ME Fartlek Sessions

Fartlek sessions are continuous training sessions that vary in intensity throughout with the Warm-Up blending into the Main Set and then into the Loosen Down. 
The Work phase of the Main Set is performed in Zone 3 between 70 and 80% MHR and the Recovery phase in Zone 2.

ME Tempo Sessions

Tempo sessions are also continuous training sessions but they lack the variation of pace in the Main Set. The Training zone is also very narrow and is usually set at 75-80% MHR or the top half of Zone 3.

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Zone 4 Running Training

The goal of Zone 4 training is either to push the “anaerobic” threshold upwards by working just below it or to pull it upwards by working just above it. For athletes competing in events of less than an hour, this threshold is of great importance to their performance.
With this in mind, we split the Basic Zone 4 into Zone 4 (80-85%MHR) and Zone 5a (85-90%MHR).

Zone 4 is used for “anaerobic” endurance and Threshold training.

  • Sub-Threshold
  • Super-Threshold
  • Fartlek Sessions

Sub-Threshold sessions

After a progressive warm-up, the Main Set can be either Repeats and Intervals in Zone 4 (80-85%MHR) with either a rest or a recovery walk/jog in Zone 1.

Super Threshold sessions

After a progressive warm-up, the Main Set can be either Repeats and Intervals in Zone 5a (85-90%MHR) with either a rest or a recovery walk/jog in Zone 1.

Zone 4 Fartlek

Fartlek sessions are continuous training sessions that vary in intensity throughout with the Warm-Up blending into the Main Set and then into the Loosen Down. 
The Work phase of the Main Set is performed in Zone 4 between 80 and 85% MHR and the Recovery phase in Zone 2 or Zone 3 depending on which training period the athletes is in.

Zone 5 Running Training

The goal of Zone 5 training is to simulate race conditions or to build power.
For all athletes, even if they are competing in events of more than 12 hours, should include a small percentage of this type of training into their programs or plans.
We split the Basic Zone 5 into Zone 5b (90-95%MHR) Speedwork and Zone 5c (95-100%MHR).

Zone 5b – Speedwork

After a progressive warm-up, the Main Set will be a set of  Repeats or sets of Repeats with a rest between. 
Work intervals are usually short with equal or longer rest periods between. Between sets,  the rest usually 2 to 3 minutes.

The pace is often referred to as 5km pace.

Zone 5c – Force Training

After a progressive warm-up, the Main Set will be a set of Hill Repeats with the jog back down to the start of the hill acting as the recovery.
The incline used should be steep but “run-able”.

The other option is sets of short sprints (100 to 300m) on a track with a rest between each sprint and also between sets of sprints.

High-intensity training should always be preceded by an extended, progressive warm-up that may include strides and dynamic stretching.

Interval Training sessions

Interval training sessions are continuous sets with high-intensity work periods being followed with low-intensity active recovery (jogging or walking) between.

Repeat Training sessions

Repeat training sessions are broken sets with very high-intensity work periods being followed with passive rest periods.
For more advanced runners these training sessions may even include sets of repeats with a longer rest period between sets.

Mixed Zone Training sessions

One of the limitations of using a training plan and not a coach is that variation in training is very limited.
Because of the limited time available and focus on a specific outcome, a limited variety of training sessions can be accomplished.

Interesting training sessions like progression runs, ladders and pyramids that add spice to a training program are excluded in favour of stock standard sessions.

When working with our “one-on-one” athletes or small training groups, we like to include these types of sessions to prevent boredom.

Progression runs

These are training sessions that start off slow and increase in intensity. 

The progression in intensity is usually in blocks of 5% building from Zone 1 to Zone 5b depending on the training period the athlete is in. 

Pyramids

Most often run on a track, these sessions are a series of intervals of first increasing distances and then decreasing again with recovery distances in between.

Ladders

Ladders are basically the down-side of the pyramid.
Starting with a long interval and decreasing the distance each time with recovery distances between. 

 

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Why use different training zones?

Heart Rate based Training Zones

Why use Heart Rate Training Zones?

Of the 3 most important variables of a Training Plan or Program –  Frequency, Duration and Intensity – Intensity seems to get the lion’s share of the attention. 

 

Using Training Zones is an easy way to denote or explain the intensity or goal of each training session or each section of a training session.

 

While there is no scientific consensus as to the accuracy of these bands of training intensity, they are a very simple and reliable starting point for most athletes embarking on a training plan or program. These simple training zones make it very easy for the coach to communicate to their athletes what they would like to have performed in each session or in each section making up the session.

 

Of course, there are other methods of denoting the intensity like Power or Pace and these will be discussed in other blog posts. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

Table of Contents

Heart Rate based Training Zones
Different training zones. Threshold interval training session.

What are the 5 Basic Heart Rate Training Zones?

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The best watch for heart rate zone training

Knowing your Heart Rate based training zones is only useful if you can monitor and measure them in real-time, accurately. 
Using a heart rate monitor allows the athlete to regulate their effort while training or racing to stay within the intensity zones stipulated by the coach.

Wrist-based Heart Rate monitors have been around for over 40 years thanks to Polar Electro

We have used the Polar brand of Heart rate monitors since 1992.

How to calculate your Maximum Heart Rate

To calculate your Heart Rate Zones you first need to know your maximum heart rate.  

The Original 220-Age Method

The original 220- age formula was created by Fox et al after reviewing a handful of other papers. It is the speculative number to start with and there is no evidence that one’s maximum heart rate decrease exactly 1 beat annually on your birthday.

The formula is, however, a good starting point for novice athletes to use until they have developed enough fitness and strength to do a sport-specific maximum heart rate test.
It is moderately accurate for many but certainly not for all.

Heart Rate zones for different sports

Different sports place different stresses on the body and use different muscle groups. The higher the stress and the more muscle groups used, the higher your maximum heart rate will be. For a single sport athlete, this might not be relevant,  but for a Triathlete or Duathlete, this is very important to know. 

Your Running maximum will be higher than your Cycling maximum and your cycling maximum will be higher than your Swimming maximum. 

What this means is that you have to measure your maximum for each of the sports to calculate your sport-specific training zones.

Calculate your maximum Heart Rate for Running

To calculate the running heart rate zones for our road and trail runners as well as our triathletes and duathletes, we have them perform the 2 x 800m test on a running track. 

Calculate your Maximum Heart Rate for Cycling

To calculate the cycling heart rate zones for our road cyclists and mountain bikers as well as our triathletes and duathletes, we have them perform the 2 x 1500m hill climb.

Calculate your Maximum Heart Rate for Swimming

To calculate the swimming heart rate zones for our long distances swimmers as well as our triathletes, we have them perform the CSS test and record heart rates at the end of their 400m and 200m Time trials. 

Training Plans
Event specific Programs
Individualised Coaching

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What are your needs?
Take our 30 second quiz