Training with Heart Rate Zones

Training with a heart rate monitor allows a runner to quantify how hard they are working in a run by employing heart rate zones. Training in specific heart rate zones offers different benefits to the runner. Zone 1 is the easiest and is perfect for a recovery run. Zone 5 is the hardest and is great for shorter more intense parts of a training session. Generally, a run or training session will utilize different heart rate training zones to ensure maximum benefit is taken from each run.

Zone 1 - Recovery. The intensity in zone 1 is the lowest. This zone is typically used for recovery. It will get the body ready to train at higher heart rates. Typically, you will aim to get down to zone 1 during an interval session. It is also a great to spend time in Zone 1 during a rest day, while participating in activities such as walking or cycling, to promote recovery.

Zone 2 – Stamina. This is a zone where the effort required to complete the task still feels light, and you should be able to run for a while when spending time in this zone. Zone 2 is the perfect intensity to complete your longer, steadier runs. Exercising in zone 2 will allow your body to get better at using fat as a fuel source.

Zone 3 – Aerobic. This zone is starting to get a bit tougher. It is a good zone to be in for longer intervals. The body is still very efficient at breaking down waste products associated with exercise at this intensity, so the build up of lactic acid will remain low. A great example of training in this zone is a 30 minute tempo run.

Zone 4 – Speed endurance. This is where it starts to get tough. You are still training aerobically, however, the ability to sustain an effort in zone 4 is much harder than that of zone 3. However, adding runs that include zone 4 as part of your training will help your body get better at using carbohydrates for energy. It will also allow the body to get used to increased levels of lactic acid. This zone is particularly important to train in for events such as 5 km to a half marathon, where the majority of running is still aerobic.

Try adding a zone 4 session, such as mile/km repeats, to your weekly running. Start with a warm up, followed by 2 / 3 individual mile reps and then a cool down.

This workout is completely customisable, and the number of length of the repeats can be adjusted to suit your own running ability and/or running goal.

Zone 5 – Max effort. This is the highest intensity that you can run at, and the time you can spend in this zone is relatively short, typically this will be about 5 of minutes of exercise. It is a great way of fine tuning your speed to achieve optimal performance. Shorter intervals (usually as part of a track workout) can be completed at this intensity. At these intensities, the body is inefficient in utilising oxygen, and therefore more waste products are produced and fatigue is reached much quicker than in lower intensities.

If you are starting your training block or are new to running, you probably do not need to include zone 5 into your training straight away.

How to use all of the training zones

A balanced training week will look to incorporate a variety of workouts. Using heart rate zones will help to ensure that you do not get “stuck” training at the same intensity for every run.

The table below shows an example of a week of training for an individual that is targeting a 10 km race. It should be noted that the workouts involved may not be suitable for every runner, and the table is included as an example of how to vary a week of training to ensure that all heart rate zones are included throughout the week.

The NURVV Run doughnut chart will highlight how much of that run was spent in what zone. If you went out intending to run steady and focusing on zone three, you should see the zone 3 section with the highest percentage. If that was not the case, you have either trained too hard or not hard enough.

The example above shows a run where the intensity was just a little too high for zone 3 and because of that, the runner spent the majority of the run in zone 4. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as mentioned above, each zone has its benefits. But if you have ended up training to a higher intensity, ensure that the correct recovery is taken so that you are ready to go for your next run.

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